North Xtra: It's a new experience for North Allegheny

Craig Meyer's high school football notebook

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Over the course of the previous three seasons, the stories surrounding North Allegheny's football team have been familiar ones. The Tigers were a model program in the WPIAL, winners of 45 of their 47 games, a run that included three consecutive WPIAL Class AAAA championships and PIAA crowns in 2010 and '12.

Now, the school and program that seemed invincible in that time is dealing with something painfully commonplace for the rest of their competitors -- having to rebuild a team rather than simply reloading.

With its 27-0 loss to Central Catholic last Friday, North Allegheny dropped to 4-3, marking the first time it has lost consecutive games in a season since 2006 and the first time it has lost at least three games in a season since 2008.

The Tigers saw 19 of 22 starters depart from their 2012 team, which finished 16-0, forcing them to insert inexperienced players at several key positions, something which has become evident through the team's first seven games.

Coaches are hesitant to ever use the term "rebuilding season" when talking about their team, but after so many years of dominance, North Allegheny is as close as ever to experiencing one.

"People ask me 'You haven't had two losses in this long, you had this streak broken,' but a lot of people would be envious to be in that position," coach Art Walker said. "We've had some great streaks, we've had a great last three years that people would love to have. We've lost a bunch of seniors and we have guys playing for the first time who are battling and doing their best.

"People can say what they want. The coaching staff hasn't changed, the work ethic hasn't changed and our effort won't change. We haven't won every single game, but we're coaching and practicing and playing to win every game, and that will never change as long as I'm here."

Unless they lose their final two games, an unlikely possibility since one of them comes against a 1-6 Butler Area team, the Tigers will make it to the WPIAL playoffs for the 10th consecutive season.

Despite what some may see as an underwhelming record from a team that was once ranked among the Post-Gazette's top-five Class AAAA teams, Walker said he has not been frustrated with his players or with how they have performed this season.

"They're working hard," Walker said. "They are sincere about wanting to get better and wanting to win football games. There's sincerity in their effort, for sure."

Silver lining for the Foxes

With two games remaining, the 2013 season has been a forgettable one for 1-6 Fox Chapel Area, but there has been a bright spot for the team -- the recent play of quarterback Billy Urso.

In a 63-48 loss to Baldwin last Friday, Urso, a junior who is also a standout in basketball, completed 29 of 41 passes for a career-high 363 yards and five touchdowns.

In the Foxes' past four games, Urso has passed for 869 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Games of interest

Neshannock at Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic, Lt. J.C. Stone Field, North Park, 7:30 p.m., Friday -- Although it's a non-conference game, the result could matter a great deal when it comes time for the WPIAL football committee to seed teams for the Class A playoffs. This one is a matchup between the Nos. 2 and 3 teams in the Post-Gazette's Class A rankings, top-level squads that score in droves (the Lancers average 44.4 points per game while the Trojans average 39.6).

Hampton at Franklin Regional, Panther Stadium, 7 tonight -- Hampton is tied for the final playoff spot in the Class AAA Greater Allegheny Conference with a Hollidaysburg team that defeated it, 17-13, on Oct. 4. A victory against the 6-1 Panthers would go a long way toward achieving a second-consecutive postseason berth.

Summit Academy at Shady Side Academy, Michael J. Farrell Stadium, 7:30 p.m., Friday -- A victory would grant Summit Academy its first appearance in the WPIAL playoffs, but that will be a difficult task against an Indians team that is 7-0 and allowing only 8.1 points per game. Shady Side Academy won the matchup between the two teams last season, 15-0.

hsfootball

Craig Meyer: cmeyer@post-gazette.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG First Published October 16, 2013 8:00 PM


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