North Xtra: Defense helps North Allegheny reach title game again
North Allegheny's Gregg Garrity pulls in a touchdown pass over Seneca Valley's Tyler Bommer last Friday night.
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There's a reason why football teams have struggled to score against North Allegheny's defensive unit this season.
"That's because we worry about every single snap," Tigers defensive coordinator Doug Brinkley said. "We play hard and go after the ball every single snap. We don't worry about the next step or where a team might move the ball.
"We make sure to execute every single play and keep teams out of the end zone."
Sure, that seems to sound like an easy game plan but it has worked for the Tigers.
Undefeated and still considered the top Class AAAA team in the state, North Allegheny (12-0) is headed to its third consecutive trip to Heinz Field and will meet Woodland Hills (10-2) in the WPIAL title game 2 p.m. Friday.
With a high-powered offense averaging 40.5 points a game, the Tigers haven't had much trouble finding the end zone. Their defensive unit, however, has been just as good and has limited opponents to an average of just 6.8 points a game.
"This group has come a long way since the start of the year," North Allegheny coach Art Walker said. "These guys have improved and gotten better and better with the competition we've faced.
"We're playing great defense with a lot of confidence right now and that has been extremely important in where we are right now."
North Allegheny's defense surrendered just four touchdowns during the regular season and held six opponents to three points or fewer. The Tigers are coming off a 47-17 semifinal victory against Seneca Valley and those 17 points are the most scored against North Allegheny in 12 games.
"Our defense proved how good they are last week," Walker said. "We faced a team like Seneca Valley that runs the ball well but can also throw the ball. Trying to take both aspects of their offense away can be difficult.
"Our defensive guys are battle-tested in both conference and non-conference play."
Walker credits his defensive coaches as being the biggest key to the unit's success.
In addition to Brinkley, who works with the secondary players, Bob Ceh (defensive ends), John Haddad (defensive line), Kevin Thompson (inside linebackers) and Wayne Bugel (outside linebackers) round out Walker's defensive coaching staff.
"We've faced a lot of different types of offenses and some adverse offenses," Walker said. "We've faced teams that run the ball well like North Hills and Butler and then teams who run and throw well like Seneca Valley and Central Catholic.
"Our guys on defense and the coaches do a great job and they work week-in and week-out preparing for the different offenses we've seen."
Brinkley is a 1994 graduate of North Allegheny and played for former coach Jim Rankin. After playing collegiately at Mercyhurst in Erie, Brinkley joined Rankin's coaching staff as an assistant, stayed on board when Walker was hired and is now in his 13th season coaching at North Allegheny.
"This group, including our coaches from coach Walker all the way down the line, works very hard," Brinkley said. "Our coaches do it for the players and we're involved every day in making sure we put the guys in the right place.
"This defense is playing together. They really have played hard on every single snap and go after the ball. These guys are relentless. They went so long without giving up a touchdown and that goes back to them being prepared every game and ready to work to get better."
Usually presenting a 5-3 defensive set, the Tigers use 12 key "starters" on defense, which includes Patrick Kugler, Jeremy Gonzales, Zach Lyon, Tayler Nikithser and Skyler Cox on the line. Ben Schweiger, Kevin Edwards, Layne Skundrich and Chas Smith rotate as linebackers, while the Tigers use Brendan Coniker and Elijah Zeise at cornerback and Jack Henderson as a free safety.
"Playing with pride is a big part of this group," Brinkley said. "They work to be better against every single opponent and you can't ask more from these guys. It's a wonderful group of players. They don't care about statistics. They worry about lining up every single snap and dominating.
"That's the mindset of our players and coaches. We've had goals in mind. The first was to win the conference and the next one is to win a Class AAAA championship in the WPIAL."
First Published November 21, 2012 12:00 am