Xtra Points: McCurry legacy -- Notable finishes
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Jack McCurry had many big wins in his 35 years as the football coach at North Hills High School, but one of the most remarkable things about his career is how he was involved in a number of the most memorable games in WPIAL history.
McCurry resigned as North Hills' coach Monday. He called it a "semi retirement," saying he is not sure if he might want to coach again someday. McCurry is one of the deans of WPIAL coaches, going 281-108-9 and coaching in five decades.
It's hard to believe there is another WPIAL coach who was involved in so many classic games. Consider that McCurry coached in the longest playoff game in WPIAL history, one of the greatest WPIAL championship games, one of the biggest upsets in WPIAL playoff history and one of the most memorable PIAA championship games.
Here is a look at those unforgettable games:
1980, Bethel Park vs. North Hills -- This is the longest playoff game in WPIAL history. The teams battled for four overtimes before Bethel Park pulled out a 33-27 victory. North Hills had Mark Kelso, who went on to play in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills. Bethel Park was led by a potent passing attack of quarterback Shawn Morton and receiver Larry Miles.
1982, North Allegheny vs. North Hills -- This was a WPIAL Class AAAA semifinal and North Hills knocked off North Allegheny, 7-3, on a muddy field at Ambridge's Moe Rubenstein Stadium. It is one of the greatest upsets in WPIAL playoff history. North Allegheny was ranked among the top 10 teams in the country and had allowed only one touchdown all season. Coach Mark McCann resigned after the game.
1986, Gateway vs. North Hills -- This is considered one of the greatest championship games in WPIAL history. An estimated crowd of 25,000 watched at Three Rivers Stadium as North Hills scored a touchdown with two seconds left to close a deficit to 7-6. There was no overtime in championship games back then, so McCurry went for a two-point conversion and the win. His team was ranked No. 1 in the country by USA Today and McCurry wanted to be "national champs." But Joe Smithco's pass was tipped and intercepted by Gateway's Todd Washington.
1993, Central Bucks West vs. North Hills -- This game, played at Altoona's Mansion Park Stadium, is considered one of the greatest in PIAA championship history. At minimum, North Hills had one of the greatest comebacks in PIAA history. North Hills stormed back from a 14-0 deficit in the final six minutes. On a bitter cold night, and moving into a stiff wind, North Hills quarterback Eric Kasperowicz engineered a winning drive. Trailing, 14-7, Kasperowicz threw a long pass to freshman LaVar Arrington that put the Indians in scoring position. But the Indians moved backward in three plays.
Facing fourth-and-goal at the 28, Kasperowicz hit Chris Feola with an improbable touchdown pass to make it 14-13 with 25 seconds remaining. It was the only pass Feola caught in the postseason. Like he did so many times in his career, McCurry went for two points and the win. Kasperowicz ran a quarterback keeper into the end zone to give North Hills the victory ... and a state title.
McCurry has many fond memories of those games -- and many others. Although he said it was an extremely tough decision to step down, he seems content with his decision. But McCurry admits coaching high school football nowadays is much different than 25 or 30 years ago.
"I wouldn't say it's harder. It's just different. It's just the influence of parents and that type of thing. It's much more profound now than it ever was before. It's just a different culture now."
LaVar on McCurry
McCurry has said Arrington was the greatest player he coached. Arrington was a star running back-linebacker at North Hills and was Parade magazine's national player of the year in 1997.
Arrington holds McCurry in high regard, and Arrington had some interesting comments about McCurry earlier this week. Arrington now lives in Annapolis, Md., has a successful sports talk show and sells his own line of training apparel -- Xtreme Procision. Arrington lives with his wife, Trishia, and their three children. LaVar has another son, Keeno, who lives in Peters Township.
"Hands down, he was the best coach I ever had," said Arrington, who went on to play at Penn State and made the NFL Pro Bowl a few times with the Washington Redskins. "I can't talk about any of my coaches with the Washington Redskins this way. My college has been destroyed. I will always love Penn State and the Washington Redskins, but my high school days and North Hills and Jack is the place in my heart that will be there forever.
"Even if Penn State would be in great standing these days, and even if Joe [Paterno] checked out on a different note than he did, and even if I had a Super Bowl career and was NFL defensive MVP, it still wouldn't change how I feel about coach McCurry and North Hills football. They're the reason for me. That's the start of it all for me."
Mariah carries Colts
Mariah Wells is a standout player for the Chartiers Valley girls basketball team and had a "double-double" last Friday against Baldwin with 12 points and 10 rebounds. She also had five blocks and six steals. But Wells also scored big off the court.
Wells, a senior and Chartiers Valley's leading scorer, organized a "pink out" that raised $2,200 for breast cancer research and the Susan G. Komen For The Cure foundation.
"She had a bunch of auction items and sold a bunch of T-shirts," said Chartiers Valley coach Spencer Stefko. "She had to make $500 off the student body and that's not an easy thing to do.
"She has a high level of respect around here. She's a fearless leader for us, but then off the court she's always willing to do something for somebody else. She's the kind of kid you build programs around."
Big 33 and Super Bowl
The Big 33 Football Classic is an annual all-star game that features top graduated seniors in Pennsylvania against top players from another state. There has never been a Super Bowl without a former Big 33 player competing.
This year's Super Bowl has two former Big 33 players. Gino Gradkowski is a Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman from Seton-LaSalle High School who played for Pennsylvania in 2007. Ted Ginn is a San Francisco 49ers receiver who played at Glenville High School and was Ohio's MVP in the 2004 Big 33.
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• Seneca Valley quarterback Jordan Brown has made a verbal commitment to James Madison. Brown, a Post-Gazette Fabulous 22 selection, might play receiver for James Madison. Seneca Valley teammate Jon Dorogy, a receiver, will play at The Citadel. Both schools are NCAA Division I-AA programs.
• Four WPIAL football players are among the 10 finalists for the Mr. Pennsylvania awards, sponsored by Sportsrecruiters.com. Clairton receiver-defensive back Tyler Boyd is a finalist for the Small School Mr. Pennsylvania award (Class AA and A players). North Allegheny lineman Pat Kugler, North Allegheny quarterback Mack Leftwich and Central Valley receiver Robert Foster are finalists for the Big School Mr. Pennsylvania award (Class AAAA and AAA). The winners will be announced at a Feb. 9 banquet in Hershey.
• Mike Shuleski has been hired as the new baseball coach at Hopewell High School. Shuleski takes over for Joe Rubino, who lasted only one season. Rubino, a former Hopewell teacher, was charged by the state attorney general's office this week for allegedly exchanging sexually related text messages with a female student.
• Baldwin High School running back Dorian Brown has been added to the Pennsylvania team for the Big 33 Football Classic in June. Brown takes the place of Imhotep Charter running back David Williams, who dropped out of the game.
First Published January 25, 2013 12:00 am