N.A. familiar with former foe McDowell
PIAA AAAA Quarterfinals
North Allegheny (13-0) vs. Mcdowell (7-5), 7 p.m. Friday at NexTier Stadium, Harmony
McDowell played a schedule that featured losses to four opponents from traditional Ohio powerhouses, but the Trojans are familiar with their foe in the PIAA Class AAAA quarterfinals. After playing North Allegheny twice the past two seasons as members of the Quad North, McDowell knows what to expect from the three-time defending WPIAL Quad-A champion Tigers.
“Look at the WPIAL North, the conference they're in now and we were in last year: It was a war,” McDowell coach Mark Soboleski said. “Yeah, we played the Ohio teams, but the schedule is not any better because we played it the last two years. They're about as good as it gets.”
And vice versa for North Allegheny coach Art Walker, who has a healthy respect for McDowell after it opened with Mentor (Ohio) and played Cleveland's St. Ignatius and St. Edward, Youngstown Cardinal Mooney and Erie Cathedral Prep before winning the District 10 title.
“We know that they played good teams and they're not afraid of who they're playing because they played a good schedule,” Walker said. “We are familiar with some of their players because they were in our section the last couple years. We're not completely in the dark with who our opponent is.”
The Tigers must stop McDowell's running game in the triple-option flexbone offense, which features 6-foot-2, 230-pound senior James Conner, who is averaging 11.3 yards per carry. A Pitt recruit, Conner has played so well that the Panthers, who originally liked him as a defensive end, want him to play offense. Conner rushed for 198 of his 213 yards in first half of the 42-0 victory over State College in the PIAA first round, and had 129 yards on eight carries against Perry the week before.
“He's a bigger back, a physical back, and has nice speed for his size, that's for sure,” Walker said. “He's a downhill runner. He can take punishment, so we expect them to give it to him a lot and try to control the clock with the run game.”
KEYS TO VICTORY — NA: Getting an early lead through the passing game would take the Trojans out of their element and force them to throw the ball with sophomore Jake Tarasovitch. M: Establishing a ground game behind Conner could cause the Tigers problems, and allow McDowell to eat the clock by keeping the ball out of North Allegheny's hands.
PREDICTION — North Allegheny, 35-21