North Allegheny quarterback Mack Leftwich gets a pass off before getting hit by Wilson's Dominic Moyer.
North Allegheny's Brendan Coniker dives into the end zone for a touchdown despite the efforts of Wilson's Jesse Poore Saturday in a PIAA Class AAAA semifinal in Altoona.
By Mark Dent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
ALTOONA, Pa. -- The way they moved said everything you needed to know. Two quarters had been played. Two were left. This game wasn't over, but it didn't look that way.
Wilson's players walked slowly on the way to the locker room at halftime. North Allegheny's players were jogging. They were fired up. At halftime and by the end, this game was all about them, their physicality, their defense and their sharp execution on third and fourth down.
North Allegheny defeated Wilson of West Lawn, 45-10, Saturday at Mansion Park Stadium in a PIAA Class AAAA semifinal, advancing to the championship at 6 p.m. Saturday to face Coatesville (13-2) at Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey.
North Allegheny (15-0) had a scare, sort of, in roughly the same time it did a week ago. As it did against Erie McDowell, North Allegheny fell behind after allowing an early touchdown.
This one came on the first play of the game. Wilson's Jesse Poore returned a kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown.
"The mood on the sidelines was like, 'Let's go get it back,'" North Allegheny quarterback Mack Leftwich said.
What the kickoff team had failed to do in containing Wilson, the defense more than made up for, not allowing Wilson to get a first down in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Wilson had its best opportunity to score again, driving into North Allegheny territory. The Tigers stopped the drive by forcing Wilson to lose yards on consecutive rushes and then there was a bad snap on fourth down. North Allegheny's defense held Wilson to 103 total yards on 42 plays. Layne Skundrich led the team with 11.5 tackles and a sack. Patrick Kugler had three tackles for losses.
Where Wilson failed on the important downs, North Allegheny excelled. The Tigers converted 4-for-4 fourth-down attempts and 9 of 14 third-down attempts.
Late in the first quarter, with the score tied, North Allegheny faced a fourth-and-4 and fourth-and-8. It converted both, completing the latter with an 18-yard pass to wide receiver Gregg Garrity that set up a 5-yard touchdown run for Leftwich. Coach Art Walker said he based his fourth-down decisions on being in gray areas, where a punt or a field goal didn't quite fit, and wanting capitalize.
"We didn't want to leave anything on the field," he said. "We wanted to get to the state championship."
Wide receiver Brendan Coniker had a 9-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter, and Ben Ziolkowski kicked a 37-yard field goal with no time left in the first half.
North Allegheny added three more touchdowns in the fourth quarter -- a 3-yard pass to Coniker, another a 15-yard pass to Garrity (on fourth down) and a 13-yard run by running back Sean Idowu.
The dominant win means North Allegheny is back in the final. A year ago, the Tigers lost in the semifinals. Garrity and Leftwich remembered lacking focus as they prepared for their opponent, Central Dauphin. North Allegheny had a 21-game winning streak going in, and the Tigers lost on a last-second field goal.
This week, Garrity and Leftwich said the intensity had changed compared to a year ago. Garrity felt like he had lost for his family against Central Dauphin. He didn't want to feel that way again, and has a PIAA championship to look forward to this time.
"I'm just happy it's happened with this team," Garrity said. "I wouldn't want to do it with anyone else."