In a game that had been a slow grind, the potential for a big play lingered.
Facing a third down at its 15 with a fragile seven-point lead, West Allegheny quarterback Andrew Koester was flushed out of the pocket and, in a moment of improvisation, pitched the ball forward to Chayse Dillon, who took it 72 yards.
West Allegheny 16, Central Valley 6
West Allegheny takes on Central Valley in the Class AAA WPIAL Championship at Heinz Field. (Video by Andrew Rush; 11/23/13)
The play did not lead to a touchdown but, in a game where points came at a premium, it helped give West Allegheny another piece of hardware.
Dillon finished with 159 total yards and freshman D.J. Opsatnik made three field goals as the Indians (13-0) overcame an early hole to defeat Central Valley, 16-6, and win their second consecutive WPIAL Class AAA championship Saturday night at Heinz Field.
Earlier in the day, West Allegheny coach Bob Palko received a text from his son, Tyler, who won three WPIAL championships while playing for his father from 1999-2001.
To the elder Palko and his team, the message ultimately resonated.
"He said, 'There's going to come a point in time in every championship game that you're going to have to ask yourself ... are you worthy of winning this thing?' " Palko said. "We talked to the kids about that.
"You're going to get punched in the mouth and they did. It's a tribute to the kids -- they never gave in."
The WPIAL title is the seventh in Palko's career, making him the first coach in WPIAL history to accomplish the feat.
The Warriors (11-2), who entered the matchup averaging 35.7 points per game, were held below 10 points for just the second time this season, both of which came against the Indians.
For two conference foes that have found much of their success this season by moving the ball on the ground, the game got off to a methodical and effective start.
On its first possession, Central Valley went 89 yards in 16 plays for a touchdown, a drive that lasted 7:29 and was punctuated by a1-yard run from Preston Johnson.
Staring at a rare deficit, West Allegheny responded with a meticulous drive, going 65 yards in 15 plays, with running back Tory Delmonico scoring on a 3-yard touchdown run.
And the Indians weren't done there.
In a low-scoring game between two elite defenses, they stumbled upon a major opportunity, recovering a botched Central Valley center-quarterback exchange on the Warriors 33. West Allegheny took advantage of the mistake, tacking on a 30-yard field goal from Opsatnik to push the lead to 10-6.
As the second half began and Central Valley looked to wrestle control of the game, a miscue took away any sort of momentum.
Driving near midfield, the Warriors fumbled for the second time in their territory and West Allegheny recovered it at the 44. Again, the Indians were able to capitalize, getting a 32-yard field goal to extend their lead to 13-6.
Then, a game that had been lacking a distinctive big play finally got one.
Koester's shovel pass to Dillon brought the Indians to the Central Valley 13. They would advance a few more yards before adding a field goal that gave them a 10-point lead with 8:32 remaining.
West Allegheny has been in this position before, not even a year ago, and now it will look to advance in the PIAA playoffs, something it has not done since 2009.
But for Saturday night, in a jubilant locker room, it was about enjoying a sweet and historic moment.
"You carried on the tradition that we started here," Palko told his players after the game. "You're worthy. You're worthy."
Craig Meyer: email@example.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG. First Published November 23, 2013 11:29 PM