With Sam Fanelli back in action, Penn-Trafford loaded up for meeting with Upper St. Clair
Wednesday, November 6, 2019 | 12:01 AM
Penn-Trafford and Upper St. Clair don’t exactly have a storied rivalry.
The teams have met six times over the years, and the Panthers have won five, including a 28-27 thriller in the WPIAL Class AAAA championship in 1987 on a missed extra point in the final seconds.
The Warriors’ only win in the brief series was in the 2017 Class 5A semifinals, a dominating 35-14 victory at West Mifflin.
The teams meet again Friday night, this time in the WPIAL Class 5A quarterfinals at West Mifflin. The winner advances to the semifinals Nov. 16 against the winner between Moon and Peters Township.
No. 1 Penn-Trafford (10-1) has only one blemish on its record, a loss to Ohio power Washington Massillon. The Warriors opened the playoffs by rolling over Fox Chapel, 48-7.
The Warriors welcomed back running back Sam Fanelli, who scored two touchdowns on runs of 13 and 7 yards last week.
Despite losing starting running back Caleb Lisbon (for the season) and Fanelli to knee injuries against McKeesport on Sept. 13, the Warriors haven’t missed a beat.
Penn-Trafford coach John Ruane said getting Fanelli back was huge.
“He was a two-way starter for us and a dynamic player on both sides of the ball,” Ruane said. “He’s been chomping at the bit to get back in, and he brings a dynamic of urgency. He’s our senior running back with Caleb gone. I thought he played with urgency, and he sparked everyone’s attitude and effort.”
Ruane said Fanelli will be starting on defense.
Brad Ford, Ethan Carr and Cade Yacamelli have picked up the slack. Getting Fanelli back adds to the Warriors depth in the backfield.
“We definitely added more to their plate and they accepted the challenge,” Ruane said. “They didn’t feel sorry for themselves. They just stepped up to the plate.
“The injuries helped us add to our depth. We’re able to move people around. We’re able to spell guys, so it will be a good mix for us as we move forward.”
Penn-Trafford’s leading rusher is senior Gabe Dunlap, who has run for 909 yards and 10 touchdowns. Dunlap rushed for 105 yards and completed 2 of 4 passes for 113 yards against Fox Chapel.
Carr leads the Warriors with 18 touchdowns, and he has caught 31 passes for 607 yards. He scored twice against Fox Chapel, a 70-yard pass from Dunlap and a 96-yard kickoff return.
No. 9 Upper St. Clair opened the playoffs with a 34-16 victory at No. 8 North Hills. Quarterback Ethan Dahlem had a big game before leaving with an apparent neck injury. He rushed for 85 yards in the first half and threw for 74.
“They’re a really good team, very athletic,” Ruane said. “It starts with their quarterback. He’s fantastic. He can run and he can throw and he makes a lot of things happen when guys aren’t open. He’s dangerous as a scrambler, which is probably the worst thing to defend.
“They have athletes all over the field. They have athletes on their line, which is unique. They are a fast defense that gets to the ball and they’re one of the fastest teams we’ll face all season. We definitely have our work cut out.”
Upper St. Clair first-year coach Mike Junko said he held Dahlem out for precautionary reasons in the second half against North Hills.
Junko said Dahlem is the engine of the team’s offense. Dahlem rushed for three touchdowns and threw for another. He hit Mateo Cepuillio with a 53-yard strike in the first quarter.
Running back Ethan Hiester rushed for 122 yards on 16 carries for the Panthers.
Ruane said Upper St. Clair has changed a lot under Junko, who replaced long-time coach Jim Render. One of the biggest changes is the offense the Panthers use.
It’s something the Warriors’ defense, which allowed an average of 11.5 points per game, must handle to advance.
Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .