North/South Xtra: It's becoming a tradition: North Allegheny vs. Upper St. Clair
North Allegheny coach Art Walker has his team off to a 2-0 start but faces a tough challenge in Upper St. Clair Friday night.
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It has become a Week 3 tradition -- North Allegheny and Upper St. Clair meeting in a non-conference game with top-five rankings and 2-0 records.
The winner leaves the game as a likely WPIAL favorite and the loser walks away 1-1.
The WPIAL handles scheduling for teams after week one -- cross-scheduling non-conference games -- so the meetings are almost accidental but it is no accident that the Tigers, ranked No. 3 in Class AAAA by the Post-Gazette, and No. 2 Panthers are once again near the top of the heap in Class AAAA.
"For some reason we always end up with Upper St. Clair," North Allegheny coach Art Walker said. "I don't know if it is a coincidence or what, but it has happened very consistently for the last number of years. There is a little bit of a rivalry that comes along with it."
The two were former conference rivals in 2004 and in 2005 when Walker arrived at North Allegheny. Even though they are no longer in the same conference, it is hard to convince people that this game has little meaning.
"We are not going to deny the fact that they are a good football team," Walker said. "They will be the best team we have played so far this year."
In 2009, with both teams 2-0, Upper St. Clair traveled to Newman Stadium and knocked off North Allegheny, 23-14. Last season the No. 2-ranked Tigers returned the favored when they blanked No. 4 Upper St. Clair, 27-0.
This year it is Upper St. Clair (2-0) making the cross- county trip to visit defending WPIAL Class AAAA champion North Allegheny (2-0) at 7:30 p.m. at Newman Stadium.
Walker was named Post-Gazette Coach of the Year in 2004 when he was at Central Catholic. Upper St. Clair coach Jim Render received the honor in 2006. Walker and Render, along with North Hills' Jack McCurry and Woodland Hills' George Novak are the only active coaches with multiple WPIAL Class AAAA trophies.
Render owns a 5-2 record in head-to-head meetings against Walker since he was hired at North Allegheny in 2005. That includes one postseason win. When Walker was at Central Catholic he never crossed Upper St. Clair's path in the regular season, but his Vikings teams met Render's Panthers twice in the WPIAL playoffs, in the 2003 championship game and '04 semifinals. Walker bested Render in both of those games.
"I don't think either one of our teams is really one that goes to any type of gimmicks," Walker said. "Both teams play sound football. A lot of times these games have come down to turnovers, special teams and things like that. It is about making the least amount of mistakes and capitalizing on [the opponent's] mistakes."
Through two weeks neither team has made many mistakes.
In Week 1 North Allegheny crushed State College, 53-21, behind four touchdown passes from Mack Leftwich. In that game, the Tigers rushed for 415 yards. That same week Upper St. Clair activated the mercy rule in a surprising 49-0 blowout of an injury-riddled Shaler Area team.
Last week North Allegheny opened play in the Northern Seven Conference by overwhelming host Butler Area, 49-7, behind three rushing scores from Vinnie Congedo. Upper St. Clair blanked another opponent in a 42-0 win against visiting Norwin.
Four Panthers rushed for touchdowns in the game, including two from A.J. McGuire and one from quarterback Dakota Conwell, who also is a defensive catalyst for the Panthers.
"This is one of those games where you are definitely getting tested early," Walker said. "It will be a challenge and a test.
"They have a lot of returning starters, very senior-oriented, ranked highly, undefeated and all those things."
Walker was referring to the Panthers but he could have also been talking about his team.
First Published September 15, 2011 12:00 am