North Allegheny romps to PIAA championship
HERSHEY — Two long fumble returns for touchdowns were part of a record-setting performance Saturday night for North Allegheny in a 63-28 victory over Coatesville in the PIAA Class AAAA championship at Hersheypark Stadium.
The Tigers' 63 points were the most scored in a PIAA championship, and it's fitting that their defense played a significant role.
Brendan Coniker returned a fumble 80 yards, and Kevin Edwards returned another 52, accounting for two of the Tigers' four first-quarter touchdowns. The 28 points were the most scored by one team in the first quarter of a PIAA final.
“I'm ecstatic for the defense,” said NA coach Art Walker, who awarded Edwards the team's player-of-the-game chain. “I'm ecstatic that it was both sides of the football.”
This Coatesville offense had thrived this season on long scoring plays, but the Tigers' defense stole its approach. And maybe a little of its confidence.
“Not only did (the fumbles) slow them down a little bit and make them think, they got us excited and ready to play,” Edwards said. “It was big for our defense.”
The victory before 6,047 gave North Allegheny its second PIAA title in three seasons and third overall. The Tigers (16-0) became the fifth WPIAL team with at least three state title. Clairton is the only WPIAL team with four.
NA also became just the second Quad-A program to win multiple PIAA titles in a three-year span. Central Bucks West won three in a row from 1997-99.
“If you want to be remembered as one of the greatest of all time, you have to finish,” NA coach Art Walker said. “I don't think there's any question with this group of seniors that they've got to be mentioned as one of the greatest of all time.”
Coatesville (13-3) was playing its first PIAA title game.
NA quarterback Mack Leftwich handled the two other first-quarter touchdowns, throwing an 8-yard scoring pass to Skylar Cox and rushing 5 yards for another to build a 28-7 lead. Leftwich completed 16 of 20 passes and threw two touchdown passes, including a 17-yarder to Gregg Garrity. Leftwich also rushed for 90 yards on 16 carries.
The Tigers' fumble returns came just two minutes apart in the first quarter, giving North Allegheny a 21-0 lead with 3:56 left. The defense has been strong all season, holding nine opponents to a touchdown or less.
“Scoring twice on defense in the first half of a state championship game gives you some breathing room,” Walker said.
“It opens up our playbook a little bit.”
That NA lead was 35-14 at half.
Coatesville quarterback Emmett Hunt scored two rushing scores — both 1-yard dives — and halfback Daquan Worley had an 89-yard touchdown. Worley had 160 yards on 17 carries. Hunt completed 11 of 18 passes for 131 yards, but also was intercepted by Edwards in the third quarter.
Cox, Zach Lyon and Jeremy Gonzales each had sacks.
“We've been very physical up to this point,” Coatesville coach Matt Ortega said.
“They were more physical than us tonight, and that was the difference.”
NA senior Alex DeCiantis rushed for 115 on 21 carries and scored three touchdowns, including a 1-yard touchdown run with 8:44 left in the fourth that gave North Allegheny a 56-21 lead, enacting the mercy rule and a running clock.
A 60-yard run by Nick Cully with 4:32 left earned NA the single-game scoring record.
The 63 points bettered a mark set by Dunmore in a 57-18 victory over Keystone in the 1989 Class AAA title game.
Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.