With three weeks remaining in the regular season, area football teams find themselves unsettled.
However, that may be a positive thing, particularly for Mt. Lebanon and Upper St. Clair.
After the Route 19 rivals met Oct. 4, with Lebo posting a 28-14 victory over the Panthers, the two teams return to conference action Oct. 11. While the Blue Devils (4-1, 5-2) host Pine-Richland (4-1, 6-1) at 7:30 p.m. in Quad County, Class 6A action, the Panthers (3-1, 5-2) travel to Moon (3-1, 5-2) for a 7 p.m. Allegheny Eight Class 5A clash.
“We are still trying to find out our personalty. We are so new,” said Bob Palko, who took over the Lebo program only in February after a successful run of eight WPIAL championships at West Allegheny. “Sometimes you don’t find out toward the end. It’s a process. It takes time. We are going to give it its due diligence and continue to work hard and build depth and find out what our personality is. We do all that then maybe we’ll be OK.”
If they can curtail the penalties made against the Blue Devils — they had 12 for 100 yards — the Panthers can attempt to make at run at the conference championship now that Peters Township’s grip has loosened. The defending league champions suffered their first lose of the season, falling to Moon, 21-13, on the same night Lebo defeated USC.
“Without a doubt,” USC head coach Mike Junko said of his team’s quest for a title. “In our conference, there are so many good teams that week to week you don’t know who’s going to beat who. For us, that’s a good thing because the parity means that each week you have to be ready to go and our kids will be once we correct some of the mistakes that were made (against Lebo).”
Junko cited the penalties as one of the “big problems” against the Blue Devils. He noted when a team faces second-and-15s and third-and-20s there are not a lot of options.
“We have to do a better job of avoiding penalties,” he said.
USC also must improve its defense against the run. Lebo gained 205 of its 240 total yards of offense on the ground against the Panthers.
Evan Jones led the attack. The senior quarterback rolled up 78 yards rushing. He scored twice on short runs of 1 and 4 yards. He also connected with Mason Ventrone for a 4-yard scoring strike that afforded the Blue Devils a 17-2 halftime advantage.
Palko has been pleased with Jones. who has shared quarterback duties with Joey Daniels.
Jones is one of the top receivers in the WPIAL while Daniels ranks as a passing leader. Against USC, Daniels threw for 31 yards and a 4-yard scoring strike to Mason Ventrone.
“It’s not like we are shocked or surprised,” Palko said of Jones. “We knew day one coming in his work ethic and his ability to play but the thing that we have been pleased with are his leadership skills. He’s learning how to lead by example. The little things to say that matter. So we are really proud of his maturity level. I think that is important when you get people at that stage. That’s what needs to happen.”
Ventrone has blossomed into a top target for the Blue Devils while also dominating the secondary on defense, a spot where he has been a starter since his junior varsity days.
“This is his canvas,” Palko said as he pointed to the gridiron. “I’m sure he’s not very good at art, but he does his work here and we are so happy for him. Mason plays so hard and when he has an opportunity, he takes advantage of it. No question, he’s a very athletic guy. We continue to bring him along and make him a little bit better at everything. He still has lots of work to do, but his progress is cool to see.”
While tipping his hat to his rival, Junko said he’s pleased his Panthers are in the hunt for a conference title. They control their destiny. They must beat Moon this Friday before visiting Chartiers Valley (0-4, 2-5) Oct. 18 and hosting league-leading Bethel Park (4-0, 5-1) Oct. 25.
“Give Mt. Lebanon a lot of credit,” Junko said. “Their kids played hard and they were physical. They did a good job of running the football and they did a good job defensively.
“One thing I can say though is that our kids are a very close knit group. They love being around each other. They are excited about the rest of the season. I look forward to watching them continue to grow each week and get better.”
The Panthers are usually better than gaining 253 total yards a game. In fact, Lebo’s defense, which was led by Everett Lefever’s nine tackles, limited USC to just 65 yards passing.
Ethan Dahlem, who came into the contest ranked second in the WPIAL with 81 completions for 1,839 yards and 17 touchdowns, was held to one score, a 2-yard run after Ethan Hiester picked off a Lebo pass to tighten the contest, 14-7, at the 3:02 mark in the second quarter.
Heath Erdos accounted for USC’s other score. After Jaden Keating darted 85 yards, Erdos plunged one yard into the end zone with four seconds remaining in the game. Behind Keating’s 92 rushing yards, Dahlem followed with 84 yards.
Hiester, Luke Banbury, Danny Harkleroad and Brandon Shearer led USC’s defense with eight or more tackles.
PT falls to Moon
Peters Township suffered its first loss of the season, 21-13, to Moon.
The Indians’ Ryan Magiske rushed for 129 yards on 19 carries. After falling behind, 14-0, Magiske scored PT’s first touchdown on a 48-yard run before intermission.
Logan Pfeuffer completed six of 23 passes for 74 yards. He connected with Aidan McCall for a 57-yard scoring strike in the fourth quarter. McCall was the leading receiver with four catches for 73 yards.
BP dominates CV
Antonio Zambrano accounted for CV’s lone score as Bethel Park rolled to a 32-7 victory. In the fourth quarter, Zambrano rushed for a 35-yard touchdown. He was also the Colts’ leading rusher with 51 yards on three carries.
The Black Hawks rolled up 284 yards rushing with Sean McGowan leading the way with 163 yards on 22 carries. Anthony Chiccitt, who completed 5 of 11 passes for 48 yards, picked up 43 yards on the ground while Jehvonn Lewis added 42 yards.
Lewis rushed for two touchdowns of 4 and 6 yards. Troy Volpatti and Jack Evans also ran for scores of 10 and 1 yards. John Gummo kicked a 36-yard field goal. He made three extra points and BP had a 2-point conversion when William Patrizio connected with Zach Cashman in the second quarter.
SF beats KnochNaman Alemada completed 13 of 20 passes for 398 yards and six touchdowns as South Fayette (4-0, 6-1) breezed past Knoch, 42-7, in a key Northwest Eight Conference encounter.
Against the Knights (4-2, 5-2), Ryan McGuire had five receptions for 176 yards and two scores while Charley Rossi added four grabs for 110 yards and two more touchdowns. Luke Pschirer hauled in a 32-yard scoring strike and Joey Audia had a 38-yard touchdown reception.