North Xtra: Team's play encourages NA's Walker

Craig Meyer's high school football notebook

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Not even 30 minutes after his team had lost and seen its quest for a fourth-consecutive WPIAL Class AAAA championship come to an end, North Allegheny coach Art Walker was not crestfallen nor was he beating himself up over the setback.

The Tigers had just fallen to Upper St. Clair, 41-23, in the WPIAL quarterfinals, but they had played the top-ranked Class AAAA team very closely for much of the game, even leading, 23-20, in the third quarter before the Panthers ultimately pulled away.

"We had them on the ropes for a few things," Walker said. "I'm just proud of my guys for executing and believing in the game plan and for the coaches for how they taught it all week.

"That was really important in our preparation and we came in believing we could win. We had a shot."

Although the loss prevented North Allegheny from making the WPIAL semifinals for the fifth time in the past seven seasons, it was an encouraging final moment for a team that was erratic and inconsistent at times during the season.

Forced to replace 19 starters from a 2012 team that went 16-0 and won both the WPIAL and PIAA championships, the Tigers had to break in new players at several key positions. Naturally, that kind of turnover was a source of struggle for a program that's become accustomed to a high level of success. At one point in mid-October, the team was just 4-3 after losing three of its previous five games, two of which came by double digits.

But from there, the Tigers seemed to find a rhythm that had eluded them for much of the season. They won their final two games of the regular season and then defeated Bethel Park, 28-0, in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs, giving them at least one playoff victory for the eighth consecutive season.

Most importantly, the loss to Upper St. Clair could be a springboard for what could be an improved team in 2014. Of the 99 players listed on the team's official roster, 34 were seniors. Some of the team's top players, however, will be back.

The team loses its top playmaker in wide receiver Elijah Zeise, a Pitt commit who caught seven passes for 121 yards and a touchdown against the Panthers, but it returns the quarterback tandem of Jeff Clemens and Cage Galupi, as well as several key pieces on a defense that improved as the season went on.

"When you get behind a team that's solid like that and you've lost some of your firepower, it makes it difficult. I'm unbelievably proud of my guys," Walker said. "I'm not down, I'm proud of them.

"Anyone who was here knows our guys gave them a battle. The score might not indicate it at the end, but they know we gave them a fight."

Strong season for 'Lopes

In some ways, Avonworth's season finale, a 21-14 loss last Friday to Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic, would seem difficult to accept. It was just the Antelopes' second loss of the season, but both of those came to the Trojans in games that were decided by a combined 16 points.

Still, it was a successful season for the program and third-year head coach Duke Johncour, as Avonworth finished 9-2 and outscored opponents by an average of 25 points per game. This season marked the fifth time in the past six seasons in which the Antelopes finished with at least eight wins, a span in which they have gone 52-15.

"We've had a strong program for years and we're continuing to build on that," Johncour said. "We'll be strong for a number of years to come."

Raiders quarterback excels

Seneca Valley quarterback T.J. Holl saw his junior season come to an end with his team's 28-14 loss to Woodland Hills in the Class AAAA quarterfinals. Still, that loss did not come without a big statistical performance that added to an already impressive body of work.

Holl threw for 298 yards and a touchdown on 25 of 38 passing in the Raiders' loss. In his first season as a starter, Holl threw for 2,102 yards and, through the first 10 games, rushed for an additional 723.

Games of interest

Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic vs. Neshannock, 7:30 p.m., Mars -- A rematch of the Trojans' 21-14 victory on Oct. 18, a game in which North Catholic led, 21-0, in the third quarter.

Craig Meyer: cmeyer@post-gazette.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG


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