Smashmouth ground game propels North Allegheny to impressive victory
Gateway's Todd Jeter intercepts a ball in the end zone intended for North Allegheny's Elijah Zeise Friday.
North Allegheny's Brendan Coniker gets by Gateway's Mileak Ford Friday night at Gateway High School.
North Allegheny quarterback Mack Leftwich
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Legendary former high school coaches Pete Antimarino and Art Walker were the honorary captains for Friday night's North Allegheny-Gateway game.
But it wasn't just the ceremonial coin toss with Antimarino and Walker that made this a contest for oldtimers. North Allegheny and Gateway took the cue and played a throwback game.
Never mind that the matchup featured two of the top 10 passers in the WPIAL, these two teams turned this WPIAL Class AAAA No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown into a battle of power running games. North Allegheny flexed its muscle just a little more.
The Tigers had only 27 yards passing, but rode a strong running game to a 14-3 non-conference victory against host Gateway at Antimarino Stadium.
It was the 22nd consecutive win against WPIAL opponents for North Allegheny (6-0), the Post-Gazette's top-ranked team in the WPIAL and the state.
Gateway, No. 2 in the WPIAL and No. 3 in the state, dropped to 5-1.
"This was a throwback -- good old Western Pennsylvania football," said Gateway coach Terry Smith. "All week, reporters were asking about the passing game, the passing game. I told everyone we had to stop the run."
The Gators couldn't. North Allegheny senior running back Alex DeCiantis finished with 126 yards on 25 attempts while quarterback Mack Leftwich added 89 yards on 12 carries and scored both North Allegheny touchdowns on runs of 1 yard in the second quarter and 11 yards in the fourth quarter. Leftwich came in as the WPIAL's third-leading passer, averaging 236 yards per game. But he attempted only 10 passes and completed 3 for 27 yards.
"You saw my secondary. It's the best in the country," Smith said. "The running game is what beat us."
Besides DeCiantis' power running, North Allegheny's offensive line also was a key.
"I love smashmouth football," said North Allegheny senior lineman Pat Kugler, a University of Michigan recruit. "We knew this was going to be a low-scoring game. It was whoever could punch the other one in the mouth last was going to win this one."
Gateway landed a few jabs at North Allegheny, but could never find the end zone. It was the first time a WPIAL team kept Gateway from scoring a touchdown at Antimarino Stadium since Woodland Hills defeated the Gators, 21-0, in 2006.
Gateway quarterback Thomas Woodson, an Arizona recruit who came in with 963 yards passing, was 10 of 22 for 127 yards. Gateway also tried to establish its power running game much of the night and it worked for a while as Andre Martin had 73 yards rushing in the first quarter to help the Gators take a 3-0 lead. But Martin had only 22 yards the rest of the game to finish with 95 on 18 attempts.
North Allegheny, meanwhile, got another strong performance from two-way lineman Jeremy Gonzales, who had nine tackles and 31/2 sacks.
"We have the best defensive coordinator in the WPIAL in coach [Doug] Brinkley," Kugler said. "We made a lot of adjustments at halftime. We did a lot more slanting. We just outplayed them in the second half and that's what we had to do to win."
It was the fourth consecutive game North Allegheny did not allow a touchdown.
"I didn't think it was going to be anything like a shootout," said North Allegheny coach Art Walker, the son of the pregame honoree. "Both defenses are too good. I knew we were going to have to work for everything we got. We were going to have to earn every inch of it and I think that's what happened."
In the first quarter, Gateway moved to the North Allegheny 8-yard line, but a holding penalty and three incomplete passes forced the Gators to settle for a Chris Conti field goal.
"We had it, but we left them off the hook," Smith said. "We had a penalty set us back, we had two dropped touchdowns in the end zone. In a game like this, you have to make those plays."
Gateway again moved into Tigers territory in the second quarter but was forced to punt after a fourth-down delay of game penalty.
That's when North Allegheny flexed its muscle.
The Tigers went to a power game and moved 93 yards in 13 plays for a go-ahead touchdown. DeCiantis carried nine times for 74 yards in the march and Leftwich capped it with a 1-yard touchdown plunge with 1:01 left in the half.
Leftwich's second touchdown of the night came with 1:56 remaining and clinched the win.
First Published October 6, 2012 12:24 am