In the end, Woodland Hills was unable to topple the No. 1 seed in the WPIAL Class AAAA football playoffs, but the Wolverines certainly came close.
Woodland Hills played North Allegheny tough but dropped a 21-14 decision in the championship game Friday at Heinz Field.
"Our kids played as hard as they could play but man-for-man North Allegheny was the best team we faced all year," Woodland Hills coach George Novak said. "We were undersized against them and against a lot of teams this year, but our kids gave a great effort all year and had a great season.
"When you get to Heinz Field, everyone is a champion. You have to have a great team to make it that far."
Although Woodland Hills came up short, it did beat the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds along the way to advance to the final as the Wolverines had one of the best postseason runs of any team in the WPIAL.
Woodland Hills, which finished 10-3, took out second-seeded Gateway, 13-10, in the quarterfinals then rolled to a 38-14 victory against third-seeded Upper St. Clair in the semifinals.
"We didn't have a lot of experience coming into this season but we got better as the year went on," Novak said. "That's what you're always looking for as a coach -- to see your team improve over the course of the season."
Woodland Hills has been a predominantly run-oriented team under Novak, who has won five WPIAL titles at Woodland Hills plus one at Steel Valley. The senior pass-catch tandem of quarterback Cody McClelland and wide receiver Tom Greene, however, enabled the Wolverines to open up their offense this year.
McClelland threw for 1,803 yards and 21 touchdowns while completing 91 of 206 passes and being intercepted just three times. Greene had 42 receptions for 803 yards and began drawing the attention of Division I programs as the season progressed.
Woodland Hills, though, will likely go back to more of a ground-oriented attack in 2013 following the late-season emergence of freshman running back Miles Sanders.
A 5-foot-11, 163-pound speedster, Sanders had 738 yards on 129 carries. He also proved to be a threat as a receiver with eight catches for 211 yards.
Sanders had 97 yards and one touchdown on 17 carries against North Allegheny before a sprained neck that knocked him out of the game with 3:04 left. The injury also kept him from playing in the semifinal win against Upper St. Clair.
In his three playoff games, Sanders had 291 rushing yards.
Another potential threat in the backfield will be running back Art Thompkins, who will be a junior. Thompkins had just a handful of carries this season as a third-stringer but broke a key 25-yard touchdown run against Upper St. Clair.
Freshman Jeremiah Jones was McClelland's primary backup this season and attempted just 11 passes, completing four for 45 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. Jones, though, has potential and could be a long-term fixture behind center.
Junior wide receiver Trevon Mathis had five receptions for 109 yards this season but has the talent to emerge much like Greene did this season. Greene was stuck behind Shakim Alonzo as a junior in 2011 and Mathis was in the same situation this year.
Defensively, Woodland Hills could be exceptional next season as eight players who started at times this season on that side of the ball are expected to return.
"It was disappointing to come so close in the championship game and wind up losing, but our kids played great and the way we finished the season already has us excited about next season," Novak said.
First Published November 29, 2012 5:00 AM