North Allegheny runs over Gateway
There were no 300-yard passers, no 50-point offenses and no long touchdowns when No. 1 North Allegheny met No. 2 Gateway.
Yes, these were two of the best offenses. But these also were the two best defenses, reminded North Allegheny tackle Pat Kugler.
“We knew it was going to be a low-scoring game; whoever could punch them in the mouth last was going to win this one,” said Kugler, whose defense punched last in Friday night's 14-3 victory over Gateway at Antimarino Stadium, solidifying the Tigers' status as WPIAL Class AAAA favorites.
North Allegheny quarterback Mack Leftwich, one of the WPIAL's leading passers, scored two rushing touchdowns, and teammate Alex DeCiantis rushed for 126 yards on 25 carries.
That ground-game approach was their plan against Gateway's talented defense.
“They've got four people in the secondary going Division I,” Kugler said. “The mindset going in was run the ball first and set up the pass game. ... I feel like we could have passed on them, but the run game was going so well that we didn't have to.”
North Allegheny rushed for 215 yards on 37 carries. Leftwich had touchdown runs of 1 and 12 yards. His first gave North Allegheny a 7-3 lead in the second quarter. The second sealed North Allegheny's victory in the fourth.
“We had to stop the run. Period,” Gateway coach Terry Smith said. “You saw my secondary. They're the best in the country. The run game is where they beat us.”
Neither team displayed its explosive pass game. Leftwich threw for just 27 yards. Gateway's Thomas Woodson had 127 passing yards but was hurt by several drops, including two in the end zone. Woodson also was sacked six times.
“In a game like this, you've got to squeeze the ball,” Smith said. “We've got to make those plays, and we have guys who can make those plays.”
Both offenses can throw. But matched against two of the WPIAL's best defenses, execution didn't match expectations. Woodson threw incomplete on two of Gateway's first three plays before the Gators punted, and Leftwich threw a long pass on North Allegheny's third play that was intercepted in the end zone.
Then both teams turned to their run games. Gateway ran the ball eight straight snaps and marched to North Allegheny's 8-yard line. There the drive stalled with a holding penalty, a short pass and two incompletions. A 29-yard field goal by Chris Conti gave the Gators a 3-0 lead with 4:31 left in the first quarter.
North Allegheny had its own long drive in the second. The Tigers moved 94 yards in 13 plays — all runs — ending with a 1-yard touchdown run by Leftwich.
The first-half pass-run ratio wasn't close. North Allegheny rushed for 128 and passed for 10. Gateway rushed for 120 and passed for 34.
“I love smashmouth,” Kugler said. “That's the way that North Allegheny likes to play.”
This was a midseason measuring stick for both previously undefeated teams, but Gateway (5-1) had more to prove. The Gators had played just one team with a winning record (Hempfield). North Allegheny (6-0) had lopsided victories over Seneca Valley and Mt. Lebanon.
Andre Martin led Gateway with 95 rushing yards on 18 carries.
“The best thing about this is it wasn't a playoff game,” Smith said, “so we live to breathe another day. ... We played well, we played tough, but we just didn't play good enough to win.”
North Allegheny and Gateway were preseason favorites to meet at Heinz Field. NA coach Art Walker said Friday that's still a possibility.
“They've got a lot of quality athletes,” Walker said, “and a lot of experienced veterans who will work hard to make sure they do everything to get back. There's no question there's a strong chance we'll see them again.”
Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-380-5666.