Nothing could slow down Upper St. Clair High School on Friday night—except for the clock.
Up 35-0, the Panthers put the mercy rule into effect late in the third quarter of their WPIAL AAAA Southeastern Conference game against visiting Peters Township High School. From there, with a running timer, USC put the finishing touches on a 41-0 trouncing of their southern neighbors.
The Panthers (3-0, 3-0 Southeastern) outgained Peters Township (1-2, 1-2), 365-112, and earned 16 first downs to the Indians' five.
While the game essentially ended after senior running back Stephen Mackowick ran 25 yards for Upper St. Clair's fifth touchdown, Peters' problems began the night before when their starting quarterback, junior Cory Owen, was ruled out of Friday's tilt.
Without their hurler, the Indians completed just two passes and leaned heavily on a wildcat offense that saw senior RB Marcus Ubinger tote the ball 31 times and even throw it four times.
"He (Owen) was a little bit banged up," Peters Head Coach Rich Piccinini said. "We found out last night he wasn't playing, so we had to change stuff on the run.
"Our offense and Marcus (79 yards rushing, 28 yards passing and 28 yards receiving) did a pretty good job. Our hands were kind of tied with what we could do. We do practice those plays that we ran. We put a few more in today, literally, when the kids got to school."
Peters' offense included some end-around runs that were mostly snuffed out by St. Clair. The lone quarterback to see time for Peters was third-stringer and freshman Tor Sehnert, as the Indians' regular backup QB, junior Tim Swoope, has been injured since the preseason.
Sehnert did complete one pass on three attempts for 14 yards.
"We played hard," Piccinini said, "but a team like that (USC), when they get you down, sometimes, the score builds a little bit. And it's tough to rebound, especially when we (basically) couldn't throw a pass."
If the Panthers felt bad for Peters, they didn't show it, especially senior RB Mac Pope, who scored three of the game's first four TDs and finished with 40 yards rushing and 57 yards receiving.
The bruising Pope (6-foot, 220 pounds) fought would-be tacklers all night and was complemented nicely by fellow senior RB Trevor Morrow (6-foot, 200), who served as the thunder to Pope's, well ... thunder.
"We usually call ourselves the 'Bash Bros,'" Pope said of himself and Morrow. He also included Mackowick in the 'Bros.'
"Mackowick's (5-10, 175) got the speed when Trev's got the power," Pope said.
Morrow ended up as the Panthers' leading rusher, gaining 64 yards on nine carries, including a 40-yard TD to close out the first-half scoring at 21-0. Mackowick added 25 yards on two carries, all coming on his aforementioned third-quarter run.
Sophomore RB Kevin Chrissis closed out the scoring with a 33-yard jaunt in the fourth. A bad snap on the ensuing point-after try was one of the only things that didn't go right for the Panthers.
Passing-wise, USC senior QB Joe Repischak completed seven of 12 for 123 yards, including a 27-yard catch-and-run to Pope to finish the Panthers' first drive. St. Clair also scored on their third and fourth possessions.
"I'm pretty happy about (the game)," Pope said. "I'm just excited that we were able to score the first couple of drives. It kind of sets the tone."
Asked if he was happy about being 3-0 at this point of the season, USC Head Coach Jim Render was matter-of-fact.
"Well, yeah, we're getting better," Render said. "We're playing great defense.
"We can't be 4-0 (yet), so we'll take 3."
Asked how he feels about WPIAL and state rankings that have the Panthers No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, coming into Friday, Render pointed to bigger things.
"It's something to talk about," the venerable coach said. "To me, it's a recognition that you've done something right, but we have a state championship that is decided on the field. So, it's more fun to be No. 1 on Christmas Day (than now)."
First, the Panthers have another conference challenge in Penn Hills High School (also 3-0), which they'll play next Friday night on the road at 7:30.
"Their (defensive) backs are quick, athletic," Pope said of Penn Hills. "Their defensive linemen are also athletic. Offensively, their running back and quarterback (are threats). They're weapons, so we have to work on that.
"But other than that, it's just gonna be a normal week of practice. We're gonna prepare like they're any other team."
Ubinger was asked about the heavy workload that he had on Friday.
"My coach said he needed me, so I stepped in," the 5-10, 180-pounder said. "The (offensive) line all knew what they had to do, and the line stepped up today. With short notice, we had to run some plays we hadn't ran for a while, so they did a really good job."
The Indians play their lone non-conference opponent of the regular season next week when Shaler Area High School (0-3) visits Peters at 7:30 Friday night.
"We'll start regrouping tomorrow," Piccinini said. "We fully expect to come out and win the Shaler game.
"We're not gonna turn and run just because we have a couple of guys out. We don't know who's gonna play next week. Those guys might all be back; they may not be. We're not sure, but we're gonna regroup and get ready for Shaler."