The learning process continues for Upper St. Clair and Baldwin as the neighboring rivals meet at 7 p.m. Sept. 10 in a non-conference football game.
“In some ways they are similar to us in that they have a number of younger players that are taking on more prominent roles on Friday nights,” said USC head coach Mike Junko.
“Coach (Tim) Sweeney is doing a great job of changing the culture at Baldwin. Their players seem to have bought into his long-term goals for the program.”
A Bethel Park resident, Sweeney is in his second season at the helm for the Highlanders. Before arriving at Baldwin, he coached at Derry. In six seasons, he compiled a 49-18 record and advanced the Trojans to the WPIAL Class 3A championship game in 2018.
Meanwhile, Junko is only in his third year as head coach at USC. He played on USC’s state championship team in 1989 before excelling at quarterback at Akron. He began his coaching career at Mt. Lebanon then returned to his alma mater in 2019.
Junko guided USC to a 5-3 mark last year with a playoff appearance, but only six starters have returned from that team. In opening the 2021 campaign with a 38-0 win against Greensburg Central Catholic, Junko got the most out of four of those veterans.
Jamaal Brown rushed for an eight-yard touchdown, while Ethan Hiester added a four-yard scoring run against Greensburg Central Catholic. First-year starting quarterback Brady Erdos completed 10 of 12 passes for 136 yards and completed a 15-yard touchdown pass to Mateo Cepullio and a 37-yard scoring strike to Aidan Besselman.
Additionally, Ivory Travers intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown, while Bennett Henderson kicked a 26-yard field goal.
Henderson also contributed four extra points. Matt Russell connected on the last extra point for the Panthers.
Junior Jacob Hufnagel led the defensive attack with 3.5 tackles followed by Travers, Brady Bartusiak, Wyatt Kovell, Tyler Lagoni, Hiester and Mark Banbury.
Zach Ehasz and Aidan Conn had sacks while Tyson Swigart contributed an interception.
“Our defense and special teams made a number of big plays,” Junko said. “With a young football team we continue to preach the need to limit turnovers on offense and force our opponents to make mistakes in the other two phases of the game. I thought all three phases did a nice job of complementing one another.”
The Lions find themselves in a similar spot as the Panthers. They too are breaking in several new players, including a first-year signal caller.
Landon Lutz excelled in his debut, a 35-7 win against Montour. A 6-5, 225-pound senior, Lutz completed 13 of 17 passes for 135 yards. He tossed a scoring strike of 14 yards to Connor Harcarik, who finished with six receptions for 68 yards.
Logan Yater had five catches for 41 yards. Michael Gimigliano had a 14-yard touchdown catch..
Nathan Deanes, who had one reception in the contest, led the ground game. He rushed for 97 yards on 16 carries and one score. He added another touchdown on a 52-yard punt return.
Christian Brandi and Justin Caputo completed the scoring for the Lions. Brandi had a one-yard touchdown. Caputo contributed five extra points. He also averaged 41.5 yards per punt and 59.2 yards per kickoff.
Keon Johnson led the defensive attack. He registered 11 tackles and one sack. Deans followed with seven tackles.
Sam Rosato, Cameron Rosinsky and Yater each had five tackles. Rosinksy had an eight-yard sack and Rosato a two-yard tackle for a loss. Nate Spolnik, Connor Cirra, Alex Hall and Brandi all had four tackles each.
South Fayette next hosts Thomas Jefferson at 7 p.m. Sept. 10.
In their last encounter, the Lions defeated the Jaguars, 31-24, at Heinz Field for the 2018 WPIAL Class 4A championship.
TJ is ranked No. 1 in the state. The Jaguars are the defending district and state champions. Under Bill Cherpak, they have won nine WPIAL titles.