IMPERIAL, Pa. — West Allegheny head football coach Bob Palko saw his young team grow up Friday night.
The Indians trailed North Hills by seven entering the fourth the fourth quarter but forced three turnovers in the final 12 minutes to stage a comeback, eventually winning, 29-28, in overtime.
“Very fortunate to come out with a victory,” Palko said. “Very pleased to see some of the maturing with the kids, but we’ve got a lot of work to do. That was two very good football teams. A hard fought game.”
West Allegheny (2-0) spent most of the night playing catch up and never led until the end.
The Indians’ Will Weber scored the game-tying touchdown on fourth down in overtime, and Palko opted to go for the win, keeping his offense on the field for the two-point conversion. Weber lined up in the wildcat formation, where the senior utility man spent the majority of his night, and found a small crease, lunging into the endzone.
“It was lock arms—we say we’re a wolf pack, we travel together, we eat together—so we locked arms and bear downed,” Weber said after the game. “It was pretty cool to see some of the guys step up.”
North Hills (1-2) scored on the opening possession of overtime, converting on fourth down from two yards out when Melvin Banks found a hole behind the left side of the line.
Facing third and long in its half of overtime, West Allegheny was the beneficiary of pass interference call near the goal line. Weber was dropped for a six-yard loss on the ensuing play, but a second pass interference call against North Hills on fourth and 10 kept West Allegheny’s hopes alive.
To make matters worse, North Hills was whistled for encroachment on the replay of fourth down, shortening West Allegheny’s field and setting the stage for Weber’s heroics.
“West Allegheny is always a second half football team—that what’s we preach here,” Weber said. “We put trust in our coaches to put us in the best situations possible, and all we can do is go out and give our best effort and get the job done.”
North Hills was poised to go ahead by two scores early in the fourth quarter, but a holding penalty negated a would-be Melvin Blanks’ one-yard touchdown run. Three plays later, the Indians fumbled, and West Allegheny recovered. West Allegheny drove the ball near midfield yet came away empty handed on fourth and short after Jamie Diven’s pass fell incomplete.
North Hills’ Kamron Taylor coughed the ball up two plays later, and West Allegheny pounced on it. A pass interference call against North Hills moved West Allegheny into the visitors’ half of the field, and five plays later, Dante Flati scored from 21 yards out, tying the game at 21 with less than four minutes remaining.
A costly North Hills’ interception with 1:54 left provided West Allegheny one final chance to win the game in regulation. West Allegheny drove to its opponent’s 12-yard line, but Kolbe Stout missed a potential game-winning 29-yard field goal after the ball slipped off the kicking tee.
“We’re a work in progress—so young and green and inexperienced,” Palko said. “To have a chance to win the game, and we roll the ball off the tee. We didn’t execute. That’s on me, not the kids.”
The visitors jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on Kamron Taylor’s 27-yard scoring run. North Hills went 87 yards in just four plays on its opening possession, fueled by a Blanks’ 50-yard run.
West Allegheny countered on its next possession, as Flati took a handoff near the goal line and leaped over a pile of tacklers to level the score, capping an eight-play, 80 yard drive.
Blanks put the visitors back in front, ripping off a 45-yard scoring run along the far sideline with 3:44 left in the first quarter. The teams would trade possessions to start the second quarter, and West Allegheny tied the game at 14 on Weber’s 11-yard keeper with 7:17 remaining in the opening half. Weber finished the night with 130 yards on 29 carries.
Following the kickoff return, North Hills’ Will Hirt connected with Tyler Brennan in the flat, and Brennan eluded a tackler and sprinted past the West Allegheny defense for a 70-yard touchdown catch and run. North Hills carried a 21-14 lead into the break, but both teams struggled to move the ball in the third quarter.
Penalties plagued West Allegheny throughout the night—the go-ahead touchdown was wiped off the board late in the fourth quarter by a holding call—and the Indians were just 1-5 on fourth down before converting in overtime.
“We’ve got so many things to clean up,” Palko said. “You’re excited and happy for the kids, but we’ve got to learn from it.”
After erupting for 137 yards in the first half, Blanks was relatively held in check during the second half. He finished the night with 185 yards on 23 carries. Hirt threw for 122 yards, and Brennan had five receptions for 115 receiving yards.
North Hills, which has lost two straight after opening the season with a win over Shaler, travels to Fox Chapel next week. West Allegheny will look to remain undefeated when it plays at Chartiers Valley.