By Matt Popchock
It didn’t quite cost an arm and a leg for North Allegheny to capture last year’s state title (just a collarbone, actually), but an arm and a leg did cost them a chance to defend it.
Brandon LaVia passed Central Dauphin into position for a 21-yard field goal by Evan Brandes as time expired for a 23-20 upset of N.A. in the PIAA Class AAAA Semifinals at Altoona’s Mansion Park Stadium Saturday night.
The top-ranked Tigers (14-1), who had spent multiple weeks in each of MaxPreps’ national top 25 polls, saw their 21-game winning streak come to an end in addition to their reign as PIAA champs. N.A. hadn’t lost since the 2010 regular season finale at arch-nemesis North Hills.
The Rams (14-1), ranked by MaxPreps as the No. 5 team in the Commonwealth, will face North Penn of District 1 in next Saturday’s Quad-A championship game at Hersheypark Stadium. North Penn defeated LaSalle, last year’s runner-up, 21-14 Saturday.
Even with offensive lineman and D-1 prospect Pat Kugler gutting it out on a questionable knee, N.A. found the sledding tough against Dauphin’s defense. A Zayd Issah 3-yard TD run gave the Rams a 7-0 lead until Mack Leftwich tied the game with a two-yard sneak on the first play of the second quarter, but that’s all the Tigers could muster till the break.
With just over a minute left before the gun, a 52-yard scamper by Drew Scales gave Central Dauphin a 13-7 halftime lead following a missed extra point.
Leftwich did himself no favor by fumbling early in the second half, as Adam Hollinger ran for a 28-yard touchdown on the ensuing play to extend the Rams’ lead. Less than four minutes later, Leftwich cut that lead to 20-13 with a four-yard score.
The North Allegheny quarterback scrambled for 87 of his 158 rushing yards in the third quarter, and it looked like the fourth would begin with the Tigers tying the game. But Central Dauphin stuffed him on fourth-and-goal to preserve the seven-point edge.
N.A. did finally pull even with five minutes left on a five-yard pass from Leftwich to James Kleinhampl. Brendan Coniker’s interception on the ensuing drive put North Allegheny in the driver’s seat, but the Tigers were forced to punt, which set up the winning drive.
Central Dauphin will try for its first-ever state football crown next week, while North Penn will be going for its first since 2003.
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)