North Allegheny coach Art Walker knew it wasn’t going to be easy for his team to defend its WPIAL Quad-A title this season.
And Upper St. Clair wasn’t about to sit by idly and watch it happen.
The Panthers gave top-seeded North Allegheny all it could handle, but after 48 minutes of regulation and an overtime period, the Tigers accomplished their goal of a title repeat with a 28-21 victory at Heinz Field.
Mack Leftwich’s 1-yard touchdown run in overtime gave North Allegheny the lead, and the Tigers defense shut the door on No. 3 Upper St. Clair to seal the win.
A touchdown that shouldn’t have been played a major role in the outcome, as well
North Allegheny’s Brendan Coniker was awarded a TD catch on a 23-yard pass from Leftwich with 27 seconds left in the first half, but Heinz Field scoreboard replays clearly showed Coniker’s landing foot hit out of bounds.
Since instant replay is not part of western Pennsylvania high school football, though, the referee’s original call stood and North Allegheny was overjoyed with a 14-14 tie at halftime with Upper St. Clair.
The two teams went back and forth in an exciting second quarter that saw A.J. McGuire score two touchdowns for Upper St. Clair, one on a 2-yard run and the other on a 65-yard TD pass from Pete Coughlin.
North Allegheny got on the board on a 66-yard run by Leftwich and added Coniker’s “score” later in the half.
In the second half, the Tigers got a 1-yard TD run from Vinnie Congedo midway through the third quarter and held a 21-14 advantage until there was under five minutes to play.
That’s when Mike Wilcox tied the game at 21, as he took a pitch from QB Pete Coughlin and with a flying leap, just crossed the goal line.
The Tigers (13-0) will play State College (7-4) next weekend in the PIAA quarterfinals.
Upper St. Clair finished the season 11-2.
Mack Leftwich: 10 of 16 for 148 yards and 1 TD, 20 carries for 117 yards and 2 TDs
Brendan Coniker: 4 catches for 80 yards, 1 TD
Upper St. Clair
Pete Coughlin: 7 of 12 for 146 yards and 1 TD, 23 carries for 63 yards
AJ McGuire: 18 carries for 69 yards, 1 TD; 1 catch for 65 yards, 1 TD
What they had to say….
North Allegheny coach Art Walker
On ending “We got stronger at the end. I thought our enthusiasm picked up. I thought our defense was coming off the ball and giving them some problems. I liked our chances in overtime. When they took the ball first, there was no question we wanted to score a touchdown, and we wanted to do it in a safe way. We didn’t want to turn the ball over. We got as many blockers as we could and let Mack run.”
Leftwich “Down there, him and I discussed it that he was going to run it. It wasn’t going to be any dump offs. It was all run.”
“He’s a great leader from the standpoint that he’s always positive. He’s a team guy. You can tell he’s been brought up around the game. He works hard and has the right attitude toward everything.”
Controversial TD “I don’t know exactly what happened. My job is to call the plays. I know the refs sometimes think I can call the penalties too. I just have to stick to my job. From my vision, I thought he was in. I didn’t look at (the replay). They called it. That’s it.”
On USC QB Pete Coughlin “You have to give the kid credit. It was a gutsy performance for a second start in a championship game. You have to applaud his efforts.”
OT defense “It was an aggressive style, and that was the main reason we won in overtime.”
On the Repeat “It takes a lot of hard work from the kids. Our kids were dedicated when we started lifting in February and into the summer. You have to have a dedicated coaching staff. The guys I have working for me put in a ton of hours. They are committed to the kids and making them better. It’s an amazing staff. They are the difference.”
NA’s Brendan Coniker
On Controversial TD catch “I thought I was in, but then when I went up in the air, I felt like the defensive back pushed me out of bounds. But I got lucky there.”
USC coach Jim Render
On the loss “We had a lot of things to overcome. We just wore out, and we can’t overcome things like the touchdown right before the half, when the guy has a foot out of bounds.”
On the team “Our kids played their fannies off, which is what we ask them to do. At halftime, we didn’t want to leave here with excuses.”
On Dakota Conwell “I didn’t want him to get reinjured. Kids always think they can do more than they are able to do… He probably would have (played more). He told me before the game he felt fine. I don’t think he did. He wasn’t himself. In the overtime, that’s where we really could have used his strength and agility.”
On controversial TD at end of first half “(The referee) told one of my assistants that he would have come down in bounds had we not (hit him). But our kid didn’t even bump him. We’d feel better if they’d just say, ‘We missed it.’”
“I think (the referee) has to live with himself. My job is to defend my kids.”
On his seniors “They were a special group. I feel terrible. I always evaluate myself first. I always think there is one more thing I could have done to help. They competed. They enjoyed each other and accepted coaching. We hadn’t put any additions in our trophy case since 2006, so we wanted to add to the tradition. They did that.”
– By Bill Hartlep