Lance Lysowski | Observer Reporter
Upper St. Clair head coach Mike Blatz is not shy about his admiration for Peters Township’s offensive system.
He even stole one of the Indians’ signature plays off corner kicks when a player crosses the six-yard box to attempt a header on net. Blatz and the Panthers used the play throughout the season and nicknamed it “Peters.”
Ironically, it was that exact play the Indians used and senior striker Nicco Mastrangelo capitalized on to give Peters Township the early one-goal lead in the WPIAL Class AAA title game. The Indians never looked back.
Mastrangelo scored two first-half goals, including one on “Peters,” and the Indians’ defense shut down Upper St. Clair’s offense in route to a 5-1 win and the program’s second straight WPIAL Class AAA Championship at Highmark Stadium.
“We knew it was coming, but they executed on it,” Blatz said plainly. “The fact is, they executed and we didn’t. It’s that simple. That was the game right there.”
It is Peters Township’s ninth WPIAL title and fourth since 2008. The Indians (18-2) will open the PIAA playoffs against the District 6 or District 8 champion Tuesday at a site and time to be determined, while the Panthers (19-1-1) will take on the District 3 runner-up.
“It’s phenomenal to win this in back-to-back years,” Nicco Mastrangelo said. “Especially in this venue, it’s fantastic. We have great chemistry and we love each other. This is better because we lost both this year during the regular season and we didn’t play well in those games. Revenge is great.”
The game lived up to its billing as intensely physical with two yellow cards being handed out in the first half. The fast-paced play favored the Indians with one of the best tandems in the WPIAL – the Mastrangelo brothers.
Nicco gave Peters Township a 1-0 lead on its first corner kick of the game in the 22nd minute on the play Blatz referred to. Senior midfielder Ryan Ponchione took the corner on the east end of the field and Mastrangelo motioned into the six-yard box. The low shot deflected off his left temple and under the cross bar for the goal.
Upper St. Clair missed a prime scoring chance when a cross pass to the slot was missed. On the counter-attack, Nicco and Mario Mastrangelo capitalized. Mario quickly dribbled the ball up the middle of the field after a free kick and passed to his brother, who was sprinting toward the goal. Nicco’s low shot from 15 yards out beat Upper St. Clair keeper Kenny Rapko at the far post for the two-goal lead in the 25th minute.
The Panthers’ line up lacked the star power from last year, but the fundamentally sound team frustrated the Indians throughout the game and almost struck first in the fifth minute when senior Zach Cherup’s rising shot from the top of the slot went off the fingertips of Peters Township senior keeper Josh Deyarmin.
Michigan recruit Robbie Mertz took the ensuing corner kick, but it was quickly deflected away. While the Indians’ high-scoring offense receives the most publicity, it is the defense that has limited opponents to only six goals all season.
“We had more heart this time around,” Ponchione said. “We had a couple of mistakes that led to their goals the last two times. We won every ball we could tonight.”
Sean Harrison, Jake Valley and Kelson Marison continued their dominant play by collapsing on Panther forwards and preventing clear shots on Deyarmin. Running a 3-2-5, Peters Township limited chances and pushed the ball up field to the Mastrangelo brothers.
Senior Jonathan Sion gave the Indians a 3-0 lead in the 54th minute on an assist from Nicco Mastrangelo. Six minutes later, Upper St. Clair spoiled Deyarmin’s shutout when Shayne Sibley scored.
Junior Matt Massucci and Senior Mario Mastrangelo scored in the closing minutes to put the game away. One year after beating the heavily favored Panthers by goal, the Indians dominated their opponent for 80 minutes to repeat as champions.
“Last year, I thought they were the better team, but we just beat them in that game,” Peters Township head coach Bob Dyer said. “This year, it was a lot different.”