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North Allegheny chasing third straight WPIAL championship

| Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012, 10:26 p.m.
Christopher Horner
North Allegheny head coach Art Walker, Jr. talks to his team before a game against Central Catholic. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

No team has won three consecutive WPIAL Quad-A football titles, a feat North Allegheny would accomplish with a win Friday at Heinz Field.

It requires a consistency George Novak certainly understands. His talented Woodland Hills teams from a decade ago nearly won four straight, but a one-point championship game loss in 2000 left a gap between the Wolverines' titles in 1999, 2001 and 2002.

Sometimes, it's just that close.

“In Quad A, it's very tough,” said Novak, whose 2003 team reached only the WPIAL quarterfinals, “because every year those top eight teams, anything can happen. It's tough to do it every year, year in and year out. There are not too many teams like that, when you look back in history.”

Six teams have won consecutive Class AAAA titles, including Mt. Lebanon which did it twice (1980-81, 1983-84), yet failed to reach the title game in 1982 or '85. That same fate befell Gateway (1985-86), Upper St. Clair (1988-89) and Central Catholic (2003-04). None of those five returned to the WPIAL final with a chance at three straight titles.

For them, the third time wasn't the charm.

Yet, after winning in 2010 and 2011, No. 1 North Allegheny (12-0) returns to the WPIAL championship game to face No. 7 Woodland Hills (10-2) at 2 p.m. Friday at Heinz Field. A victory would earn the Tigers a unique place in WPIAL history.

“It's been a step-by-step process,” North Allegheny coach Art Walker said. “We wanted to win our conference, make it to the WPIAL final and win it. The focus wasn't about getting three. It was about that second goal. Now, the third goal is to win it.”

Woodland Hills could halt the historic run, but Novak won't besmirch the Tigers' success.

“They have some great players,” Novak said. “They're the biggest school, and all of their sports are very successful. They're a very good team, offensively and defensively. They're exceptional. That's why they've won.”

Michigan recruit Pat Kugler, a 6-foot-4, 280-pound tackle, has been a starter since 2010, when North Allegheny began its 11-game streak in the WPIAL playoffs. The Tigers also have a 2,400-yard passer in Mack Leftwich, and a halfback who's nearing 1,000 yards in Alex DiCiantis. The team has averaged 40.5 points while allowing 6.8.

“Their offense is great,” Novak said, “and their defense is greater.”

This has been a season of growth for the Wolverines, who returned just two players who scored a year ago. Both of them were unavailable by midseason, yet the team kept improving.

“George Novak does a great job of identifying kids and putting them in the right positions as the season goes along,” Walker said. “They're playing their best right now.”

Among those fruitful decisions was featuring freshman halfback Miles Sanders, who has 10 rushing touchdowns. He missed the semifinal win over Upper St. Clair with an injury but has been cleared to play Friday. The Wolverines also will lean on senior Cody McClelland, a 1,600-yard passer.

“They're throwing now from the shotgun more than they ever have,” Walker said. “Their quarterback throws a heck of a deep ball. That's a tribute to their coaches, putting kids in positions to be successful.”

This will be Novak's 10th title game; he also won Class AAA in 1982 with Steel Valley.

For Walker, this will be his sixth WPIAL championship appearance in 15 seasons, and he already has four titles.

“He's got a great staff, and that's a big part of it,” Novak said. “If he stays at North Allegheny, he should pass us all.”

Kevin Gorman contributed. Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at charlan@tribweb.com.

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