North Allegheny knows title goes through Central Catholic
When Art Walker arrived at North Allegheny in 2005, Central Catholic was never mentioned.
Never mind that Walker had led the Vikings to back-to-back WPIAL Class AAAA championships and an undefeated PIAA title in ‘04.
It wasn't until North Allegheny finally played Central — and beat the top-ranked Vikings, 17-7 — in the 2010 WPIAL semifinals that the Tigers truly re-established themselves as an elite Quad-A program.
“We didn't know if we were going to see anybody as tough as them,” Walker said. “That experience was crucial for us.”
Now, the roles are reversed.
Walker has North Allegheny (6-0, 5-0) ranked No. 1 in the WPIAL, and standing in the way of a young Central Catholic (5-1, 4-1) team that is trying to recapture the flag as the premier program in Quad-A.
This is only their second meeting in the past decade. That both are in the Quad North raises the stakes.
“I think all of that is true, but NA is extremely good,” said Central coach Terry Totten, who was Walker's defensive coordinator for four years before being promoted.
“They're well-coached, very good on both sides of the ball and special teams. They have a guy that can move the ball around. I don't see a weakness. We're not that kind of football team this year. We're not. I'm going to give it to you straight. We're going to battle, but we're a very young football team.”
Where Walker was reluctant to use Central as a template for North Allegheny — the former is a parochial school, the latter a public — their results are mirror images.
Since 2007, Central is 59-9, while North Allegheny is 61-10. Both have won PIAA titles (Central in '07, NA in '10), but the Tigers have an edge as two-time defending WPIAL champions with a 22-game win streak against district opponents.
“The system is in place,” Totten said of the Tigers. “They do a lot of similar things that we did. They're very sound, very well-coached. (Walker is) very thorough. He's bright. He knows football. He runs a tight ship. It's kind of the perfect storm out there right now. “
Where North Allegheny is coming off a 14-3 victory at then-No. 2 Gateway, Central is trying to regroup from a 34-7 loss at Seneca Valley Sept. 27. Considering North Allegheny beat Seneca Valley, 45-3, on Sept. 14, the Tigers are overwhelming favorites.
Walker has warned his players not to overlook Central, which has allowed six touchdowns all season, including one against Pine-Richland last week. The Vikings also should be bolstered by the return of three players who missed that Seneca Valley game: tailback Luigi Lista-Brinza, safety Garret Vrbanic and lineman Angelo Natter.
“When they played on Thursday night, I don't think by any means it showed what kind of quality team they are,” Walker said. “We're going to approach it like we're going to get their best game.
“We need to understand this game means so much more than last week's game. This one's bigger because it's a conference game. Our first goal is to try to win our conference, so this game is so important right now.”
More important than the opponent, which goes without saying.
Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7812.