NA Wins 44-41 Thriller Over Central Catholic In WPIAL Class 6A Championship
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In a championship game for the ages, and the highest scoring title game in WPIAL history, the North Allegheny Tigers defeated the Central Catholic Vikings, 44-41, on Saturday night for the WPIAL Class 6A crown at Norwin Stadium. The 85 points scored between the two teams set a new record for the highest scoring championship game in WPIAL history. The victory marked the second consecutive WPIAL championship for North Allegheny and the program’s sixth overall. The Tigers also defeated the Vikings in the 2022 title tilt, 35-21.
In the 2022 WPIAL championship win over PCC, quarterback Logan Kushner rushed for a then-career high 195 yards and accounted for three total touchdowns. Kushner was even better in Saturday night’s title game rematch, rushing for a new career-best 240 yards and accounted for six touchdowns, with four rushing and two passing. He’s the first NA quarterback since Ethan Maenza in 2016 to total six touchdowns in a single-game and only the third to do it in the Art Walker-era. The other was Mack Leftwich, who accomplished the same feat multiple times in 2012.
Kushner’s 240 yards rushing also put him well over the 1,000-yard mark on the season, making him the first Tiger since Luke Trueman in 2017 to pass and rush for over a 1,000 yards in the same the same season. Maenza did the same in 2016 en route to WPIAL Class 6A Player of the Year honors.
The night got off to an inauspicious start for North Allegheny, however, as Central Catholic’s Xxavier Thomas returned the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown and a 6-0 lead just 14 seconds into the game. The extra point attempt by PCC failed following the touchdown.
In a first half with five lead changes, North Allegheny immediately responded when Kushner found senior wideout Khiryn Boyd wide open for a 45-yard touchdown pass and a 7-6 lead with 10:22 on the clock.
Central Catholic countered with a 12-play, 80-yard drive the was punctuated with an 11-yard touchdown pass by senior quarterback Peyton Wehner to senior tight end Cole Sullivan for a 13-7 lead with 7:01 on the first quarter clock.
Neither team was able to score on their next possession before NA regained the advantage with 51 seconds left in the quarter courtesy of a 57-yard scoring strike by Kushner to Boyd to leapfrog the Tigers back in front, 14-13. Boyd hauled in all three of Kushner’s pass completions on the night for 107 yards and two scores.
Continuing the seesaw nature of the contest, the Vikings answered back with a nine-play, 80-yard drive that culminated on a 2-yard rushing touchdown by running back Elijah Faulkner for a 20-14 lead with 10:40 remaining in the second quarter. As it turned out, it was the last time Central Catholic led in the game.
The Tigers answered back in kind with an 84-yard march that culminated in a 39-yard touchdown run by Kushner for a 21-20 advantage with 8:05 remaining in the second quarter.
With the first of three turnovers forced by the NA defense and special teams, junior safety James Donaldson intercepted a Wehner pass at the PCC 27-yard line to short-circuit the next Vikings possession. The pick by Donaldson, his second of the season, set up Kushner for a 7-yard touchdown run and a 28-20 NA lead with 8:05 to go in the period. The interception thrown by Wehner was only his sixth of the season.
The Tigers defense struck again late in the second quarter when senior linebacker Tyree Alualu punched the ball away from Wehner on a third down scramble and recovered the loose ball at the PCC 15-yard line. Three plays later, NA was in the end zone again on a 3-yard touchdown scamper by Kushner with just 28 seconds left before intermission and the Tigers led, 34-20. The extra point kick was blocked by Anthony Speca, keeping the NA lead at 14 points at the half.
Leading by two scores, North Allegheny owned possession to start the second half and marched to the PCC 36-yard line before the drive stalled. A fourth down quick kick by Kushner bounced into the body of Speca and was recovered by senior lineman Ryan Ranallo at the Vikings 18-yard line. Following the turnover, an apparent touchdown run by Kushner was called back due to a holding penalty and the Tigers settled for a 28-yard field goal attempt by Peter Notaro. However, the kick was blocked by PCC and pulled in out of the air by Bradley Gompers, who returned it 71-yards to the North Allegheny 20-yard line. The sudden change in momentum led to a Faulkner touchdown run from 15 yards out. Despite owning possession for over 10 minutes in the third quarter, NA’s lead was trimmed to just seven points.
Undaunted by the unfortunate turn of events, the North Allegheny offense went right back to pounding the football with the running game and put together a 10-play, 67-yard drive before stalling at the PCC 13-yard line. Unaffected by two prior blocked kicks, the Tigers went for, and connected on, a 29-yard field goal by Notaro to stretch the NA lead to 10 points at 37-27 with 8:41 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Central Catholic responded with a nine-play, but also time consuming drive, that was aided by a personal foul penalty that erased a potential forced fumble by Alualu and recovery by senior Daniel Sellers at the NA 28-yard line. Instead, the targeting call on NA breathed new life into the drive for the Vikings, to which they capitalized with a 17-yard touchdown pass by Wehner on a 3rd and 15 play to Vernon Settles, trimming the NA lead to 37-34 with 4:40 left in fourth quarter.
In a game where the Vikings defense struggled to stop the run, Central Catholic couldn’t get the critical stop it needed. Pinned back at their own 8-yard line to start the possession, North Allegheny needed just four plays to break the game open once again. Kushner raced 76 yards for his fourth rushing touchdown of the night, and 20th of the season, to grow the North Allegheny lead to 44-34 with just 2:18 left in the contest.
Central Catholic wouldn’t go away quietly, however, and trimmed the score to 44-41, on a 14-yard scoring strike by Wehner to Sullivan with only 28 seconds remaining in the game. In a valiant effort by the Vikings QB, Wehner passed for 280 yards and three touchdowns. Senior Peter Gonzalez was his top receiver with seven catches for 153 yards.
In a last-ditch effort to continue their comeback bid, the Vikings attempted an onside kick that was recovered by Noah Spak at the NA 45-yard line. From there, the Tigers went into the victory formation for a pair of kneel downs by Kushner to close out a 44-41 victory and a WPIAL championship.
With 347 yards of total offense, Kushner was named the Wright Automotive Player of the Game.
Alualu also had a big night and toted the football 18 times for 100 yards. North Allegheny outgained Central Catholic on the ground, 373-90, and led in total offense, 465-327.
With the win, North Allegheny improves to 11-1 overall, while Central Catholic’s season comes to an end with a 10-2 record. The Tigers advance to the PIAA playoffs where they’ll host the McDowell Trojans in the quarterfinal round of the Class 6A playoffs. The game will be broadcast live by the North Allegheny Sports Network.
Football Summary vs. Central Catholic, 11-18-23
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