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No. 2 North Allegheny overwhelms Norwin, QB Salopek in conference opener

September 27, 2018
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North Allegheny's Joey Porter, Jr. catches a touchdown pass, as Norwin's William Kerston (14) and Jayvon Thrift defend during the second quarter Friday, Aug. 31, 2018, at Norwin High School.

Norwin hoped to pull a stunner and knock mighty North Allegheny from its No. 2 perch in the WPIAL Class 6A football rankings.

A clash with one of the WPIAL’s Northern powers came prelabeled as a “statement” game.

It was North Allegheny, though, making the statement as it proved the program’s stature still looms large.

The Tigers dominated up front, pressured Norwin quarterback Jack Salopek relentlessly and took advantage of miscues to roll past the No. 4 Knights, 56-14, on Friday night in the conference opener in North Huntingdon.

“We want to be able to show we can play with those type of programs,” Norwin coach Dave Brozeski said. “We want to be like them and do what they do. We made some mistakes and knew we couldn’t do that against a team like that.”

Norwin (1-1, 0-1) installed in a fast-paced spread offense this season, but the Tigers (2-0, 1-0) were ready for it. They harassed the playmakers, blanketed receivers and denied the Knights their first 2-0 start since 2014.

The Tigers ran for 295 yards and six players scored touchdowns.

“We like to spread it around,” North Allegheny coach Art Walker Jr. said. “We had some great sweep stuff tonight that worked, and our line played very well.”

Norwin certainly doesn’t have the rich history of North Allegheny. The Knights have made the playoffs four straight seasons but have not had a winning season since 2007 and never have played in the WPIAL finals.

The Tigers, meanwhile, have 12 consecutive winning seasons, with at least one playoff win in each, and banners in the gymnasium show four WPIAL titles and three PIAA championships in football.

“They’re still a very good team, and it’s early,” Walker said of Norwin. “They’re going to win some games.”

The Tigers limited Salopek, a junior who has a Pitt offer, to 96 yards on 8 of 21 passing. He was sacked four times. Salopek threw for 283 yards and four touchdowns last week against Penn-Trafford.

“He’s a good one,” Walker said. “And he took some shots tonight but really hung in there. Our defense bailed us out.”

Senior Gianni Rizzo, a Youngstown State recruit, scored two touchdowns in the loss for Norwin.

“They took away some things we like to do,” Brozeski said. “There were four or five minutes there in the second quarter when things were tough for us. We had some negative plays.”

North Allegheny powered its way downfield on the game’s opening drive, with Ben Maenza gaining 32 yards on a run before Gunnar Fisher scoring from the 6.

The Tigers’ line established its footing early.

Norwin drove 65 yards in 10 plays with Rizzo plowing in for a 4-yard TD off a direct snap.

Zeke Houser missed the extra point, filling in for soccer player and regular kicker Carter Breen. It didn’t matter, though, as a 7-6 deficit ballooned to 35-6 by halftime.

North Allegheny took advantage of excellent field position and piled up 28 points in the second quarter.

Dante Caputo blocked a punt and Amosis Porter recovered a fumble, and the Tigers turned both miscues into points on short fields.

“I take full responsibility for the missed assignments on special teams,” Brozeski said. “I could have done better there. We have a 24-hour rule, win or lose, so we have to put this one behind us.”

Fisher scored on a short run, Ben Maenza rumbled 21 yards for another score and Joey Porter Jr. pulled in a rope-throw from Ben Petschke for a 20-yard touchdown to make it 28-6.

A third-down sack derailed the Knights late in the first half, and Luke Colella bolted left for another score.

Norwin, which seemed to wear down up front, scored first in the second half with Rizzo outjumping Joey Porter Jr. for a 19-yard score. A 2-point pass from Jake Merlin to Jayvon Thrift made it 35-14.

Maenza, who ran for 137 yards and two touchdowns in a season-opening, 45-20 win over Christians of Faith Academy (Ohio), added his second score in the third to up the lead to 42-14.

Fullback Jordan Kerber scored on a 38-yard burst to kick start the mercy rule, and Percise Colon added a 65-yard sprint late to cap the scoring. Colon also had an interception.

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