North Allegheny tops LaSalle College for Class AAAA title


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HERSHEY, Pa. -- Forget those nice chartered buses that were sitting in the end zone. The way North Allegheny High School played Saturday night, the Tigers would probably have been fine running home from Hershey.

North Allegheny's quarterback did not complete a pass in the PIAA Class AAAA championship game, but it didn't matter. The Tigers used a terrific running game and a superb effort from their offensive and defensive lines to trample LaSalle College of Philadelphia, 21-0, in the title game at Hersheypark Stadium.

"Running is what we do best, and that's what we did tonight," said North Allegheny quarterback Mike Buchert, who was 0 of 6 passing.

North Allegheny (15-1) celebrated the 20-year anniversary of its first PIAA title with 220 yards rushing, while holding LaSalle to 77. In these days of spread offenses, North Allegheny was a throwback, using two and sometimes three tight ends to punish the defending champion Explorers (13-2).

PG VIDEO: North Allegheny 21, LaSalle College 0

It was total domination as North Allegheny became only the second team to win a Class AAAA title with a shutout. The other was Central Catholic three years ago.

"We just got our butts kicked. It's very simple. There's no mystery there," LaSalle coach Drew Gordon said.

North Allegheny completed one pass against LaSalle, but it was an end-around, 30-yard toss by receiver Brandan Coniker that set up a touchdown. In three PIAA playoff games, North Allegheny had only 160 yards passing.

But the running game was ultra successful. This despite the fact standout running back Alex Papson sustained a dislocated collarbone in the WPIAL final and did not play in the PIAA playoffs. Matt Steinbeck led North Allegheny against LaSalle with 120 yards rushing on 20 attempts. Buchert added 51 yards on 13 carries and had a few key runs that set up a touchdown at the end of the first half.

"When everyone knows you're going to run the ball and you do it anyhow, it's just what we do," North Allegheny coach Art Walker said. "The guys up front were the reason. We have guys running hard, but if we don't get the push up front. ... Those guys are just unreal [on the offensive line]."

North Allegheny's interior offensive linemen are Vinnie Czerniewski, Zach Harvey, Pete Thistle, Pat Kugler and Justin Haser. The three tight ends are Rob Kugler (Pat's brother), Kevin Edwards and Seth Marx.

Rob Kugler also was one of the standout defensive linemen.

"Our offensive line was opening holes that were awesome," Rob Kugler said. "Then on defense, we were in their backfield the entire game. We really were dominating on both fronts."

North Allegheny held a 14-0 halftime lead and scored on its second possession of the third quarter. LaSalle was hurt by five turnovers -- three interceptions and two fumbles.

"[North Allegheny] caused a lot of our problems," Gordon said. "We played bad, but they caused a lot of what went wrong."

A turnover led to North Allegheny's first score. LaSalle's Tim Wade fumbled after catching a short pass and Kevin Cope recovered at the LaSalle 40. North Allegheny used nine consecutive running plays to score with Buchert getting the touchdown on a 4-yard run.

Late in the first half, North Allegheny took over at its 29 with 2:23 left and moved 71 yards in six plays for a touchdown. Buchert ran quarterback keepers for 15 and 17 yards to put the ball at the 28. On the next play, Buchert ran an option play to his right and pitched back to Steinbeck, who was running to the left. The misdirection play worked to perfection as Steinbeck ran for a touchdown with 47 seconds left in the half.

"We just put that play in this week," Buchert said.

Another LaSalle mistake set up North Allegheny's final touchdown. On the first possession of the second half, LaSalle's Matt Magarity threw a pass over the middle that went off a LaSalle player's hands and was intercepted by Steinbeck, who returned it 45 yards to the LaSalle 24.

Then on third-and-17, North Allegheny pulled out a trick play. An end-around pass from Coniker to Dan Slivka was good for 30 yards to the LaSalle 1. Buchert scored on the next play with 7:46 left in the third quarter.

The Tigers cruised from there to give Walker his second PIAA title. The other was with Central Catholic in 2004.

"I don't know of anyone who picked us to shut out LaSalle because they have a lot of talent," Walker said. "But we drove up [Friday night] and the focus of these kids was unbelievable. They handled it like a veteran college team on the road."

Then they handled LaSalle a day later.


For more on high school sports, go to "Varsity Blog" at www.post-gazette.com/highschoolsports . Mike White: mwhite@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1975.


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