Upper St. Clair fans who wondered if a new starting quarterback could step right in had the question answered Friday night:
A resounding yes!
Pete Coughlin ran for three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to lead to Panthers to a come-from-behind 31-12 victory against Woodland Hills in the Class AAAA Southeastern Conference opener. He also made a couple of key defensive plays against the Woverines.
Coughlin showed plenty of promise last season by filling in for then-starter Dakota Conwell and guiding USC to a win over Pittsburgh Center Catholic in the WPIAL semifinals.
Against Woodland Hills, he started relatively slowly while opposing quarterback Cody McClelland cashed in on a couple of long passes, 61 yards to Trevon Mathis and 39 yards to Tom Green. The second touchdown came after a Panthers turnover, putting the highly vocal USC crowd somewhat ill at ease.
Late in the second quarter, Ben Stalnaker put the Panthers on the board with a 38-yard field goal.
Mac Pope’s 6-yard TD run 8½ minutes into the second half, paired with Stalnaker’s extra point, cut the deficit to 2. Late in the third quarter, USC turned the ball over again, but this time the defense held and the Wolverines were forced to punt.
Upper St. Clair then drove 80 yards, with Coughlin’s 10-yard run early in the fourth quarter giving the Panthers their first lead. He then added a two-point conversion to make it 18-12.
His second touchdown came from 2 yards out with 9:19 remaining, set up by Morgan Lee’s long punt return and subsequent pass reception. Coughlin scored once more with 2:29 left in the game.
Woodland Hills almost came through on its final drive, which started back at the 1-yard line.
McClelland threw a long reception to Chris David, who looked as if he was going to score before John Rutkowski tackled him. The Wolverines’ quarterback then connected with Green, who took the ball to the 8-yard line.
The USC defense then held tight, and on fourth down, Coughlin batted away McClelland’s pass at about the 1-minute mark to give the Panthers the ball, and the victory.
The win marked the 355th for USC coach Jim Render. He and his counterpart, Woodland Hills’ George Novak, have guided 11 WPIAL champions between them.