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North Allegheny beats Upper St. Clair for second time in 10 weeks

Written by: on Sunday, November 27th, 2011


PITTSBURGH – Two heavyweight Goliaths duking it out.  A crowd estimated to be in the low five-figures watching from the stands.  An overtime session.  And a little controversy.

The Upper St. Clair-North Allegheny game had all of the above.  But the controversy proved to be just one of the hurdles Upper St. Clair couldn’t overcome.

North Allegheny wide receiver Brendan Coniker appeared to haul in a 23-yard touchdown pass from Mack Leftwich right before hafltime, but he came down with one foot out-of-bounds and on the white.  The referee making the call ruled touchdown, and North Allegheny (13-0) eventually outlasted Upper St. Clair (11-2), 28-21, in overtime in the WPIAL AAAA championship game at Heinz Field Saturday night.

With the victory, North Allegheny will move on to the PIAA playoffs and face 6/9/10 subregional champion State College Area in a AAAA quarterfinal next weekend at a site and time to be determined.  NA already faced State College once this season, and dominated in a 53-21 victory over the Little Lions.

On Coniker’s “touchdown” reception, USC head coach Jim Render said one of his assistants was told the receiver would have come down in-bounds had he not been bumped out by a Panther defender.

“But our player never touched him (Coniker),” Render said.  “We would have felt a lot better just having them (the officials) tell us that they missed the call.”

The touchdown knotted the game at 14-all entering the intermission, and was especially notable because USC had seemingly stole the momentum to its side after junior Pete Coughlin hit A.J. McGuire on a 65-yard touchdown pass to give USC a 14-7 lead with 2:39 left in the half.

“Our kids played their fannies off,” Render said.  “But we had a lot of things to overcome.  We were in the hole a lot and that certainly didn’t help.”

North Allegheny claimed its third WPIAL championship and second in a row.  All of the Tigers’ WPIAL football crowns have come since 1990.  Upper St. Clair was seeking its eighth WPIAL title and sixth title under Render, who began coaching at the school in 1979.

One of the Tigers’ offensive catalysts this season has been junior quarterback Mack Leftwich.  He was the backup quarterback on Tulsa Union High’s Class 6A state champion in Oklahoma last season before moving to Wexford when his father, Spencer, took an assistant coaching role with Pitt.

“Moving to NA has exceeded my expectations,” Leftwich said.

And Tiger head coach Art Walker alluded to the fact that Leftwich has done the same.

“He’s a smart kid, and, ever since he came here, he’s done nothing but work hard,” Walker said.  “When you do that, you earn everybody’s respect.  And he’s done that.”

Leftwich brought a passing dimension NA didn’t fully enjoy when it won its WPIAL and PIAA crowns last season.  But this night, he also added a running dimension, racking up 117 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries.  He scored NA’s first touchdown at the 10:55 mark of the second quarter on a 66-yard run and then what proved to be the winning score in overtime on a 1-yard keeper.  He also threw for 148 yards.

“I knew I’d have to pick up the load running the ball because (Alex) DiCiantis went out with a little bit of an injury,” Leftwich said.

After battling to a scoreless first quarter, Upper St. Clair grabbed a 7-0 lead when McGuire scored on a two-yard touchdown run.  The Panthers then were able to force overtime when Mike Wilcox scored on a 3-yard run with 4:36 left in regulation.

After Leftwich’s overtime score, USC’s Coughlin was sacked twice and NA and Walker began their celebration.  Walker is a four-time WPIAL champion as a head coach, winning titles in consecutive years at Pittsburgh Central Catholic in 2003 and 2004.  Walker also won a WPIAL crown as the offensive coordinator at West Allegheny High School in 1997.

Walker noted this year’s NA team is different than last year’s, not only for the obvious offensive weaponry, but also in the 97 players donning the black and gold uniforms.

“Every year is different, even when you lose five seniors,” Walker said.  “In our case, we lost 25 seniors from last year’s team, so it changes even more for us.”

McGuire ran for 69 yards for USC and Coughlin wasn’t far behind, with 63.  Dakota Conwell, limited to just a handful of snaps, completed a 12-yard pass and recorded a carry for no gain.  Coughlin threw for 146 yards in the game.

Nick Passodelis and Vinnie Congedo combined for 53 rushing yards on 15 carries for NA, which churned out 331 yards of offense and 15 first downs.  USC also notched 15 first downs, but committed 10 penalties for 87 yards to NA’s three flags for 15 yards.

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