Lance Lysowski | Observer Reporter
Peters Township entered last year’s WPIAL Class AAA boys soccer title game as the underdog against section rival Upper St. Clair.
The Panthers had two of the top players in the state and swept the Indians during the regular season. Despite Peters Township losing to USC in both games this year, the tables have turned.
It will be the Indians (17-2) defending the WPIAL crown Friday night at Highmark Stadium (8:15 p.m.) after upsetting USC (19-0-1) in last year’s title game.
“Getting the win over a team like Central Catholic in the semifinals Monday was helpful,” Peters Township senior midfielder Ryan Ponchione said. “This week is exciting. We’re all looking forward to the rematch. I don’t have the butterflies yet, but I’m sure they’ll set in on game day.”
Both teams were on the opposite ends of the soccer spectrum before the 2014 season began. Upper St. Clair lost 12 seniors, including top scorers Joel Hart and Troy Kiernan, while the Indians returned 12 seniors, including strikers Mario and Nicco Mastrangelo. The Panthers also unexpectedly lost head coach Uwe Schneider before the season after he suffered a serious injury after falling off a ladder at his home.
Running an unorthodox 3-2-5 formation, Peters Township has given opposing teams headaches all season. Peters Township has allowed just four goals in 19 games. Three of those came in the two one-goal losses to USC, and the other goal was allowed in the second half in the season opener against Sewickley Academy when junior varsity players were in the game.
“Their athleticism, and they work great, is what stands out,” Upper St. Clair head coach Mike Blatz said. “You have to match that. They are also well-coached. They have a good coach in Bobby Dyer, and he has a good staff. I can’t speak of the rivalry of the past years, but being involved in the games we played, it’s a very athletic, intense affair.”
While the Panthers’ scoring rested on the shoulders of Hart and Kiernan a year ago, it is seniors Shane Sipley, Joe Bell and Robbie Miertz who are pacing the USC attack, which averages more than four goals per game.
The two matches between the Section 5-AAA rivals came down to the final possession with USC coming out on top. It came down to the Indians making untimely mistakes.
“First and foremost, we’ll have to limit our mistakes,” Indians head coach Bob Dyer said. “They were very good about finishing chances we created for them and we’ll have to capitalize on our opportunities. We didn’t do that in either game. They were very good at finishing.”
To get to this point, Peters Township has outscored its three playoff opponents 13-0 and has not allowed a goal since the 2-1 loss to Upper St. Clair Oct. 2. The Indians’ defense – led by seniors Sean Harrison, Jake Valley and Kelson Marison – has made first-year starting goalkeeper Josh Deyarmi’s job an easier one.
“This senior group has been battling and playing together our whole lives,” senior midfielder Dylan Weyers said. “We’ve been playing together up through high school. That’s why we’re here and we’re in a position to repeat.”
In last year’s title game, it was Mario Mastrangelo who scored the game-winning goal and the defense shut down USC for a 1-0 victory. With a highly anticipated matchup set for Friday night, Blatz and the USC defenders will likely keep an eye on both Mastrangelo brothers throughout the game.
“I’m sure both teams will be kind of jumpy through the first 10 minutes, but we’ll settle down,” Mario Mastrangelo said. “We want to go to states and win. This is the next step.”