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High School Sports

Penn Hills ready to avenge playoff loss to NA

| Thursday, Sept. 12, 2002

Jim Rankin knows something about pulling himself up off the ground.

The North Allegheny head football coach had surgery Tuesday to repair a shoulder injury sustained during a summer-time bike-riding accident.

After the nasty spill, the 55-year-old Rankin mounted the bike and, down to one arm, pedaled to a nearby hospital.

Rankin is hoping his players will climb back from last week's last-minute loss when they play host to No. 2-ranked Penn Hills (2-0) at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at Newman Stadium in a rematch of last year's WPIAL Class AAAA quarterfinals.

One week after allowing a pair of 100-yard rushers at Upper St. Clair, No. 8 North Allegheny (1-1) must contend with Penn Hills junior quarterback Anthony Morelli, a major NCAA Division I recruit.

“We have a chance to be a good football team,” Rankin said after the 16-13 loss at USC. “But we made a lot of mistakes, and we tackled poorly, and obviously, I'm not doing a good job of coaching right now.”

Penn Hills coach Neil Gordon knows North Allegheny won't be as generous Friday. The Tigers players and coaches promised to spend a long week of practice fixing their problems on run defense.

“Rankin will correct those mistakes,” Gordon said. “If we beat them on the run, it's not because they are weak. It's because we executed.”

For sure, Morelli looks for a better showing than last November. The 6-foot-4, 205-pounder misfired on all 12 of his pass attempts in the second half of a 21-14 loss to North Allegheny in the WPIAL Class AAAA quarterfinals.

But Big 33 linebacker Tom Parks has graduated, leaving the North Allegheny defense in the hands of junior rush-end Chris Rogers (6-foot-3, 225 pounds).

“We thought we had the game last year, and it was a very hard loss to take,” Penn Hills left guard/nose tackle Mike Hill said. “We are looking forward to avenging that loss.”

Penn Hills has averaged 41.5 points in victories over Gateway and Plum. Morelli completed 7 of 12 pass attempts for 173 yards and three touchdowns in a 55-20 victory over Plum last week. Michigan, Pitt and Purdue have offered scholarships to the strong-armed junior.

“He's a year wiser, and he's becoming more and more of a weapon,” Gordon said. Morelli is complimented by a stable of speedy receivers, led by sophomore David Harvey, and emerging sophomore running back Ken Lewis (182 yards, 5 toucdowns).

Lewis, an elusive 6-foot, 150-pounder, and classmate Ed Collington (6-0, 180), a transfer from Steel Valley, have eased Gordon's worries about the loss of graduated 1,600-yard rusher Brandon Anderson.

“Something that was a major concern before the season is not so much of a concern,” Gordon said.

While Penn Hills has one of the top throwing quarterbacks in the WPIAL, North Allegheny (1-1) counters with one of the best running quarterbacks.

Senior Matt Butler rushed for 97 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries against Upper St. Clair. His spectacular 47-yard second-quarter run was required viewing at his week's film study at Penn Hills.

“That was good for us to see,” Gordon said. “Instead of us telling the kids that he can do it, we show them on film that he can do it, and that makes it easier to get the point across.”

North Allegheny's veer offense also features running backs Shawn Lewis and Mike Boris, wide receiver Travis Hawes and tight end Rogers.

Both teams are seeking some momentum heading into their respective conferences. North Allegheny will play Mt. Lebanon next Friday and No. 6 Seneca Valley on Sept. 27 in the Quad North.

Penn Hills will meet Quad East foe Baldwin next week. The Indians get No. 3 Central Catholic and No. 1 Woodland Hills in an eight-day span in late October. “The tough times are ahead,” Gordon said.

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