North Allegheny answers wakeup call, heads to PIAA semifinals
North Allegheny quarterback Mack Leftwich drops back to pass Friday night in the big PIAA victory against McDowell.
North Allegheny's Kevin Edwards and Ben Schweiger take down McDowell's James Conner Friday night.
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But all that score did was splash some cold water on North Allegheny's face.
North Allegheny woke up, was spry the rest of the game and McDowell made the bus ride back to Erie with the headache after a 56-6 loss against North Allegheny in a PIAA Class AAAA quarterfinal at Seneca Valley.
After winning a third consecutive WPIAL title a week ago, North Allegheny is now two wins away from a second PIAA title in the past three years. North Allegheny will play in the semifinals next weekend.
But the way the game started, it looked like McDowell (7-6) might put the Tigers in the tank.
McDowell, a District 10 team from the Erie area, took the opening kickoff and went on a 15-play, 65-yard drive that ate up eight minutes of the clock. Khyre Drayer capped the drive with a 3-yard run, and, for the first time all season, North Allegheny trailed an opponent by a touchdown.
The Tigers' response was impressive. North Allegheny held McDowell to 70 yards offense the rest of the game.
"I don't think it was a hangover from the WPIAL on that first drive," said North Allegheny coach Art Walker.
"I just think it was an offense we hadn't seen that much this year. Once we got a handle on what was going on, they had a problem."
McDowell had four turnovers in the game, three in the first half. North Allegheny turned all three into points.
"After that first drive, something happened," said McDowell coach Mark Soboleski.
"We had to control the ball to have any chance, and, after the first drive, we didn't control the ball and we turned it over."
This win was a lot like other North Allegheny playoff wins. In other words, Mack Leftwich was terrific.
North Allegheny's star senior quarterback had another big game, throwing for 284 yards and five touchdowns. He was close to perfect, completing 14 of 15 passes -- and also ran for one score.
Leftwich surpassed 5,000 yards passing for his career at North Allegheny.
It usually takes most WPIAL quarterbacks three or more years to reach 5,000 yards. Leftwich hit the milestone in two seasons.
He is now 272 of 450 for 5,138 yards -- and Leftwich has been at his best in the playoffs. In four postseason games, he is 48 of 78 (62 percent) for 910 yards and 12 touchdowns.
"The balance they give you is what makes them so good," said Soboleski. "They have so many different options."
No one has figured out how to beat North Allegheny this season, but Soboleski believes he knows when North Allegheny will lose.
"The kid at quarterback, maybe when he's gone, someone will beat them," Soboleski said. "He has about as much poise as you're going to see from a high school quarterback.
"Maybe if he missed the bus, that's how you beat them. Not that he's all they have, but he's pretty good."
After McDowell took the 6-0 lead, North Allegheny answered with 35 second-quarter points. Leftwich threw two 4-yard touchdown passes to Skylar Cox, and two to Gregg Garrity of 23 and 29 yards. Leftwich also scored on a 1-yard run.
Leftwich completed his first seven passes for 147 yards.
Garrity finished with seven catches for 128 yards and became the first receiver in school history to have 1,000 yards receiving in a season.
"I talked to Mac as soon as McDowell scored that first touchdown and told him the offense has to respond," Walker said. "He said absolutely."
And North Allegheny said absolutely not when McDowell tried to run the ball in its triple-option offense. Pitt recruit James Conner, who came in with more than 1,000 yards rushing, was held to 36 yards on nine carries.
"I just think you give our defensive coaches enough time to figure out what they're doing, and we'll be OK," Walker said.
"We made some adjustments in the first half."
Leftwich struck again on the second play of the third quarter when he hit Brendan Coniker in stride for a 69-yard touchdown play.
Later in the second half, Elijah Zeise returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown and Josh Bergman scored on a 6-yard run.
"Mack is like the rest of our seniors," Walker said. "He doesn't want this to end."
First Published December 1, 2012 12:00 am