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November 6, 2009RECORDS: The Upper St. Clair Panthers (6-3, 3-2) face the Penn Hills Indians (4-5, 3-2) in the first round of the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs. Last year, Upper St. Clair was knocked out in the first round by McKeesport, losing 34-28, while Penn Hills reached the WPIAL semis before losing to Gateway, 38-23.
LAST MEETING: 11/24/06, as Upper St. Clair gutted out an 18-12 win on the road in the second round of the playoffs.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Penn Hills cornerback Cullen Christian, Rivals.com's third-ranked prospect in Pennsylvania, is the star of the Panthers defense, while wide receivers Dontae Brown (31 receptions for 523 yards and 4 touchdowns) and Brandon Ifill (31 receptions for 405 yards and 3 touchdowns) pose as a top receiver tandem on offense. For Upper St. Clair, quarterback Alex Park ranks 11th in the WPIAL in passing, having tossed for more than 1,500 yards and 13 touchdowns. On the other side of the ball, defensive standout Matt Doman leads the team with 103 tackles, five sacks, and six fumble recoveries.
KEY MATCHUP: Upper St. Clair's offensive line vs. Penn Hills's defensive line.
Led by seniors Loe Laukatis (6-2, 280) and Gordon Mathews (6-2, 230), USC's offensive line has dominated the trenches all season, creating huge holes for junior running back Jacob Siwicki. On the other side of the ball is Penn Hills stud defensive tackle Aaron Donald. A 6-2, 260 behemoth in the middle, Donald is Rivals.com's 13th-ranked player in the state and has already committed to Pitt for next fall. His unique blend of size and power will be a heavy load for the USC offensive line to handle.
PREDICTION: Penn Hills and Upper St. Clair have led similar existences recently, with both squads recording a 6-3 record last season, only to be followed up with inconsistent 2009 campaigns. Despite boasting firepower on offense, Penn Hills has struggled to establish a formula for success this season, failing to defeat a single team with a winning record. Led by Park, Upper St. Clair finished the season strong, earning an impressive road victory over Mt. Lebanon, and a win bodes well for the team's playoff hopes. With home field in hand, expect Upper St. Clair to knock off a disappointing Penn Hills team in a closely contested match. Upper St. Clair 27, Penn Hills 21.