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Written by: Hal Wilson on Tuesday, March 31st, 2020
The Traditional Hershey Scoreboard celebration shot (via http://athletics.northallegheny.org/)
North Allegheny emerged as a new high school in the northern Pittsburgh suburbs in 1958 and quickly became an athletic power in the WPIAL and State. However, the Tigers didn’t win their first WPIAL football championship until 1990 after disappointments in 1982, when an injury to star fullback Tim Manoa helped cause a semi-final loss to North Hills, and Mt. Lebanon upset a favored Tiger team in the 1983 title game. Finally, the 1990 Tigers were able to defear Butler 9-0 in the 1990 final and go on to edge Ridley for the PIAA title.
Further final game frustrations came in 1992 with a narrow 19-7 loss to Upper St. Clair, in 1996 with a 22-15 loss to Woodland Hills, and 1998 14-7 defeat by New Castle. Then, with the addition of new coach Art Walker Jr. in 2005, hiring him from Pittsburgh Central Catholic, the North Allegheny football fortunes turned sharply upward.
The Tigers proceeded to win three consecutive WPIAL AAAA crowns, beginning in 2010 and culminating in the great 16-0 2012 NA grid machine. The final achievement was a 63-28 record-breaking demolition of Coatesville in the PIAA state championship at Hersheypark Stadium.
The 2012 season had begun with a 39-14 triumph at Mt. Lebanon. The Blue Devils had started well but the Tigers won going away. The new Mt. Lebanon coach, from Lancaster County in Eastern PA, was moved to say that he now “understood the standard out here”.
North Allegheny’s machine then routed its first four AAAA Section 1 foes , racing past Fox Chapel, Seneca Valley, Pine-Richland and Butler. A battle with perennially strong Gateway was won 14-3. Back in Section 1 competition, the Tigers devoured Pittsburgh Central Catholic, Shaler and arch-rival North Hills.
As the AAAA playoffs got underway, the Tigers hammered Altoona and Bethel Park by identical 42-14 scores. Section 1 rival Seneca Valley was beaten again in the semi-finals, this time by 47-17, bringing about another confrontation with Woodland Hills for the WPIAL Championship. Woodland Hills was a seventh-seed but quarter-final and semi-final upset wins over Gateway and Upper St. Clair brought the Wolverines to Heinz Field and a showdown with mighty North Allegheny.
Zach Lyons gets the first score
The Tigers scored first on a Mack Leftwich to Zach Lyon strike down the middle of the field. Lyon knocked the ball down to his chest and eluded a tackler at the 15 to complete a 44 yard TD play. Unfazed, the Wolverines then drove 76 yards in seven plays, highlighted by a 47 yard run by freshman back Miles Sanders and an 11 yard TD pass from McClelland to Green. Woodland Hills linebacker Beasley then recovered a fumble at the NA six yard line. On fourth and goal, Sanders scored from the one and the Wolverines led 14-7 with more than eight minutes left before halftime. With 3:42 remaining, Leftwich hit Lyon from five yards out and the score was tied. On their own 18 with just 1:10 to go, Leftwich threw an incompletion, then 50 yards to Elijah Zeise and 32 yards to Gregg Garrity and a score. The Tigers went to the locker room with a 21-14 lead.
In the tense second half battle, the Wolverines reached the NA two, but were turned away as a fourth down incompletion missed a wide-open receiver. Woodland Hills had the ball twice more but could get no closer than the NA 37. The freshman Sanders had gained 84 yards on four carries in the first half but managed only 15 on 13 tries in the second
Moving on to the state tournament, the Tigers faced an Erie McDowell team that had destroyed State College 42-0 in the first round. NA proceeded to annihilate McDowell by 56-6 and the rest of the state had been warned. In the state semi-final, Wilson of West Lawn, the District Three champion, was overwhelmed 45-10.
At Hershey for the title, a huge Coatesville delegation was on hand to support their Red Raiders.
However, North Allegheny drove 71 yards with the opening possession. An eight-yard pass from Leftwich to tight end Skylar Cox made it 7-0. The Tigers then took the Coatesville crowd out of the game by returning two fumbles for touchdowns, the first came when the Red Raiders had reached the NA 20 with a screen pass. NA linebacker Layne Skundrich stripped the ball and defensive back Brendan Coniker scooped up the loose ball and carried it 80 yards to score. Then Raider QB Hunt was sacked and stripped by Lyon. Linebacker Kevin Edwards picked up the ball and raced 45 yards to make the score 21-0.
Coatesville fought back as a 60-yard kickoff return led to a Hunt sneak to make it 21-7. Before the first quarter ended, a five-yard run by Leftwich boosted the NA margin to 28-7. Later in the second quarter, Tiger tailback Alex DeCiantis ran 22 yards, just reaching the right pylon. NA then reached the Coatesville 10, but a fumble recovered by the Red Raiders’ Burke ended the drive. On the next play, Raider Worley dashed 90 yards to make the score 35-14.
At the start of the second half, the Red Raiders narrowed the gap to 14 by moving 59 yards in eight plays with Hunt again going in from the one. NA responded with a 17-yard toss to Gregg Garrity to restore the three touchdown margin. Coatesville came back again but an Edwards interception and 50 yard return, six plays, and a DeCiantis score made the count 49-21. Two more NA TDs in the fourth quarter increased the score to 63-21. A late Coatesville score produced the 63-28 final.
Coatesviille never gave in and scored in every quarter but this Tiger team was relentless and proved their greatness. The Tigers had outgained the Red Raiders 462 – 277 and established a new PIAA Championship game record with 63 points, The combined score was also a new record.
In 2010, North Allegheny had overcome Woodland Hills 21-14 in another tense WPIAL AAAA Final. In 2011, with another WPIAL title in hand the Tigers rolled all the way to the PIAA state semi-final before being upended by Central Dauphin’s eventual state champions.
An amazing six 2012 Tigers received first team All-State recognition – including quarterback Mack Leftwich, tight end Zach Lyon, wide receiver Gregg Garrity, offensive tackle Pat Kugler, defensive lineman Jeremy Gonzalez, and defensive back Brendan Coniker. Leftwich, Kugler and Coniker were repeat selections from 2011. All six were named All-Conference in the Northern Eight Section One along with running back Alex DeCiantis, linebacker Kevin Edwards and defensive back junior Elijah Zeise. Leftwich was named AAAA State Player of the Year. He became only the third quarterback in WPIAL history to throw for over 3,000 yards His total offense in 2011 and 2012 was more than 7,000 yards.
The Tigers’ superb 2102 offensive lineup:
WR 82 Gregg GARRITY 5-10 143 SR
LT 57 Pat KUGLER 6-5 280 SR
LG 58 Nick JAMES 6-4 235 JR
C 54 Jeremy GONZALES 6-1 220 SR
RG 67 Duke LUNDAHL 5-10 227 SR
RT 62 Taylor NIKITHSER 6-4 235 SR
TE 44 Kevin EDWARDS 6-2 217 SR
TE 89 Zach LYON 6-0 190 SR
QB 11 Mack LEFTWICH 5-11 190 SR
RB 22 Alex DECIANTIS 5-11 200 SR
WR 1 Brendan CONIKER 6-0 180 SR
The place kicking was handled by 2 Ben ZIOLKOWSKI 5-8 160 and 8 Jason BUCHERT 5-6 135, both seniors. On the rare occasions when a punt was required, this chore was performed by free safety 3 Jack HENDERSON.
The North Allegheny opportunistic defense:
DT 57 Pat KUGLER 6-5 280 SR
NG 54 Jeremy GONZALES 6-1 220 SR
DT 62 Taylor NIKITHSER 6-4 235 SR
OLB 89 Zach LYON 6-0 190 SR
ILB 44 Kevin EDWARDS 6-2 217 SR
ILB 31 Layne SKUNDRICH 5-10 188 SO
OLB 24 Ben SCHWEIGER 5-10 165 SR
CB 1 Brendan CONIKER 6-0 180 SR
SS 21 Charles SMITH 6-0 176 SR
FS 3 Jack HENDERSON 5-10 170 SR
CB 6 Elijah ZEISE 6-3 196 JR
With a strong veteran lineup, NA was expected to have a super season in 2012 and they performed as expected.
Art Walker Jr. is the son of legendary Mt. Lebanon coach Art Walker. At Pittsburgh Central Catholic he had led the Vikings to the state final in 2003 and the PIAA AAAA title in 2004 with a 49-10 win over Neshaminy He was named Pennsylvania Coach of the Year in 2012 He had been on outstanding wide receiver at Baldwin High School graduating in 1988. He had an honored career at Clarion University, on the gridiron for four years and as a track sprinter, for one season graduating in 1992. He was head coach at Pittsburgh Central Catholic from 1998 to 2004 before taking over at North Allegheny. He is a member of the Clarion Hall of Fame and the Pennsylvania Football Coaches Hall of Fame, joining his father in the state group.
The great 16-0 Tiger record:
Among the many Tiger stars, Pat Kugler whose father had been a star lineman at Penn State, had an outstanding career for the Michigan Wolverines.
Gregg Garrity became the third generation to play for the Nittany Lions.
Mack Leftwich was touted by his coach as a Division One quarterback despite his size at 5-11. Leftwich had a successful career at UTEP – the University of Texas at El Paso. He then went into scholastic coaching.
For more pics of this great season visit: http://athletics.northallegheny.org
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