North Allegheny football jumps on Mt. Lebanon early for win

Saturday, November 4, 2017 | 12:36 AM

It's hard to stop a tiger, especially when it gets rolling so early. North Allegheny jumped on Mt. Lebanon for a 21-point first-half lead and took away the Blue Devils' home-field advantage as the No. 5 Tigers rolled past No. 4 Mt. Lebanon, 38-14, in the WPIAL Class 6A first round Friday night at Mt. Lebanon.

“What I was disappointed with in the first half was that we didn't finish drives that I think we should have,” North Allegheny coach Art Walker Jr. said. “We gave them some big plays, and then they went up-tempo and brought it to within one score (before the half).

North Allegheny (8-3) advances to the semifinals and faces top-seeded Northern Seven Conference rival Pine-Richland (11-0). The Rams knocked off No. 8 Norwin, 49-14, to advance to next week's showdown.

The Tigers were on fire from the beginning. The North Allegheny offense took the opening drive 60 yards in six plays and scored when Turner White scored from 3 yards.

After a Mt. Lebanon (6-5) three-and-out on its first drive, the Tigers took over at the Blue Devils 18-yard line. Two plays later, senior quarterback Luke Trueman called his own number and outran the Mt. Lebanon defense for an 82-yard touchdown to bring the score to 14-0 with 6 minutes, 38 seconds remaining in the first quarter.

“I thought that we didn't get off to a good start, and we didn't get flustered and we kept playing,” Mt. Lebanon coach Mike Melnyk said.

Trueman connected with senior running back Ryan Langdon for a 10-yard touchdown pass to grow the Tigers lead to 21-0 with 8:41 remaining in the second quarter.

The Blue Devils' offense turned in another three-and-out after the Tigers touchdown drive. The drive was significant because Mt. Lebanon senior quarterback James Stocker got up from a tackle holding his shoulder and did not return. Melnyk said Stocker injured his right throwing shoulder.

He was replaced by junior Seth Morgan, who sparked the Blue Devils offense. Morgan led Mt. Lebanon's three-play, 69-yard drive that was capped by a 6-yard touchdown run from Ryan Langdon.

The Mt. Lebanon defense did its job on the next North Allegheny possession, giving the ball back to Morgan, who found Lucas Decaro for a 22-yard touchdown pass to cap a six-play, 96-yard drive. North Allegheny entered halftime with a 21-14 lead but without momentum.

Morgan finished 15 of 24 for a game-high 223 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.

“Morgan is just elusive, and he's athletic,” Walker said. “Morgan is the kid that gets out of the pocket. He's got a better arm than people give him credit (for).”

The North Allegheny defense dominated the second half, starting with a forced three-and-out. Junior Joey Porter Jr., son of former Steelers linebacker Joey Porter, returned a punt to the Blue Devils 9-yard line. Two plays later, White scored his second touchdown on a 12-yard run to make the score 28-14.

Porter was a factor on defense, as well. He picked off two Morgan passes to end Mt. Lebanon drives and kept WPIAL leading receiver Aiden Cain in check for most of the night. Cain got his yards (102) but was kept out of the end zone. The Tigers defense totaled five sacks and pressured Morgan nearly every time he dropped back to pass.

“The turning point, for me, in the game was the second half and we didn't let them score on that opening drive,” Walker said. “The thought and the talk in the locker room was get a three-and-out, get the ball and go up two scores and that's what happened.”

Junior linebacker Nikko Rankin picked off a Morgan pass and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown to extend North Allegheny's lead to 35-14 with 6:42 remaining in the third quarter. Tigers kicker Dom Falo added a 23-yard field goal as the third quarter expired to complete the scoring.

Now Walker has to prepare his Tigers for a rematch against Pine-Richland. The Rams beat North Allegheny, 48-28, to close the regular season.

“They're a great football team and have great talent in a lot of spots,” Walker said. “We have to be playing our best football. We played well against them the first time but not well enough. We have to dig deeper and rise up.”

William Whalen is a freelance writer.

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