North Allegheny embraces being viewed as underdog, now leads Class 6A

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Saturday, October 1, 2022 | 11:01 AM


Saying the biggest high school in Western Pennsylvania was overlooked might seem unlikely, but when football season started, North Allegheny’s players didn’t hear much talk about themselves.

Central Catholic was the favorite. Seneca Valley was the team with the special senior class. Mt. Lebanon was the defending state champion. Canon-McMillan was the team on the rise.

And North Allegheny was just North Allegheny.

“It was good to kind of start the season as the underdogs,” NA quarterback Logan Kushner said. “Now we’re building our way up to the top of 6A.”

North Allegheny found itself alone atop the Class 6A standings at the season’s midway point. There are five teams in WPIAL Class 6A, so each plays four conference games.

The Tigers were the only team to start 2-0.

“I’m going to keep repeating myself by saying ‘proud,’ but I am,” NA coach Art Walker said. “I’m proud of this group of kids, where they’ve come from. There wasn’t a whole heck of a lot of talk about us in the spring or summer and that’s OK. That’s OK because they fed on it.”

North Allegheny in Week 1 topped Canon-McMillan, 35-21, and later defeated Central Catholic, 7-3, in Week 4. That success has the Tigers in position to maybe win their first outright conference title since 2018.

“It feels great,” Kushner said. “Last year wasn’t the best. We had a lot of conference losses, but now to be 2-0 in the conference feels amazing.”

North Allegheny finished in a three-way tie for a conference title in 2019. A year later, there was no conference champion recognized in 2020 because of covid-related cancellations.

Last year, the Tigers finished fourth.

“We approach every week to win, and try to put our kids in a position to win,” Walker said, “but having that second win in the conference — and against a really good team like Central — that’s a special one.”

Statistically, North Allegheny has the highest-scoring offense and the stingiest defense in WPIAL 6A. The Tigers averaged 33 points per game and allowed 9.8 in their first five games, all wins.

That staunch defense showed in the low-scoring win over Central Catholic. Kushner accounted for the only touchdown scored by either team. The quarterback crossed the goal line on an improvised, fourth-quarter run that saw him leap between defenders.

“It was initially a rollout, a bootleg,” Kushner said of the 7-yard run with less than 7 minutes left. “I just saw a lane to run in, I ran and dived for the end zone. I got some air.”

The junior has thrown nine touchdowns and rushed for two more.

The team’s leading rusher at the midway point was running back Andrew Gavlik with 452 yards on 71 carries. The top receiver was Khiryn Boyd with 22 catches for 451 yards.

Another star from the Central Catholic win was junior Daniel Sellers, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound tight end and defensive end. Sellers had four catches and coaches awarded him the team’s ceremonial chain to wear after the game.

“The emergence of him (against Central Catholic) shows what he can do,” Walker said. “That’s going to be huge for his confidence moving forward.”

The victory also was a confidence boost for North Allegheny overall. The win put the Tigers in good playoff position, since four of the five teams in 6A qualify.

Both of North Allegheny’s remaining conference matchups are home games. Newman Stadium will host Mt. Lebanon on Oct. 7 and Seneca Valley on Oct. 28.

The Tigers are OK with staying out of the spotlight, but it’s much less likely with each win.

“Nobody needs to talk about us now, either,” Walker said, laughing, “because we’re content working with ourselves and within our own group. It’s a special group of kids and we’re having fun with them.”

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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