North Allegheny ends 11-year wait, moves on to state finals vs. powerhouse St. Joseph’s Prep

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Saturday, December 2, 2023 | 4:18 PM


ALTOONANorth Allegheny is headed to the PIAA finals for the first time since 2012, and waiting for the Tigers will be a team that’s dominated the state for the past decade.

But that’s a concern for another day.

North Allegheny had no worries Saturday after a strong defensive effort and two rushing touchdowns by quarterback Logan Kushner led to a 24-12 win over Harrisburg in a PIAA Class 6A semifinal at Mansion Park Stadium.

The Tigers, playing with an early lead, controlled time of possession by an almost two-to-one margin.

Harrisburg reached the semifinals with a talented offense led by future Division I quarterback Shawn Lee, but showed only glimpses of that big-play potential in the loss.

The Cougars punted on their first four possessions and threw an interception on their fifth. By then, North Allegheny already held a 17-0 lead.

“We played phenomenal,” NA coach Art Walker said. “We tackled well. We kept hunting that quarterback. We saw him make some plays, but we just kept getting after him. We bent a little bit, but we didn’t break.”

The win sets up a matchup with nationally ranked St. Joseph’s Prep at 7 p.m. next Saturday at Cumberland Valley. The Philadelphia power is the defending champion and has seven state titles, all since 2013.

St. Joseph’s Prep won 49-0 in the other semifinal Saturday over Central Bucks South.

“We’ll do everything we can to win,” Walker said. “That’s the key. We don’t work and practice to show up to be in it. Everything we do is to give our kids an opportunity to win. That’s the focus this week, too.”

Walker reinforced that idea to his players in the postgame huddle. He said there is a reason they’re playing in the last high school football game of the year.

“We know how good we are, and we know we’re not done yet,” said junior Liam Flaherty, who had a team-high 12 tackles on Saturday. “We’re saying 168 hours until St. Joe’s. We’re ready to go. We’re satisfied (with this win). We’re going to celebrate now. But we’ve got our eyes on something bigger.”

Prep’s seven state titles include wins in five of the past six years. The team’s only loss in that span was to Mt. Lebanon in 2021.

The Hawks (12-1) are ranked No. 7 nationally by USA Today.

“It’s tough when you have a community like this and you’re facing kids from, let’s face it, they’re from different states,” Walker said. “They’re not just from Pennsylvania, and this is the Pennsylvania state championship. I’ll leave it at that.”

North Allegheny (13-1) will be making its fourth appearance in the finals. The Tigers won titles in 1990, 2010 and 2012.

“We kind of expected them,” Kushner said. “But we’re going to prepare how we usually prepare.”

Harrisburg (12-2) out-gained North Allegheny 334-314 in offensive yards but reached the end zone only twice. Junior quarterback Shawn Lee Jr. threw one touchdown in the second quarter and another late in the fourth.

But after North Allegheny scored the game’s first 17 points, the Tigers were content with playing good defense and running the clock. They held the ball for more than eight minutes in the third quarter alone by taking their time between running plays.

“It gives us a lot of momentum just being able to control the ball,” Kushner said, “and not let their offense have the ball at all.”

Kushner attempted only six passes and completed one.

Instead, North Allegheny ran the ball 59 times for 267 yards and three touchdowns. NA took a 7-0 lead on an 8-yard touchdown run by Tyree Alualu on the team’s second possession.

Kushner scored on a 1-yard run early in the second quarter, and Peter Notaro added a 42-yard field goal to lead 17-0.

Alualu aggravated an ankle injury early in the second quarter and afterward was limited to defense. Flaherty replaced him in the backfield and rushed for 54 yards on 15 carries.

Harrisburg broke the shutout before half with an 82-yard touchdown pass from Lee to Quincy Brannon. The two connected again in the fourth for a 15-yard touchdown.

Lee, who lists a college offer from N.C. State, among others, completed 13 of 22 passes for 210 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Brannon finished with four catches for 115 yards.

“We had a hard time getting things going offensively,” Harrisburg coach Calvin Everett said. “That really hurt us. Their defense is fast, it’s strong, and they’re physical.”

North Allegheny’s lead reached 24-6 midway through the third when Kushner capped a drive with a 9-yard touchdown run.

Harrisburg knows as well as anyone the challenge that lies ahead for North Allegheny. The Cougars lost to St. Joseph’s Prep, 42-7, in last year’s state finals.

“Just buckle up and be ready to play,” said Everett. “That’s all I can say.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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