Often in sports, you hear about measuring stick games as a test that will tell us just how legitimate and competitive a team is in the regular season as they head into the playoffs. For the Mt. Lebanon Blue Devils, you could argue that they are in the midst of two straight measuring stick games, and they passed their first test with flying colors, blowing out North Allegheny 51-20 to improve to 6-0 on the season, and 3-0 in conference play.
Mt. Lebanon has been a program on the rise since hiring Bob Palko out of retirement, but in year three Palko has this program reaching heights they have not hit in over a decade. In fact, it has been 16 years since Mt. Lebo has knocked off North Allegheny, but after a 5-0 start to the season, this group looked poised to smack that monkey off of their back.
Mt. Lebanon dominated NA from the first play of the game and created an interception just a play later that led to a 7-0 lead. The team never looked back and beat a team that used to play big brother to them by over 30 points.
“It is exciting,” exclaimed Palko on the win. “It is good for the kids, good for the program to see a benchmark of where we are. You are proud of the kids for all of the work they put in.”
After Mt. Lebanon got off to a 21-0 lead to start the game, North Allegheny came rolling back, and you saw the Blue Devils face adversity. JR Burton started bursting off huge runs, and NA scored before the half and out of the locker room to cut the lead to 21-14.
That is when Mt. Lebo showed the rest of the WPIAL who they are. A typical year at Mt. Lebanon would be watching NA take control from there, but on the back of senior running back Alex Tecza, the Blue Devils rallied and immediately scored to keep the lead at two touchdowns.
“We could have folded in the third quarter,” admitted Tecza, who felt the momentum swing, and has been on the losing end of them in past years. “But we have been practicing together since first grade, second grade, and that brotherhood had us moving to the next play.”
They literally moved onto the next play because Tecza took the ensuing kick-off from near the goal line out to the 40-yard line. As he burst past defenders and the crowd roared, you could almost feel him stealing the moment right back.
On the very next play, Tecza ripped off a 42-yard run. He looked unstoppable.
“Props to my linemen, and outside receivers,” said Tecza of the burst. “They’ve been doing such a good job this season, it’s amazing what they’ve been doing for me.”
Tecza was thankful for his teammates, but the rest of the group is thankful that they get to play with him.
Tecza made two huge plays, and then motioned out wide, caught a screen, and picked up another 10 yards.
“That’s the most important thing, you need to get people who need the ball, you got to get it to them,” said Palko of the variety of ways he was able to utilize Tecza. “That’s a credit to the coordinators and players buying in.”
Tecza hauled in three passes for 20 yards and a touchdown to go with 200 yards rushing and three rushing touchdowns, one coming to cap off the drive that extended the lead to 28-14. He was dominating, and in four plays took complete control of the game. From there, NA could not rebound, and Tecza continued to run over, around, and past defenders as he helped put the game away.
“He works hard at his craft,” added Palko of his star tailback. “But more than anything he is a tremendous leader and a kid that leads by example.”
His example did show as Mt. Lebanon finished the game beating NA 23-7 after that Tecza-led drive.
While Tecza, Palko, and this high-flying Mt. Lebo group are already off to their best start in a long time, they have their second measuring stick game next week against Pittsburgh Central Catholic. PCC is the returning WPIAL champion and the annual precedent of elite WPIAL football.
The Blue Devils know that a blowout win against North Allegheny shows that they belong in the picture with PCC, but they know that Friday will be their biggest test of the season, and a true litmus test for just how far this program has come.
“We are reaching the next step in the WPIAL, and we can keep taking this even further,” exclaimed Tecza. “Why not us, we have not been in this position for years, since 2000, so why can’t this be our year?”