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North Allegheny (7, 15-0)

Written by: on Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

North Allegheny (15-0), three-time defending WPIAL AAAA champions and the 2010 PIAA AAAA champion, will face Coatesville (13-2) for the PIAA AAAA state championship Saturday night at Hersheypark Stadium, with kickoff slated for 6 p.m. NA will try for its third PIAA title and look to become the fifth WPIAL program to win three state football championships.

A North Allegheny victory would improve the Tigers’ record at Hersheypark Stadium to 3-0 all-time and also help the Tigers become just the third PIAA program with an undefeated mark while having won a minimum of three state crowns. Allentown Central Catholic, of District 11, and Thomas Jefferson, a WPIAL AAA program, are the only other teams with that distinction. Both the Vikings and Jaguars are 3-0 in state title games.

NA is also looking to join Pittsburgh Central Catholic, TJ, Rochester and Clairton as the only WPIAL programs with three or more PIAA titles. NA is already one of 10 WPIAL programs who have claimed multiple state championships, a list which includes two-time champions like McKeesport, South Park, Aliquippa, Farrell (during the 1990s) and Upper St. Clair.

Over the course of the last three years, North Allegheny has been on quite the impressive roll. NA went 15-1 in 2010; 14-1 in 2011 and is 15-0 in 2012, giving the Tigers a total of 43 victories in their last 45 games.

The Tigers, though, have never posted a season of 16 wins and zero losses in school history. There have been a total of eight 16-0 seasons in WPIAL history since Pennsylvania began playing 16-game seasons in the 2004 season. Clairton and Pittsburgh Central Catholic each have two 16-0 seasons, while Upper St. Clair, Thomas Jefferson, South Park and Jeannette each have one. As a head coach, Art Walker would mark his second 16-0 season of his career. He was the head coach of PCC’s 2004 PIAA championship team, the first to go 16-0 in state history.

As a WPIAL head coach, Walker would become the second with multiple 16-0 seasons (Clairton’s Tom Nola is the other) and just the third overall coach with multiple undefeated and untied seasons ending in a state championship (Upper St. Clair’s Jim Render had teams which went 15-0 in 1988 and 16-0 in 2006).

With its 45-point outburst against Wilson-West Lawn in the PIAA semifinals Saturday, North Allegheny became the 17th WPIAL team to score 600 points or more in a season. NA’s 608 points rank 16th all-time in the WPIAL and are tied with the 2011 Allentown Central Catholic Vikings for 46th in state history. Of those 17 WPIAL teams to score 600 points, 16 reached the PIAA finals (the 17th, Mt. Pleasant-Hurst, scored 615 points in 1927, a full 61 years before the PIAA playoff era) and eight of the 16 won PIAA titles.

In each of its PIAA championship victories (1990 and 2010), NA scored 21 points, defeating Ridley by a touchdown in ’90 and shutting out LaSalle in 2010.

North Allegheny’s athletic success, however, doesn’t only remain on the gridiron. The school, located in Wexford in northern Allegheny County, is home to more than 125 individual and team PIAA championships in a variety of sports. To say that North Allegheny is the winningest WPIAL high school really isn’t a stretch. Oh, and the Tigers’ “12th man,” its marching band, performed for President Barack Obama’s Inaguration parade in January 2009, representing the state of Pennsylvania.

Walker, the head football coach at North Allegheny since 2005, has built up quite an impressive resume. He will be making his fourth appearance in a PIAA championship game (2003, 2004, 2010, 2012) and already has two titles to his credit. In addition to his time at North Allegheny, Walker also coached at Pittsburgh Central Catholic from 1998-2004. He owns a career record entering Saturday’s PIAA championship game of 145-41, to go along with four WPIAL championships in five appearances and the pair of PIAA titles.

North Allegheny is currently ranked nationally by the USA-Today Super 25 prep football poll (15th – a jump of seven slots for the Tigers from the previous week), and national rankings are nothing new for teams led by Walker. His 2004 Central Catholic team finished No. 6 in the nation and claimed the No. 1 slot in the USA-Today’s East Regional top-10 poll. Walker’s 2010 North Allegheny Tigers finished 19th in the nation. North Allegheny ended the 1982 and 1990 seasons ranked No. 11 and 13, respectively. No NA football team has ever been ranked higher than No. 11 nationally.

The Tigers have reached this point leaning on its physical offensive line, a trademark of any Art Walker-coached team. That line, led by senior behemoth Pat Kugler, a Michigan recruit who weighs 280 pounds, has fronted a balanced NA offensive unit which, entering the PIAA semifinals, averaged 409.5 yards (215.6 passing, 193.9 rushing) and 40.2 points per game. The Tigers have scored a total of 79 total offensive touchdowns (44 passing, 35 rushing).

Like its District 1 counterpart, North Allegheny does throw the ball well. Senior quarterback Mack Leftwich, a UTEP recruit, has completed 161-of-248 passes for 3,116 yards and 43 touchdowns against only four interceptions. Leftwich has thrown for 5,339 yards and 63 touchdowns in his two-year career at North Allegheny and owns an overall record of 29-1. Leftwich is one of nine WPIAL quarterbacks to throw 60 touchdown passes or more in a scholastic football career.

Six Tiger receivers have double-digit reception totals. Gregg Garrity leads the way with more than 1,100 yards receiving and is the first player in NA history to post a 1,000-yard season for receiving yards. Richmond recruit Brendan Coniker, junior and rising D1 prospect Elijah Zeise and tight end Zach Lyon round out the primary features of the Tigers’ receiving corps, but Skylar Cox and Alex DiCiantis also contribute a combined 22 receptions.

North Allegheny also runs the ball very well, too. Senior DiCiantis has run for 1,175 yards and 13 touchdowns. Leftwich adds 465 yards rushing and nine touchdowns and Sean Idowu and Josh Bergman each also have more than 300 yards rushing for the Tigers.

Defensively, Jack Henderson, Chas Smith, Ben Schweiger, Layne Skundrich, Mark Schulthies, Jeremy Gonzalez, Kugler, Coniker and Lyon have all contributed to a unit which allows an average of 7.5 points per game, having limited 10 of 15 opponents to 10 points or less with a trio of shutouts.

Can North Allegheny make it 3-for-3 in state title appearances and become the fifth WPIAL program with three state titles?

Find out Saturday night.

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