PIAA Class AAAA Playoffs: North Allegheny vs. McDowell
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The purpose of the PIAA playoffs is to bring together teams from different parts of the state to determine which squad, in all of the 46,055 square miles of Pennsylvania, is ultimately the best.
For the North Allegheny football team, though, its first challenge in the playoffs is one defined, more than anything, by familiarity.
The Tigers (13-0), who won their third consecutive WPIAL championship last Friday, will travel just north to Seneca Valley for its Class AAAA quarterfinal game against McDowell (7-5), a former conference foe.
In 2010 and '11, McDowell, located in Millcreek Township just outside Erie, played in what was then called the Northern Seven Conference as a football-only member of the WPIAL. In the two seasons previous to that, the Trojans played in the Foothills Conference and before that (in 2006 and '07) in the Northern Five, although they weren't eligible for the WPIAL playoffs in those two seasons.
At this juncture in the season, where unfamiliarity is the norm, it's nice for the Tigers to line up against a team they know very well.
"It definitely helps," North Allegheny coach Art Walker said. "There's some similarities from the past few years, some guys have changed and left and moved on. We kind of understand what they want to do offensively.
"We have a pretty good idea of what they've done defensively to us in the past. It's a little bit of a better situation than not playing a team ever before or not for a long period of time."
North Allegheny completed its second-consecutive undefeated WPIAL season by putting away a resilient Woodland Hills team, 21-14, last Friday in the district title game, the Tigers' only game this season decided by single digits.
Entering the championship game, North Allegheny's average margin of victory was 33.7 points per game.
The teams last played each other last season, with North Allegheny getting an easy 49-14 victory, marking the fourth time the Tigers have defeated the Trojans (7-5) in their four games dating back to 2003.
Even though it's only been a year since the two teams have played, challenges still remain for North Allegheny.
"[McDowell has] a different kind of offense," Walker said. "They're an option team, so when you don't see a lot of option teams during the year, it's a little bit different for our defensive staff to prepare for.
"Defensively, they do some different things, some we don't see week-in, week-out."
The Trojans use an option attack that utilizes a number of different rushers, as several of McDowell's players have more than 300 rushing yards on the season.
No player has a bigger impact on the Trojans' offense, however, than James Conner, a Pitt commit who is approaching 2,000 rushing yards for the season.
North Allegheny also has the task of facing off against a team playing its best football of the season. McDowell has won five consecutive games, a stretch in which the Trojans have defeated their opponents by a combined 263-32 margin.
For McDowell coach Mark Soboleski and his team, it's all going according to plan with its biggest challenge of the season awaiting tonight.
"It's always been our philosophy to build toward the playoffs and hit the playoffs on an upswing," Soboleski said. "I think we've done that."
First Published November 30, 2012 12:00 am