North Allegheny knocks out Central Catholic
Art Walker had a halftime question for his North Allegheny players: "I want to coach next week. Do you want to play?"
Alex Papson wanted to play.
North Allegheny's star senior rushed for 161 of his 190 yards in the final two quarters, including a 67-yard touchdown run that helped clinch a spot in the WPIAL Class AAAA championship game.
Behind a strong defense and a somewhat simplistic offense, No. 5 seed North Allegheny claimed a 17-7 semifinal victory over No. 1 Central Catholic before a capacity crowd at Fox Chapel.
"Coach Walker is one of the best speech-givers I've ever seen," Papson said.
After his team managed just 47 first-half yards, Walker chose to make things simple in the second half. North Allegheny (11-1) reverted to the straight-ahead running plays that had worked all season.
"We depended on our bread-and-butter plays," Papson said. "We went back to the basics, and we pounded the football. Our offensive line had a great push."
Central Catholic's Perry Hills passed for 254 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown strike to Dustin Lowman. But the Vikings (11-1) won't be returning to Heinz Field. This will be North Allegheny's first trip the WPIAL championship game since 1998, when it was held at Three Rivers Stadium. The Tigers haven't won a football title since 1990.
"This means the world to me and my team," Papson said.
Facing third-and-7 at its 33-yard line, North Allegheny gave another handoff to Papson. Despite holding only a three-point lead with little more than three minutes left, Walker was willing to trust his defense, which allowed Central Catholic's Damion Jones-Moore only 4 rushing yards on 16 carries.
"We made a decision: As long as our defense is playing the way it's playing, we're going to slug it out," Walker said. "We're going to keep giving Alex carries and hope he pops one. Thank goodness he did."
With 3:12 left, Papson broke free for a 67-yard touchdown run, extending North Allegheny's lead to 10 points.
"We were in formations that Lombardi would be proud of," Walker said with a laugh.
A 33-yard field goal by Alex Greenblatt gave North Allegheny a 10-7 lead with 10:50 left. Greenblatt leads the WPIAL with 10 field goals.
In the first half, defense was dominant, allowing Jones-Moore just 5 rushing yards and Papson 29. Both had 12 carries.
There was a fumbled punt recovered by Central Catholic's Pat Quirin and a blocked punt recovered by North Allegheny's Nathan Nachazel. There were interceptions by North Allegheny's Brendan Coniker and Justin Haser and two by Central Catholic's Ed Latimer.
"We just didn't do enough with (the turnovers)," Central Catholic coach Terry Totten said. "I credit them with hanging in there. I think they beat a pretty good football team tonight."