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As you head into Newman Stadium on Friday to watch North Allegheny (2-0) host Pittsburgh Central Catholic (2-0) make sure you pick up a program.
Yes, the North Allegheny player names you think you recognize are sons, nephews or grandsons of some famous Western Pennsylvania athletes, but more importantly, you’ll need the program just to keep up.
Both the Tigers and the Vikings have deployed cerebral offensive attacks as the teams sit tied atop Class 6A.
Last week, in North Allegheny’s 56-14 win over Norwin, six different players scored touchdowns as the team amassed 295 rushing yards.
Score and game situation led to the increased number of players touching the ball, but coach Art Walker, Jr., said there is a deep mix of players he trusts as his offense looks to find its identity.
“We’re playing two quarterbacks (Gunnar Fisher and Ben Maenza) who are both capable, we have three receivers (Joey Porter, Jr., Luke Colella and Corey Melzer) who we know can score and we are rotating the backfield (Percise Colon, Justin Kerber and friends). We’re going to do our best to play to our strengths and also play to what the defense is giving us. “
Walker said he has no plans to simplify the offense as the year goes on and will make decisions on playing time based on the opponent rather than naming a traditional starter at any of the skill positions.
If the offense is a bit of a question mark, the Tigers’ defense is closer to a sure thing. North Allegheny’s defense is big, fast and experienced, and has been one of the better weapons for its offense.
Against Norwin, the Tigers blocked a punt, recovered a fumble and racked up four sacks in the win. Norwin quarterback Jack Salopek (who has an offer from Pitt) was limited to just 8 of 21 passing for 96 yards.
“We knew our defense was going to be something that we would rely on early in the season after replacing a 1,000-yard passing quarterback and a 1,000-yard rusher,” said Walker, Jr. “We knew we’d go through some growing pains offensive, but not so much on defense.
“(When the defense and special teams are playing well) it allows us to be a little bit different with our play calling. If you know the defense is playing well, it helps you as an offense.”
The star on defense is cornerback Porter, Jr., who is rated the No. 1 prospect in Pennsylvania (247Sports) with 17 offers including Pitt, Penn State, LSU, Miami and Nebraska. Elijah Boyd — a 6-4 260-pound defensive tackle — anchors the defensive line with offers from Temple, Eastern Kentucky and Robert Morris.
Central Catholic is also off to a hot start after beginning the season with a 24-21 win over Erie Cathedral Prep (ending that team’s 28-game winning streak).
Seven different players carried the ball for the Vikings, who rushed 42 times in the win.
Junior quarterback Dom Pieto, who is in his first year under center, has been serviceable, but the team is planting its flag in the running game.
“They have nice size up front, and they’re going to lean on their defense to create some opportunities, but they have size and bigger tight ends,” said Walker, Jr. “They’ll line up and try to pound you a mix in some play action to take some shots.
“It’s a lot different from what we faced last week with a wide-open spread offense, but it (Central Catholic’s offense) is a package we have, so it’s not something our defense hasn’t seen. Our guys can be comfortable replicating that in practice and helping out the defense.”
Safety Corey Thomas, the No. 16 player in Pennsylvania, transferred to Penn Hills, but the Vikings still have plenty of talent on defense. Defensive end Brian Dallas (offer from Toledo) and defensive back Dominic Dodson (Columbia and Cornell) have led a Vikings defense that has allowed 21 and 14 points in two wins.
As two of the top three teams in Class 6A, Friday’s matchup will be the marquee game for several weeks to come. Central Catholic will play Pine-Richland on the 28th while North Allegheny will not see the defending WPIAL and PIAA Champions until the final game of the season (Oct. 26).
There is little chance the two teams will not be one of the six teams to make the playoffs, but all will be playing for one of two first-round byes.
“We don’t pick our schedule, there’s no use in wishing it was later. This is our situation, and we’re going to make the most of it,” said Walker, Jr. “I think that’s why camp is important and summer workouts are important. They’re very talented and they’re very big. There will be battles on both sides of the ball and we have to answer that call.
“We tell the guys this is why we work and sacrifice for opportunities and moments like this.”