Numbers favor N.A., but tough defense awaits
TribLIVE Sports Videos
North Allegheny is two years removed from winning a PIAA Class AAAA championship and one year from losing to Central Dauphin in the state semifinals.
So Art Walker didn't have to spend much time telling his Tigers about the importance of Saturday's game against West Lawn Wilson.
“We're a game away,” Walker said. “The nice thing is, it really hasn't been talked about that much. We watched film, and the only thing I said was, ‘We were in this position last year, and we went home. If you want to be one of those two teams left, you cannot look a second past Saturday.'
“That's the thing about this team: They don't really talk about the numbers. They don't talk about the last three years. They don't even talk about winning three WPIAL titles in a row. They're good about handling the pressure and expectations and deflecting all of that. They've had a great focus. We haven't had to remind them of the little things. They know they don't want it to end until it has to.”
For North Allegheny (14-0), the road to returning to Hershey goes through Wilson (13-1), when they meet in a PIAA Class AAAA semifinal at 3 p.m. Saturday at Altoona's Mansion Park Stadium. That a three-plus hour bus trip awaits Wilson, which is located outside of Reading, has coach Doug Dahms fuming.
“I don't mind going west; I don't like the fact that we're playing in the afternoon,” Dahms said. “I pushed hard to play at 6 o'clock. I don't know what the PIAA's problem is.”
The numbers favor the Tigers making a return trip to the PIAA finals in Hershey. Where North Allegheny features a 2,900-yard passer in Mack Leftwich, a 1,000-yard rusher in Alex DiCiantis and a 1,000-yard receiver in Gregg Garrity, Wilson doesn't have a 1,000-yard performer at any position.
The Bulldogs, whose alums include NFL quarterbacks Kerry Collins and Chad Henne, have rotated three players at the position this season. They use a tailback-by-committee format in a run-oriented scheme.
Safe to say, Wilson's strength is its defense.
“That's their No. 1 thing,” Walker said. “They're going to say, ‘You've got to beat our defense to beat us.' That's their philosophy.”
Dahms said he believes the Bulldogs must keep it close to have a chance of beating North Allegheny.
“That's obviously going to be huge because we haven't been a grind-it-out offense,” Dahms said. “Our best chance of winning is a low-scoring game.”
North Allegheny's closest games this season were against Gateway (14-3) and Woodland Hills (21-14), so it's no surprise Walker compared Wilson's defense to those WPIAL powers. The Bulldogs feature Division I recruits at defensive end in 6-foot-2, 230-pound Junior Joseph (Connecticut) and 6-2, 237-pound Matt Rothrock (Lafayette), stout linebackers in Madison Miller and Dominic Moyer and a speedy secondary led by Jimmy Brooks and Jesse Poore, who double as running backs.
“If we can establish moving the ball on them — and not just big-play stuff — they're a bend-but-don't-break defense,” Walker said. “They make you earn it. If we can mix things up and move the ball and get it in the end zone and help our defense out, that would be helpful.”
Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7812.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.