North Allegheny tops Central Catholic in low-scoring defensive battle

Friday, September 23, 2022 | 10:33 PM

North Allegheny’s Campbell Melzer was upset with himself after missing a tackle on a fourth-quarter hitch route that put Central Catholic in scoring position for a late touchdown.

But he knew NA had already escaped worse.

“I didn’t wrap up,” said Melzer, a senior captain. “I had to make up for it.”

He did. Locked one-on-one with wide receiver Vernon Settles a few plays later, Melzer knocked away a fourth-down pass in the end zone with less than 2 minutes left. His pass breakup was a game-saving play for North Allegheny, which repeatedly found ways to erase its mistakes in a tense 7-3 victory over rival Central Catholic.

“That’s what we do,” Melzer said. “We don’t give up. We play four quarters and we give it our all.”

NA’s Andrew Gavlik rushed for 153 yards and quarterback Logan Kushner scored the game’s only touchdown on a fourth-quarter run as the team took control in the final minutes.

The Tigers at times put themselves in trouble, but always found a way out.

“Resilience and grit,” NA coach Art Walker said. “I loved it. We had a snap over the punter’s head for a short field. We shot ourselves in the foot with another snap. Had some critical penalties. Being second and 25, second and 18. But there’s just no quit in them.”

The win kept North Allegheny (5-0, 2-0) alone atop the WPIAL Class 6A standings and left preseason favorite Central Catholic (2-3, 0-2) still searching for its first conference win.

The teams combined for a scoreless first half.

North Allegheny didn’t get its offense going until late. Gavlik had only 47 first-half yards, but piled up 82 on eight fourth-quarter carries, setting up Kushner for a winning 7-yard run with less than 7 minutes left.

Kushner leaped into the end zone between tacklers.

“It was a defensive battle all the way through the first half,” Kushner said. “We made some adjustments at halftime, caught some steam and got rolling.”

NA’s winning touchdown drive covered 83 yards in seven plays. Gavlik had five carries for 65 yards, including a 34-yarder, Daniel Sellers made a 6-yard catch and Kushner finished it off.

Gavlik ended up with 22 carries.

“He’s patient,” Walker said of Gavlik, a 6-foot, 180-pound senior, “and then when he hits it, he’s downhill.”

Central Catholic’s only points came on a 30-yard field goal by sophomore Billy Lech midway through the third. The Vikings had started that possession at North Allegheny’s 9-yard line after a bad punt snap by the Tigers, but NA’s defense made a goal-line stand to prevent a touchdown.

The Vikings offense had eight possessions but never reached the end zone. Three ended in punts, one led to a missed field goal, one ended with an interception by NA’s Khiryn Boyd and two others had failed fourth-down tries.

“It was our drops and our penalties,” Central Catholic coach Terry Totten said. “I have nowhere else to go with that. For one reason or another, drives stall.”

The Vikings have now lost their two conference games by a combined five points.

“I don’t know what to say anymore,” Totten said. “We’ve got a couple of big-timers not making plays for us.”

Settles led Central’s offense with six catches for 77 yards. Quarterback Payton Wehner completed 11 of 24 passes for 127 yards and one interception.

The Vikings were held to 69 rushing yards on 22 carries.

With less than 2 minutes left, Central Catholic had a first down at NA’s 22 after a 29-yard catch by Settles. The Vikings gained 8 yards on three plays, but then lost 5 yards on a penalty.

On fourth-and-7 at the 19, Wehner threw to Settles in the left side of the end zone, but Melzer was there to knock it away.

“They left me on an island out there one-on-one,” Melzer said. “I knew I had to make a play. I made the big play.”

Melzer was also credited with a team-high six tackles.

“He’s a competitor,” Walker said. “They had the hitch and he missed a tackle and he was mad at himself as a senior. I’m happy that they went to him and he answered the call.”

The loss drops Central Catholic to last place in the five-team conference. Canon-McMillan, Mt. Lebanon and Seneca Valley are all tied at 1-1 after Friday.

“We’re not giving up by any means,” Totten said. “We’ve got to get our offense going.”

Watch an archived broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

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

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