USC wins game, loses QB
UPPER ST. CLAIR: Top-ranked Upper St. Clair won comfortably, but lost big, in a 31-0 non-conference victory over Plum Friday night at Panthers Stadium.
Upper St. Clair quarterback Josh Helmrich suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament when he attempted to run a naked bootleg in the first quarter and will be out for the rest of the season and playoffs. He watched the second half on crutches from the sideline.
Undefeated Upper St. Clair (5-0) is tied with Gateway for the top spot in Quad-A in the latest Valley News Dispatch Coaches Poll.
The Upper St. Clair Panthers proved why they are regarded as a strong playoff contender, holding Plum to 37 rushing yards and 108 total yards.
Plum moved to 2-3 overall while remaining 1-1 in the Quad South Conference.
“Upper St. Clair was bigger, stronger, and they wore us down a little in the second half,” Plum coach Bill Rometo said. “They’re one of the elite.”
For more than a half, Plum appeared on the verge of pulling off the upset of the year. Upper St. Clair backup quarterback Joe Halackna, normally a wide receiver, connected on only 3 of 7 passes for 24 yards in the first half.
Plum trailed only 3-0 with 4:30 to play in the third quarter when the game turned on one big defensive play.
Upper St. Clair strong safety Pat Sheppart blindsided Plum sophomore quarterback Gino Rometo and stripped the ball, which defensive lineman Nick DeBartolo recoved at the Mustangs’ 7-yard line. Panthers running back Kevin Mathews scored on the next play.
“I was worried that if we didn’t make the first big play, they would,” coach Rometo said. “I thought we hung in there pretty well, but you could see them gaining confidence after that and you could see them settle in.”
Mathews gained 126 yards on 20 carries and allowed Upper St. Clair to control the clock in the second half.
Missing three injured starters on its offensive line, Plum failed to get anything going on the ground. Running back John Simmons was held to 17 rushing yards on 11 carries and fullback Zack Erdeljac picked up 7 yards on 3 carries. Those gains were more than wiped out by Rometo’s three sacks.
Rometo completed 9 of 17 passes for 71 yards while under an all-out pass rush once Upper St. Clair got the lead.
Upper St. Clair never backed off against Plum. The Panthers continued to throw the football despite leading 24-0 with 6:48 to play.
“I was proud of the effort of our kids,” Rometo said. “We still have to learn to put four quarters together. We’ve got to grow.”
Plum has played arguably the toughest scheduled in the WPIAL at any level. Plum has suffered defeats by three teams ranked No. 1 when they faced the Mustangs – Penn Hills, Gateway and Upper St. Clair.
“You’ve got to take your lumps, but hopefully this will help our confidence, holding Upper St. Clair to 3-0 at the half,” Rometo said. “You grow from that.”
The game started at 8 p.m. after Plum arrived late for warmups.
“We were stuck in Pittsburgh traffic for two hours,” Rometo said. “We got as far as the (Allegheny) county jail and our buses didn’t move for an hour.”