Gorman: North Allegheny led by return of Mack
Mack Leftwich stood on the field at Hersheypark Stadium after leading North Allegheny to the PIAA Class AAAA championship and finally understood why they call this the Sweetest Place on Earth.
It has absolutely nothing to do with the chocolate.
The Tigers put the finishing touches on a 16-0 season with a 63-28 victory over Coatesville on Saturday night, and a perfect ending for their quarterback who had finally found a home.
“This is why we stayed,” Mack's mother, LaTonne Leftwich said, fighting back tears. “I knew he wanted to finish what he started here and to win a state title. I think it was meant to be, us moving to Pennsylvania.”
North Allegheny won the state title a year and a day after Todd Graham abandoned Pitt for Arizona State, leaving the Leftwichs in limbo.
Spencer Leftwich and his family had followed Graham from Texas to Tulsa and then to Western Pennsylvania before Mack's junior year, Spencer serving as offensive line coach at every stop.
Following his father to Arizona would have meant a fourth high school in as many years for Mack.
As a freshman at Denton Ryan, he was a backup on the Texas Class 4A Division I state runners-up. A week before the start of his sophomore season, Spencer Leftwich took a job at Tulsa and Mack transferred to Oklahoma, where he spent the season as a backup on Class 6A champion Tulsa Union.
Moving also would have meant leaving unfinished business at North Allegheny after the Tigers suffered a last-second loss in the PIAA semifinals last year.
So, the family made a decision to split up for his senior season. Spencer moved to Tucson, while his wife and three sons — Mack's brothers, Cutter and Gage, are in the eighth and fifth grades — remained in Wexford.
Despite being undersized at 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, Mack produced one of the best seasons ever by a WPIAL quarterback. He passed for 3,331 yards and 45 touchdowns.
“Offensively, he's the catalyst because of what he can do running the no-huddle,” NA coach Art Walker said. “He's not a runner. He's not a passer. He's both. He's an under-center quarterback. He's a shotgun quarterback. He's a spread quarterback. He's a four-tight end quarterback.
“Ask him to do something, and he'll do it right.”
Leftwich completed 16 of 20 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 90 yards and another score on 16 carries in the PIAA final.
It was the perfect ending of a perfect week for Leftwich. He received the Division I scholarship he had longed for when the University of Texas at El Paso hired Steelers offensive line coach Sean Kugler. His first move was to offer the quarterback who is a teammate and close friend of his son, North Allegheny left tackle Patrick Kugler.
“He's definitely the heart and soul of this team. He's a great leader and a great competitor,” Patrick Kugler said of Leftwich. “My dad's getting a steal with him at UTEP.”
Leftwich got more good news after the game, when he learned that Arizona scored two touchdowns in the final 42 seconds for a 49-48 victory over Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl. Spencer Leftwich had missed his son's final high school game, but Mack was in no mood to complain.
“With this win, it definitely makes it feel like all those times away from my dad were worth it,” Mack said. “There's nothing better than winning a state championship. There's no place I'd rather be than here in Hershey.”
With a sweeter ending than he could have ever imagined.
Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7812.