N.A. brings home 3rd straight WPIAL title
North Allegheny's locker room was rather subdued after Friday's victory — until coach Art Walker entered and questioned the mood.
“Why's it so quiet?”
With one smiling shout, the music grew louder, the atmosphere grew livelier and the weary Tigers celebrated their third consecutive WPIAL Class AAAA championship at Heinz Field, 21-14 winners over Woodland Hills.
It was their time once again.
“There is absolutely no thought of ever being tired of being here,” said Walker, whose team became the first to win three straight Quad-A titles.
“(Winning titles in 2010 and 2011) kind of taught the senior class that it's expected,” said senior Zach Lyon, who caught two touchdown passes. “That's the only thing we know.”
No. 1 North Allegheny (12-0) built a 21-14 lead with three first-half touchdown passes by senior Mack Leftwich, including one that capped a three-play, 82-yard drive just 45 seconds before halftime. But the Tigers needed a second-half shutout from the defense to keep No. 7 Woodland Hills (10-3) from stealing its history-making moment.
“That's been kind of the theme with our defense: If we have a lead at halftime, they take it personal,” Walker said. “If we shut them out, we're going to win. The offense doesn't need to do another thing. That's how they want it to be.”
Leftwich did just enough. The Stephen F. Austin recruit completed 13 of 23 passes for 219 yards and threw two touchdown passes to Lyon (44 and 5 yards) and a 32-yarder to Gregg Garrity.
The first to Lyon gave NA a 7-0 lead on its opening possession, and the second created a 14-14 tie. The Tigers took a 21-14 halftime lead on the pass to Garrity, which followed a 50-yard catch by junior Elijah Zeise.
“I was surprised how many points were scored in the first half,” Woodland Hills coach George Novak said. “Give them credit. They had a great passing game on us.”
North Allegheny's key defensive stand came early in the fourth, when Woodland Hills had a first-and-goal at the 4. Three runs netted minus-2 yards. On fourth down with 9:47 left, Woodland Hills' Cody McClelland threw an incomplete pass that bounced short of wideout Khalil Harper in the end zone.
The Wolverines had two more chances to score a game-tying touchdown, but neither drive reached farther than North Allegheny's 37. Another opportunity ended with a muffed punt near midfield, one of three Woodland Hills turnovers; NA's Chas Smith recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass, both in the second quarter.
McClelland completed 8 of 22 passes for 163 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown to Tom Greene in the first quarter that created a 7-7 tie. A 1-yard touchdown run by freshman Miles Sanders gave Woodland Hills a 14-7 lead 8:23 before halftime.
Sanders, who rushed 17 times for 97 yards and caught two passes for 50, was carried by stretcher from the field in the fourth quarter with a sprained neck. He was treated and released from the hospital, Novak said. Sanders was injured with 3:04 left, when a tackle drove him head-first into the ground on a 14-yard run.
After an extended delay, McClelland threw incomplete on Woodland Hills' final four plays, including a fourth-down pass that Harper caught out of bounds with 2:33 left.
With 1:10 left, Woodland Hills nearly regained possession when NA faced fourth-and-5, but an offside penalty allowed the Tigers to consume those final seconds.
NA's measured postgame response could be explained a few ways. The players have added another goal, believing they can win a second state championship in three seasons.
“We made history,” senior Pat Kugler said, “but it's not done now. It's a great feeling, but we've got to move on.”
But there was more. These Tigers had just played their closest game this season, an exhausting 47-minute performance that wasn't decided until the final minute.
“They had to give everything they had to get another game,” Walker said.
Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.