Mt. Lebanon isn’t ‘well-oiled machine,’ but will battle North Allegheny for 1st place

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Thursday, September 19, 2019 | 10:33 PM


Bob Palko wants to build Mt. Lebanon into the “well-oiled machine” that his West Allegheny program was, but first, all of the parts have to be assembled correctly.

“We’re trying to put the right pegs in the right holes,” Palko said. “We’re just trying to find out what our personality is, to be honest with you. That takes time.”

In Week 3, it started to take shape.

Mt. Lebanon erased a 14-point halftime deficit last week and defeated Seneca Valley, 26-20, to remain undefeated in WPIAL Class 6A. It wasn’t necessarily a signature win, but it hinted that the new-look Blue Devils were prepared to compete in the conference.

“It’s emotionally draining,” Palko said. “I laugh. I cry. It’s a full day. You’ve got to be patient and you’ve got to have a sense of humor.”

Now, another test awaits Friday.

Fourth-ranked Mt. Lebanon (3-1, 3-0) visits No. 2 North Allegheny (4-0, 3-0) at 7:30 p.m. The teams are tied for first place in the conference.

“The way it is now, every game is more important than the one you just played,” NA coach Art Walker said. “Each week gets more and more important the deeper you go into the season.”

North Allegheny has won nine in a row over Mt. Lebanon including a 34-3 victory last season. The Blue Devils last won in 2005.

“Now they’re a machine,” said Palko, who had Walker as his offensive coordinator in 1995-97. “They know what to do. They know what the moving parts are, everything about it. Sitting here watching it (on video), it’s pretty cool.”

After 24 seasons at West Allegheny, Palko is approaching the midway point of his first at Mt. Lebanon. He called the experience both “rejuvenating” and “frustrating.”

“It’s a nonstop formula trying to get the kids to buy into what you want to do,” Palko said. “This first year is crazy. Being in one place for all those years, you forget how hard it is to get rolling and put a plan into place.”

The Blue Devils started their season with a 46-20 nonconference loss to Gateway but rebounded with conference wins over winless Canon-McMillan, 49-21, and winless Butler, 63-7.

Last week, Mt. Lebanon trailed 14-0 but rallied with 26 second-half points to defeat Seneca Valley. Blue Devils senior Evan Jones, a player with multiple positions, scored three times with two touchdowns receiving and one rushing.

Sophomore quarterback Joey Daniels threw two touchdowns.

“We’re not going to apologize for winning that game, that’s for sure,” Palko said. “A lot of it was ugly, but ugly wins are better than pretty losses.”

North Allegheny is coming off a 42-6 victory over Canon McMillan. Senior running back Percise Colon led with 260 rushing yards and two touchdowns as NA dominated the winless Big Macs.

“We ran the ball extremely well,” Walker said. “Our first play from scrimmage was a 75- or 80-yard touchdown. … Our guys up front did well, and our coaches did a great job of scheming to find different openings and areas we could attack.”

Defensively, finding Jones before each snap will be a key for NA’s defense. Palko has used Jones similarly to the way he used former West A standout Mateo Vandamia.

Among his touchdowns last week was a 79-yard catch.

“He’s a quarterback, he’s a tailback, he’s a tight end, he’s a wing, he’s a wide receiver,” Walker said. “He lines up in a lot of places, so you’ve got to know where he’s at.”

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

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