By NATE HECKENBERGERnateheckenberger@gmail.com
HERSHEY -- If you’re an old-school football fan, watching North Allegheny run the football was a thing of beauty.
For Coatesville, it’s likely to cause loss of sleep and nausea.
Sometimes in sports, the other team is just better than you. And that was the case Saturday in the Class AAAA PIAA championship game when North Allegheny pounded Coatesville to a 63-28 final.
The 16-0 Tigers did it behind a massive offensive line that was indefensible. Big left tackle and University of Michigan recruit Patrick Kugler (6-foot-5, 280 pounds) was a force, and when sandwiched between tight end Kevin Edwards (6’2", 217) and guard Nick James (6’4", 235), the trio would literally just wipe away Coatesville’s right side of the line.
"We’ve been very physical up to this point," Coatesville coach Matt Ortega said. "But they were more physical (Saturday night) and that was the difference."
North Allegheny ran for 265 yards on 38 carries, and had just one rush of negative yards, as well as a sack. The Tigers did much of their damage to the left side, running picture-perfect stretches, powers and sweeps.
At times the Tigers would line up in a tight end-wing formation and just seal the edge. Other times the left side of the line would block down and bring a backside guard, and sometimes tackle, too, to kick out and/or wrap.
Red Raider linebacker Tyler Burke gobbled up 18 solo tackles and a pair of assists, but many times it was Tigers running back Alex DiCiantis (115 yards) reaching the second or third level before he got touched.
"(North Allegheny) did the same stuff we prepared for at practice all week," Burke said. "It just didn’t help."
Coatesville knew it had to play a near-perfect game to beat a dominant North Allegheny team. Early on it seemed as if the Red Raiders pressed a bit to do so.
On Coatesville’s initial drive of the game, on a first-and-10 at the Tigers’ 20, Dre Boggs caught an Emmett Hunt pass, and after cutting inside, he tried to spin back toward the sideline. As soon as he began accelerating a North Allegheny defender stripped him from behind and the fumble was returned 80 yards to give the Tigers a 14-0 lead six minutes in.
About two minutes later, Hunt was sacked and stripped while trying to buy time in the crowded pocket, and another defensive touchdown put Coatesville in a place it simply could not be.
"Those turnovers in the first half put us behind the eight ball," Ortega said. "You can’t do that against a team like that."
With a 21-point lead, North Allegheny had the game where it wanted it. The Tigers would simply have to move the chains, which they did with 26 first downs, control the clock, which they did by a plus-seven minute margin, and at minimum, match Coatesville’s scoring.
The Tigers scored on their first four possessions of the second half, pushing the margin to 42.
"They got momentum and kept it," said defensive tackle Mike Boykin, who had Coatesville’s lone sack.
Tiger quarterback and UTEP commit Mack Leftwich went 16-for-20 for 199 yards, and his two touchdown passes on the night gave him 45, which was one more in Class AAAA history than Hunt.
Outside of Boykin’s sack, Leftwich wasn’t harassed much all night.
"Pressuring the quarterback," Coatesville defensive end Clinton Leslie said when asked what was the hardest thing about defended North Allegheny. "Their line was a physical, big line."
The silver lining in the wake of the disheartening loss is that Coatesville returns seven starters on defense next year.
Burke is the key cog, and his 18 total tackles and two fumble recoveries on the night did little to turn away the Division 1 offers that have already been heading his way. His two counterparts in the linebacking corps -- Devonte Suber (junior) and Steven Pawling (sophomore) -- return as well.
Boykin, Daquan Worley and Isaiah Flamer are only juniors, as well, and safety Jay Stocker is a sophomore.
"This was a wake-up call for us," Boykin said. "We gotta get better everyday."