With 6 TDs, North Allegheny QB Logan Kushner shines brightest in WPIAL title win over Central Catholic

Saturday, November 18, 2023 | 10:42 PM

“Best player on the field” was how North Allegheny coach Art Walker described his quarterback Logan Kushner.

Sure, there were bigger guys out there. He’s not headed to a Big Ten school. Division I colleges aren’t really recruiting him. But on a field dotted with major-college talents, Kushner passed for two touchdowns and ran for four more, including a 76-yarder late in the fourth quarter Saturday night that let the Tigers defend their WPIAL title.

“All he does is perform,” Walker said. “He puts the team on his shoulders, they love him, and he delivers.”

Kushner’s six total touchdowns, a late field goal and three well-timed takeaways were just enough for No. 2 seed North Allegheny to hold off No. 1 Central Catholic, 44-41, in a Class 6A final at Norwin filled with big plays by both teams.

The night started with a 99-yard return by Central Catholic’s Xxavier Thomas on the opening kickoff and the 48 minutes to follow had almost too many big plays to list.

There were 12 total touchdowns. There was a blocked field goal and long return that set up a score. There was a forced fumble and recovery in the red zone. There was a punt that bounced off an unsuspecting player. But ultimately, Kushner’s long touchdown run with 2:18 left decided this one.

North Allegheny led 44-34 after his breakaway run.

“They made the big plays in the big moments,” Central Catholic coach Ryan Lehmeier said. “They had more than we had tonight.”

The outcome was a reversal from Week 4, when the Vikings romped on NA’s home field. That loss had North Allegheny looking like a heavy underdog entering this rematch, a perception that made the win all the more meaningful for the Tigers.

They’ve now defeated Central Catholic in consecutive WPIAL finals.

“This definitely felt different (than a year ago) because they beat us earlier in the season,” said Kushner, who rushed for 240 yards and four touchdowns on 25 carries. “It was about overcoming that hardship and being able to beat them here tonight.”

He connected twice with receiver Khiryn Boyd on long touchdown passes, which also happened in last year’s final. Boyd scored Saturday on first-half receptions of 45 and 57 yards.

Tyree Alualu added 100 rushing yards on 18 carries, helping North Allegheny out-rush its opponent, 358-47.

Central Catholic (10-2) finished as WPIAL runner-up for the third year in a row. This was the first under Lehmeier, a first-year coach.

The WPIAL title was the sixth for North Allegheny (11-1). It also was the seventh for Walker (five at NA, two at Central Catholic) putting him in an elite group of WPIAL coaches.

Walker said this one, after losing earlier to Central in the regular season, ranked high on his list of championships.

“Coming back from losing to a team in the regular season handily, the two months that we put in, I’ll never forget it,” Walker said. “I’ll never forget this group. How special. How they believed.”

Central Catholic never faded. Vikings quarterback Payton Wehner connected with Cole Sullivan for a touchdown with 28 seconds left, cutting the NA lead down to three points. But North Allegheny sealed the win by recovering an onside kick.

A clutch field goal by NA kicker Peter Notaro early in the fourth quarter provided the margin of victory.

Late in the third, Nataro had a 28-yarder blocked, leading to a long return by Central Catholic’s Bradley Gompers that set up a Vikings touchdown. But given another chance, Notaro made the 29-yarder to lead 37-27 with 8:41 left.

A 17-yard touchdown catch by Central Catholic’s Vernon Settles narrowed the lead to three with 4:40 left, giving the Vikings hope. But about two minutes later, Kushner broke free for his 76-yard touchdown run, putting North Allegheny ahead by 10.

“The line opened up the hole,” Kushner said. “I saw it, so I hit it. And then I just ran to the end zone.”

Sullivan, a Michigan linebacker recruit, was in pursuit but couldn’t close the gap.

“I kept looking over my shoulder and swerving,” Kushner said with a laugh.

Wehner, his counterpart at quarterback, passed for 280 yards and three touchdowns, including two to Sullivan and one to Settles. Vikings running back Elijah Faulkner also ran for two scores.

The biggest difference between this game and the first was turnovers, especially which team made them. Central Catholic threw an interception and lost two fumbles, one on a punt that took an unlucky bounce for the Vikings.

“With the talent they have over there, they’re going to make plays,” Walker said. “They’re going to score. … But we didn’t have any turnovers and they did. The first time, we had four and that devastated us. Was that talked about? Absolutely.”

North Allegheny capitalized on a couple of second-quarter turnovers to lead 34-20 at half.

NA’s James Donaldson intercepted a pass early in the quarter, and Alualu later forced and recovered a fumble. Both led to touchdown runs by Kushner, who scored three times in the second quarter alone.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I don’t claim to know more than every college coach,” Walker said. “But when you’re a 4.4 student and you make plays like that, why are the Ivys, why are the Patriot Leagues not lined up wanting this kid?”

Kushner’s first touchdown run, a 39-yarder, gave North Allegheny a 21-20 lead with 8:05 left until half. Kushner reached the end zone again on runs of 7 and 3 yards, extending NA’s lead to 14 points.

This was his second winning effort in the finals. A year ago, Kushner rushed for 184 yards and a touchdown and threw for two scores.

“He’s a tough kid, he’s a good competitor, and he was able to make some plays in some big moments,” Lehmeier said. “I tip my hat to that kid. He’s a tough kid and a hell of a ballplayer.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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