By Bill Allmann
After an opening game at Heinz Field that saw 79 points scored, North Allegheny and Woodland Hills picked up where Clairton and Sto-Rox left off, scoring 35 in the first half of the WPIAL Class AAAA Championship.
Unfortunately for Woodland Hills’ fans, though, North Allegheny’s 21-14 halftime lead stood the test of time through a scoreless second half and the Tigers won their third straight WPIAL title and fourth overall.
“I was surprised there were 35 points scored in the first half,” said Woodland Hills coach George Novak. “North Allegheny has a great defense and our defense played well.”
Both defenses belied their reputations early as each team scored on its first possession.
On those drives, Zach Lyon made a one-handed grab of Mack Leftwich’s pass for a 44-yard scoring play on North Allegheny’s first possession and Woodland Hills answered on an 11-yard pass from Cody McClelland to Tom Greene.
After the first quarter, the score was tied 7-7 and the Wolverines scored first in the second stanza, capitalizing on a Leftwich fumble at the Woodland Hills 6-yard line. Four plays later, Miles Sanders got the final yard for the score.
The lead lasted just 4:41, though, as North Allegheny marched 64 yards in 12 plays with Lyon connecting from Leftwich again. The Tigers would get the ball one more time with 1:10 left in the half and only needed 25 seconds to take the lead for good.
Leftwich passed to Elijah Zeise for 50 yards and, with 45 seconds left, threw to Greg Garrity for 32 and the final score of the game.
“I wasn’t totally surprised the second half was scoreless,” said North Allegheny coach Art Walker, Jr. “Our defense takes it personal, if we go in with the lead at halftime, they know that if the shut the other team down, we win.”
North Allegheny didn’t completely shut Woodland Hills down as the Wolverines gained 135 yards in the second half—just slightly less than the 145 gained in the first half—but kept Woodland Hills out of the end zone.
Three times in the second half, Woodland Hills turned the ball over, and twice the Wolverines reached the red zone but came away without points.
On what was a beautiful afternoon at kickoff, the weather became a factor in the second half with the wind gusting mightily, stretching the net behind the goalposts tight at times and, minutes later, it was calm.
In the first half, McClelland completed three of five passes but connected on just five of 17 after intermission.
“We had to pass the ball a lot in the second half,” Novak said. “It was really windy to pass, too, especially in the second half.”
That wind was a factor on two consecutive snaps in the fourth quarter. Facing fourth and goal at the 6-yard line, McClelland rolled right and had a receiver open but the ball fell just short with 9:52 left.
The Wolverines held on defense, forced a punt, and on the first play from scrimmage, McClelland had a receiver open down the right sideline but this pass was just too far. Sanders, who finished with a game-high 97 yards rushing, was also hurt with three minutes left on the Wolverines’ final gain of the game. Novak reported the injury as a sprained neck.
“Nobody thought we’d be where are now,” said Woodland Hills defensive captain Alex Beasley, who finished with nine tackles, a sack, and a fumble recovery. “The success we had was because of a family atmosphere we had at Woodland Hills. If someone made a bad play, we’d just follow it up with a good play.”
Woodland Hills finishes with a record of 10-3.
North Allegheny advances to the PIAA quarterfinals next week.