North Allegheny responds from early deficit to rout McDowell in PIAA quarterfinals
North Allegheny needed to overcome one of its largest deficits of the season to reach the PIAA semifinals.
It sounds dramatic, except that the margin was only six points. It lasted just four minutes before NA scored the first of eight consecutive touchdowns in Friday night's 56-6 victory over McDowell in a Class AAAA state quarterfinal at Seneca Valley.
The 50-point margin was NA's largest this season, and it came against the District 10 champion.
NA quarterback Mack Leftwich passed for 284 yards and five touchdowns, including four in the second quarter when his Tigers scored 35 points.
“I talked to Mack as soon as they scored and said the offense has to respond right now,” NA coach Art Walker said. “He said, ‘Absolutely.' ”
“We knew that we had to come out and answer,” said Leftwich, who completed 14 of 15 passes and added a 1-yard touchdown run while adding to his postseason legacy. The senior also scored six touchdowns in last year's PIAA playoff opener, rushing for five and throwing one.
With the lopsided victory, North Allegheny reaches the state semifinals for the third straight year, a streak that started with 2010's state title. Awaiting the Tigers (14-0) next weekend will be the winner of Saturday night's District 3 championship game between Wilson (12-1) and Harrisburg (11-2).
McDowell coach Mark Soboleski saw only one clear way his Trojans (7-6) might have won: “Maybe if Leftwich missed the bus. Maybe that's how you beat them.”
Gregg Garrity and Skylar Cox caught two touchdowns each from Leftwich in the second quarter, and Brendan Coniker added another 54 seconds into the third. Coniker's 69-yarder gave the Tigers a 42-6 lead that enacted the mercy rule and a running clock.
Three McDowell turnovers in a five-minute span fueled the rout.
“We did this week what we didn't do the previous week: Turn turnovers into points,” Walker said.
Garrity had seven catches for 128 yards and became the first NA receiver to surpass 1,000 yards in a season. The senior wideout reached the milestone on a night when Leftwich became a 5,000-yard career passer as a two-year starter.
Elijah Zeise returned an interception 40 yards for a third-quarter touchdown, and sophomore Josh Bergman added the final score early in the fourth when the starters were resting.
Friday couldn't have started much better for McDowell, which scored on the game's first possession. The Trojans moved 65 yards in 13 plays, ending with a 4-yard touchdown run by Khyre Drayer. To sustain the drive, McDowell converted a fourth-and-1 near midfield, a third-and-1 at NA's 19, and scored when again facing fourth-and-1.
North Allegheny trailed, 3-0, twice this season — in victories over Pine-Richland and Seneca Valley — but never had allowed a touchdown on the opening drive. Yet, McDowell finished with just 155 yards with a run-heavy offense not built for comebacks.
McDowell's James Conner, a Pitt recruit, had 39 yards on nine carries. The senior was a 1,600-yard rusher this season.
“You take a running game out of its element and make them pass to beat you,” Walker said, “because that offense is not built to come back from a 21-point deficit.”
Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.