No one -- from coaches to opponents -- believes this North Allegheny team is on the level of the past few powerhouses at the school. But these are feisty Tigers, who still won't take their paws off that championship trophy.
North Allegheny is the three-time defending WPIAL Class AAAA champion, and the Tigers apparently aren't ready to give up that trophy so easily. North Allegheny started the playoffs Friday night with a peak performance defensively, downing host Bethel Park, 28-0.
A fourth consecutive title might be a long shot, but the Tigers (7-3) are starting to roar, possibly playing their best football and winning two consecutive games by shutout. Now they get a shot at No. 1 seed Upper St. Clair in the quarterfinals.
Bethel Park certainly has to be tired of seeing North Allegheny. It was the third time in the past four years that North Allegheny has ended Bethel Park's season. The Black Hawks finished 6-4 this year.
"We played them before when they were really good," said Bethel Park coach Jeff Metheny. "They had to have a few of the best players in the WPIAL ever. Those players were a different caliber than they have now. But they're still solid, and, if they don't turn the ball over, they could be a real good team."
"There is definitely a different energy in the locker room now than there was toward the middle of the season after we lost to Gateway and Central Catholic," said Elijah Zeise, a North Allegheny senior receiver-defensive back and Pitt recruit. "Coming back the week after those losses, we came in with a new attitude. It was like a new season from there."
After shutting out North Hills in the regular-season finale, North Allegheny limited Bethel Park to 175 total yards Friday night, 107 on the ground and 68 in the air. Bethel Park played without starting quarterback Levi Metheny, the son of the coach who had surgery on his right hand after breaking two fingers last week.
But North Allegheny also played with its No. 2 quarterback. Cage Galupi got his first start this season and was solid, completing 7 of 13 passes for 81 yards.
North Allegheny also got a nice performance from diminutive senior halfback Isaac Weaver, who carried only six times, but rushed for 120 yards and three touchdowns. He had the North Allegheny fans saying "we like Ike" after he scored all three touchdowns in the second half on runs of 1, 60 and 40 yards
"We're playing a little different football right now because we have some new guys playing," said North Allegheny coach Art Walker, whose team has won 13 WPIAL playoff games in a row. "We've got a new quarterback, but, the past two weeks, we played tremendous defense. I guarantee you we're playing our best defense right now and, offensively, we're doing some good things."
North Allegheny led, 7-0, at halftime, thanks to a great goal-line stand, a penalty that nullified a Bethel Park score and one offensive drive.
The drive came in the second quarter as the Tigers moved 75 yards in eight plays for a score. For the rest of the half, North Allegheny had 11 total yards.
Galupi completed four passes in the scoring drive, and the big one was a 35-yarder to Zeise on first down that put the ball at the Bethel Park 1. Galupi ran a quarterback sneak on the next play for the touchdown.
Bethel Park led in time of possession, 15:31 to 8:29 in the first half, but couldn't score. Well, actually Bethel Park did find the end zone once early in the second quarter when Alex Minton ran 28 yards for an apparent touchdown. But a holding penalty nullified the score, and the Black Hawks turned the ball over on downs four plays later.
Bethel Park was thwarted on another scoring chance in the first half. On its second possession, the Black Hawks drove to the North Allegheny 3. A run by Minton gained 2 yards on first down. But two runs into the line failed to gain anything on second and third downs. On fourth down, North Allegheny's defensive line penetrated into the backfield and stopped Minton for a 2-yard loss.
North Allegheny pretty much dominated the second half. Weaver scored twice in the third quarter, once in the fourth.
"We heard all week that we were the No. 9 seed and didn't get a home game," Walker said. "That was motivation for us to have something to prove and win on the road."
For more on high school sports, go to "Varsity Blog" at www.post-gazette.com/varsityblog. Mike White: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1975 and Twitter @mwhiteburgh.