By Matt Popchock
This time the Little Lions toyed with them, but eventually the Tigers proved who was the most dominant cat in the cage.
North Allegheny whacked State College 40-14 at Mansion Park Stadium in Altoona in last Saturday’s PIAA Class AAAA Quarterfinals. N.A., winners of 21 straight, needs to tack on just two more to earn back-to-back state titles.
Did the decisive win come at cost? Not according to the MRI on the right knee of lineman Pat Kugler conducted Monday.
Still, it is possible the Tigers (14-0) will have to play without three regular linemen, including D-1 prospect Kugler, when they take on District 3 Quad-A champ Central Dauphin (13-1) Saturday night at 7:00 at the same venue. However, the real key to victory for North Allegheny will be the one Kugler normally protects.
Since transferring from Tulsa, Oklahoma, junior Mack Leftwich has thrown for 2,149 yards and 19 TD’s against nine picks, completing 57% of his passes, and he’s about to face a vulnerable secondary.
Granted, he threw two of those nine interceptions while going 10-for-17 with a touchdown against State College. But Leftwich is just as dangerous outside the pocket, which takes some of the pressure off N.A.’s patchwork offensive line. He scrambled for five TD’s on 17 carries last week, amassing 186 yards on the ground. He has run for 775 yards and 14 touchdowns on the year, averaging over six yards a carry, which gives yet another dimension to an offense that already has an effective committee of running backs.
His counterpart, junior Brandon LaVia, is a contrast. Yes, LaVia has run for over 100 yards and scrambled for four TD’s, but he’s made a killing as a pro-style QB. LaVia has completed 57% of his attempts too, entering Saturday with 1,303 yards, 15 TD’s, and only eight interceptions.
He’s coming off a season-high 212 yards against Wilson, but if Central Dauphin continues throwing aggressively, it’ll be to set up the run. Zayd Issah has rumbled for 19 touchdowns and 1,273 yards. His job is to make sure LaVia doesn’t have to win the game by himself against a Tiger defense that has forced 25 turnovers.
N.A. remains the top-ranked team in PA by MaxPreps, holding a No. 22 national ranking in their XCellent 25 (human) poll and the No. 24 spot in their Freeman (computer) poll.
In the Class AA tournament, it was Aliquippa’s secondary that kept Moniteau at bay last Friday, picking off Kyle Armagost four times, including three by Davion Hall. They’ll have to be on their game again when the Quips (14-0) meet Tyrone (13-1) of District 6 at Altoona’s Mansion Park Stadium Saturday at noon.
Akron prospect Steve Franco has completed 61% of his passes for 2,328 yards and 30 touchdowns against just 11 INT’s, while also running for ten scores. He’ll keep Hall and company on their toes, and it’s up to Hall to help contain Nick Patton, who is responsible for half of Franco’s success–literally. Patton has accounted for 15 of those TD’s and leads the Golden Eagles with 1,129 yards.
Any big play by either quarterback will be huge in a game between a team allowing just over ten points per game (Tyrone) and a team allowing well under then per game (Aliquippa). Having said that, senior Mikal Hall knows it just takes one when he hunkers down under center for the Quips.
His indomitable spirit was just as responsible for saving their season in the WPIAL Class AA Final as was his athleticism. Hall has thrown for 20 TD’s, including the game-winner against Jeannette Nov. 26, and over 1,500 yards, and his equally agile receivers give him options. Plus, once Hall gets on a roll, that can open things up for a running game that has generated 30 total touchdowns for the Quips.
N.A. is trying to defend its state title. Aliquippa seeks an opportunity to win its first since 2003. Whether either or both WPIAL representatives advance to Hershey boils down to who steals the show–the air show, that is.
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)