Central Catholic, North Allegheny battle for edge in WPIAL’s unpredictable Class 6A

Thursday, September 22, 2022 | 7:54 PM

After watching the first few weeks, Central Catholic coach Terry Totten suggests a new plan for finding the best team in 6A.

“Put us all in a bag and pull two out,” Totten said. “Whoever plays well that night is the winner.”

Yes, the WPIAL’s big-school classification is the league’s smallest with only five teams, but it also could be the most unpredictable this season.

“There’s a very fine line in my opinion,” he said.

The two teams considered preseason favorites meet at 7 p.m. Friday when No. 3 Central Catholic hosts No. 1 North Allegheny at West Mifflin. Both teams already have seen Class 6A’s competitiveness first-hand.

North Allegheny (4-0, 1-0) entered the fourth quarter of Week 1 with only a six-point lead over Canon-McMillan. Central Catholic (2-2, 0-1) had a 16-point halftime lead slip away in a loss to defending champion Mt. Lebanon last week.

Only four teams qualify for the playoffs, so somebody will be left out come October. Seneca Valley (2-2, 0-1) visits Mt. Lebanon (2-2, 1-0) in another key 6A matchup Friday night. Canon-McMillan (1-3, 1-1) has a nonconference game.

“With a limited amount of teams, every game is so important,” North Allegheny coach Art Walker said. “It’s kind of wide open, when you look at who beat who and who lost. It’s going to be interesting as it unfolds.”

North Allegheny and Central Catholic have played six times in the past five seasons and are 3-3 overall. That head-to-head record includes a win by Central Catholic in the 2020 WPIAL finals.

North Allegheny is averaging 39.5 points per game. Central Catholic scored more than 30 is each of its two wins. Both teams are traditionally known for a strong running game, but each has opened up the offense a little more this year

“Everybody watches TV and goes to the same clinics,” Totten said of the changing offenses in high school football.

North Allegheny is coming off a 53-7 win over Baldwin that included two touchdowns passing and one rushing for quarterback Logan Kushner.

His top wide receiver is Khiryn Boyd, who has 22 catches for 451 yards and four touchdowns. Andrew Gavlik leads the Tigers in rushing with 299 yards and three touchdowns.

The Tigers battled through two close games this season for wins over Canon-McMillan and Erie McDowell. They erased a two-touchdown deficit against McDowell to win 29-18.

“I’m really proud of how we answered that call,” Walker said. “What I’m not happy with is I still think we have not put together four quarters of our most consistent game. We need to do that to beat a team like Central.”

Central Catholic is coming off a 17-16 loss to Mt. Lebanon, but Totten said he’s seen growth from his team, which entered this season with a number of new starters and only four seniors in the lineup. Junior quarterback Payton Wehner has thrown for four touchdowns, including a game-winner two weeks ago against Bethel Park.

“I see a lot of positives,” Totten said. “There are a lot of new starters. I think our offense is coming together, I think our defense is improving, and we’re getting some guys healthy.”

Injuries limited Central Catholic so far this season, including a season-ending knee injury for junior lineman Tanner Fuchs, but the Vikings got a couple of key players back last game.

Wide receiver Peter Gonzales saw his first action since ACL surgery, and linebacker Anthony Speca recovered from a Week Zero shoulder injury. Both are juniors with Power 5 college offers. However, the Vikings will be without leading rusher Amari Shields this week, leaving the backfield to fellow sophomore Elijah Faulkner.

Totten said the injuries are maybe more than usual, but the team hasn’t focused on them.

“Everybody is saying: ‘Next man up,’” Totten said. “Let’s go.”

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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