With losing streak in rearview mirror, Northgate excited about progress

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Thursday, August 25, 2022 | 12:01 PM


A year ago, Northgate entered the 2021 season carrying the weight of the WPIAL’s longest losing streak — 32 games played, 32 straight losses.

But the Flames wasted no time snapping the skid, topping Carlynton, 22-6, in Week Zero.

“To get that first win, and see the look on those guys’ faces when they won that game, was priceless,” said Chris Lucas, a Northgate grad who took over as head coach in the spring following the retirement of Mike Fulmore.

Northgate went on to finish the season 3-7, with a 2-5 mark in Class A’s Big Seven Conference.

“Looking at three wins, that’s not exciting for us,” said Lucas, a former head coach at Bishop Canevin and West Allegheny who served as defensive coordinator under Fulmore. “But when Mike took over the program, he had like 15 or 16 kids that year.”

The three wins included a marquee victory in the Flames’ penultimate game, a 21-19 upset of eventual WPIAL runner-up OLSH.

The Flames also played tough with Class A champion Bishop Canevin and scored a win over Union. They lost three more games by a touchdown or less, an obvious improvement for a team that was outscored by four touchdowns per game in 2020.

The growth on the field has now translated to a different kind of expansion.

“We have 37 kids on the roster now,” Lucas said. “A lot of that is due to those three wins. Last season was hugely successful in bringing this program back.”

Much of the interest in joining the football team has come from underclassmen. Of the 37 on the roster, only four are seniors and four are juniors, allowing Northgate to field a junior varsity team for the first time in a decade.

Under center, Lucas will turn to Sonteon Layne, who did not play football as a freshman in 2021.

“He’s busted his butt and bought all into what we’re trying to accomplish here,” Lucas said of the 6-foot-2, 180 pound quarterback. “He has a big arm. There will be some growing pains with a young guy, but he wants to learn as much as he can.”

Wide receiver Lewis Clark will be a prominent part of the passing game and a key defensive back.

“We expect big things from him,” Lucas said. “He’s so explosive. He gets north and south so fast, and his routes are very good.”

Darius Fields will serve as the primary running back behind an offensive line that will have to replace all five starters from a year ago.

Senior Emanuel McGrail will anchor both the offensive and defensive lines and junior Aidan Gross will be a three-year starter at H-back and inside linebacker.

“(Gross) works extremely hard,” Lucas said. “He’s so physical that we have to pull him back sometimes. He’s built on his experience and is a leader on this team.”

Lucas feels that the team’s commitment to defense last season and ability to match up with pass-heavy offenses will be a strength again this year, but that it will need to improve against power running teams.

A surge in participation should help with that and could not only add depth but make things a bit uncomfortable for Northgate players unwilling to consistently bring maximum effort to the field.

“It’s tough when you only have so many kids and don’t have a lot of competition,” Lucas said. “Kids don’t have to do a lot of work. Now we have competition and are holding kids accountable.

“We’re trying to build a good program. Not just a season. And we’re getting that. These kids are working their tails off.”

Northgate

Coach: Chris Lucas

2021 record: 3-7, 2-5 in Class A Big Seven Conference

All-time record: 208-240-7

SCHEDULE

Date, Opponent, Time

8.26 at Fort Cherry, 7

9.2 Springdale, 7

9.10 at Riverview, noon

9.16 at South Side*, 7

9.23 Summit Academy*, 7

9.30 at Shenango*, 7

10.7 Laurel*, 7

10.14 at Union*, 7

10.21 Rochester*, 7

10.28 Frazier, 7

*Conference game

STATISTICAL LEADERS

Passing: Austin Mitchell

114-205, 1,405 yards, 12 TDs

Rushing: Mitchell

126-528, 5 TDs

Receiving: Davonte Christie*

42-537, 2 TDs

*Graduated

FAST FACTS

• Northgate won more games in 2021 (3) than it did in the previous four seasons combined (2).

• Lucas has promoted Lewis Clark, whose son is a standout on both sides of the ball, to serve as defensive coordinator. They played together at Northgate.

• Despite recent struggles, Northgate was in the WPIAL semifinals not long ago, going 10-2 and falling to Clairton in 2016.

• Northgate has never won a WPIAL title or appeared in a championship game.

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