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Woodland Hills, NA familiar with WPIAL finals atmosphere

| Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012, 12:12 a.m.
Woodland Hills's Tom Greene hauls in a catch which would turn into a 80-yard reception with Upper St. Clair's Morgan Lee behind him in the WPIAL AAAA semifinal playoff game at Baldwin Stadium on Friday November 16, 2012. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
North Allegheny's Elijah Zeise beats Seneca Valley's Jordan Brown on the first play of the game at Martorelli Stadium Nov. 16, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review

North Allegheny and Woodland Hills have made their share of trips to the North Side for the WPIAL Class AAAA championship over the years.

Their eight combined titles in the previous 22 seasons is certainly a testament to their longevity and success.

This year, however, things will be a bit different as each team will have the potential to make history with a win in the 2 p.m. Friday kickoff at Heinz Field.

“It gets tougher every week,” Woodland Hills coach George Novak said. “I'm real proud of them and the efforts they've put forth because they've done it against some very good football teams.”

Woodland Hills (10-2) has won five titles since the school began play in 1987, tied with Upper St. Clair for the most since Class AAAA was formed in 1980. Novak, who led Steel Valley to the 1982 title, also can become the first coach to win seven championships since the four-classification format was introduced in 1980.

North Allegheny (12-0), which has won 29 consecutive games against WPIAL opponents and defeated then-defending champion Woodland Hills in 2010 as part of that streak, can become the first team to win three consecutive Class AAAA crowns.

“We know it's going to be a tough fight,” North Allegheny coach Art Walker Jr. said. “But we're looking forward to the opportunity to get down there and to win it again.”

Top-seeded North Allegheny would have to be considered as a prohibitive favorite, with the classification's top scoring offense and defense. Though Woodland Hills was able to make Gateway one-dimensional offensively in its quarterfinal win, the question Novak and his staff have to answer is which dimension they want to take away from the Tigers' attack.

Quarterback Mack Leftwich has been amazing throughout the year and added to his impressive numbers last week against Seneca Valley when he passed for 360 yards and five touchdowns to give him 2,411 yards and 32 scores this season. North Allegheny also has an impressive rushing attack with Alex DiCantis, who is closing in on 1,000 yards, as well as Michigan offensive line recruit Patrick Kugler.

“They have some nice players offensively, and they have some nice players there,” Novak said. “They're strong at every position, they put up a lot of points and it's a big challenge for our defense and, if you look at their defense, it's probably one of the strong points of their team.”

Woodland Hills doesn't really have one Division I marquee player, but the team has played well, especially defensively, in the postseason. The Wolverines held the Gators to more than 23 points below their average, then followed it up with a solid game against Upper St. Clair in which they avenged a season-opening loss.

It's one of the reasons why North Allegheny is not about to take a seventh-seeded opponent lightly.

“You always have to respect the teams that are in the top 10 because they can all move into pretty much every spot,” Walker said. “I think they're playing extremely well defensively, especially in the last couple of weeks. They definitely got our attention, and we certainly give them a lot of respect, that's for sure.”

Keith Barnes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at kbarnes@tribweb.com or 412-664-9161, ext. 1977.

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