Moon wins 2nd girls flag football title in a row over North Allegheny

Sunday, May 19, 2024 | 7:54 PM

Given the spirited nature of WPIAL football during the fall, it came as no surprise that the third annual girls flag football championships, sponsored by the Pittsburgh Steelers, were just as exciting.

Athletes from 15 high schools showed off their skills on a beautiful, sun-drenched Sunday afternoon at Carnegie Mellon’s Gesling Stadium.

“It gets competitive. It gets chippy. We have high-level athletes, people who have never played a sport before, so it’s a great mix,” said Mike Marchinsky, director of the High School Flag Football League and Steelers senior manager of alumni relations and youth football.

“Girls have been playing flag football in gym class, in their communities, and in rec leagues. They haven’t been able to put their school on their uniforms and represent their schools,” Marchinsky said. “This gives them the chance to do that.”

For the second consecutive year, Moon (13-0) and North Allegheny (13-1) squared off in the championship game. Once again, No. 1 seed Moon came away victorious 32-6.

“It feels awesome to go back-to-back. I knew we had the team that could do it, and that put a lot of pressure on us to repeat,” Moon coach Jason Russell said. “I’m very proud of how our team responded knowing they had the bull’s-eye on their backs. They answered the call.”

Said senior Serayah Leech: “I’m very proud of my team because we lost a lot of seniors from last year. A lot of girls, it’s their first year, and they worked their butts off.”

Senior Gabby Larson intercepted three passes for Moon. Each halted a long North Allegheny drive.

“I saw the balls up in the air,” Larson said in reference to her interceptions. “I said, ‘I have to get these, I have to catch these for my team.’ ”

Larson also showcased great agility and elusiveness running in two scores.

“I had a great time playing with my friends and teammates,” Larson said. “I’ve known them all for a long time. It’s a great way to end senior year.”

Moon senior quarterback Charity Fisher, who took over early in the year after the starter went down with an injury, threw three touchdown passes — two to senior Leech and one to Sha Brown.

“It was nerve-wracking to step in,” Fisher said. “You’re the quarterback, the leader, but I was able to depend on my teammates, have them there to help and support me.”

Like Woodland Hills in the semifinals, North Allegheny couldn’t stop Leech in the first half as she outjumped the NA secondary for both of her touchdowns.

“Serayah is the best player in Western PA,” Russell said. “She’s been playing for so long. Her knowledge of the game and intensity is unmatched.”

North Allegheny senior Maddie Hartung opened the scoring with a touchdown reception from Kyra Schmidt following an interception by sophomore Maddie Williams. That was all the Tigers could muster offensively.

Moon won the West Division with a 10-0 record, and North Allegheny won the North at 10-0.

Both teams were surprised and excited when Steelers Hall-of-Famer and two-time Super Bowl champion Troy Polamalu presented their medals.

“That was crazy,” Larson said. “It was a great experience to shake his hand, even though I was so sweaty.”

In the semifinals, Moon beat No. 4 seed Woodland Hills, 26-6, behind a pair of touchdowns each from Leech and Larson.

North Allegheny took care of No. 3 Upper St. Clair, 8-0. Williams caught a touchdown pass, and the Tigers recorded a safety. Upper St. Clair had the ball with seconds left with a chance to tie before Tigers senior Rylee Johnson sealed the win with an interception.

There were two big upsets in the first round when No.12 Aliquippa defeated No. 5 Brashear, 18-7, and No. 11 seed North Catholic beat No. 6 Gateway, 2-0. The Quips lost to Woodland Hills, and the Trojans took No. 3 Upper St. Clair to triple overtime with the Panthers prevailing 2-0.

“Unbelievable athletic ability from all the teams,” Marchinsky said. “We had some teams score over 40 points, and two games were 2-0 decisions. You got to see all kinds of skill and all types of football.”

With a third successful year of growth, the hope is to finally get the PIAA to sanction girls flag football as a sport. There was a huge step in the right direction Wednesday as the PIAA voted unanimously on the first reading.

“I’m grateful for what the Pittsburgh Steelers and the NFL are doing to help grow the game. The more teams that come out, the bigger this is going to get,” Russell said.

“This is a great experience. It feels like a family. It’s unmatched,” Fisher said.

Said Marchinsky: “We took the first step to get this to be a sanctioned sport by the PIAA. We’ve been working hard for three years, and Philadelphia’s been doing the same on the eastern half of the state. Hopefully it will be a great summer for us, and we can receive some good news.”

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