The North Allegheny football team hasn't lost back-to-back games in the same season since September 2006, when the Tigers dropped consecutive contests to Woodland Hills and Upper St. Clair.
But after a 35-32 defeat to Gateway last Friday, North Allegheny will have to pull an upset this week to avoid the same fate as the 2006 squad.
The Tigers (4-2, 3-1) will travel to Highmark Stadium at Station Square 7:30 Friday night to play undefeated Central Catholic (6-0, 5-0), the Post-Gazette's No. 2-ranked WPIAL Class AAAA team in a Northern Eight Conference showdown.
"They're solid just about everywhere," North Allegheny coach Art Walker said. "They have a good offensive line, they're talented at the skill positions and their quarterback does a good job of managing the game. He's also probably the best punter around and with their athletes, their special teams are very, very good.
"And their defense speaks for itself."
The Vikings defense has been the second stingiest in the Class AAAA behind Upper St. Clair, allowing just 4.5 points per game.
Central Catholic has key contributors at every level, led by senior Zack Deluca on the defensive line, senior Niko Thorpe at linebacker and senior Tre Tarpley in the secondary.
"We have experienced kids who know our system well," Central Catholic coach Terry Totten said.
The Vikings defense will face its toughest test so far this season when they play Friday. The Tigers will enter Friday's matchup as the second-highest scoring team in Class AAAA at 37 points per game, behind only Central Catholic (47.5).
The Tigers had to replace most of their personnel from last season's state title winning squad, but Totten said North Allegheny's offense is similar.
"Yeah it's pretty similar, except they try to get [Elijah] Zeise the ball as much as possible," Totten said.
Zeise, a Pitt recruit, added to his standout senior season last Friday, catching five passes for 116 yards and a touchdown. He has 26 catches for 530 yards and four touchdowns this season.
He has helped stabilize an offense that has a first-year starting quarterback in Jeff Clemens and a banged-up running game. The Tigers top two running backs -- Josh Bergman and Sean Idowu -- have been out the past few weeks with injuries. Walker wasn't sure if either would be able to suit up against Central Catholic.
In their absences, Isaac Weaver has posted two 100-plus yard rushing games in a row.
The Vikings also have injury issues at the running back position. Senior Luigi Lista-Brinza was third in the WPIAL in rushing through five games with 920 yards. He will miss Friday's game and possibly the rest of the regular season, however, with a high ankle sprain.
But just as Weaver has filled in admirably for the Tigers, Riley Redman did the same for the Vikings last week.
Redman, a junior tailback, rushed for 223 yards and scored three touchdowns in Central Catholic's 49-14 victory against Pine-Richland. For the season, Redman has rushed for 458 yards and is averaging 13.1 yards per carry.
"Their top back goes down, and the guy comes in and rushes for 200-plus yards," said Walker, who coached at Central from 1998 through 2004 before taking the North Allegheny job.
"They don't miss a beat. They have very good depth at the position. The senior [Lista-Brinza] has the experience, but they have a lot of talent at the position."
Central Catholic would clinch at least a share of the conference title with a victory Friday night. But Totten knows nothing will be handed to his team. The Vikings will have to earn it.
"I expect a very physical, hard-fought game," Totten said. "North Allegheny is a good football tam and we know each other well, so there likely won't be many surprises. It's just going to be a very physical football game."
• Game: North Allegheny (4-2, 3-1) vs. Central Catholic (6-0, 5-0).
• When: 7:30 p.m. Friday.
• Where: Highmark Stadium, Station Square.
• Skinny: The defending state champs will be out to upset the No. 2 team in WPIAL Class AAAA.hsfootball
First Published October 9, 2013 8:00 PM