Run-heavy North Allegheny wins conference title, hands rival Pine-Richland ‘humbling’ loss
North Allegheny’s Sam Gelosh carried for nine yards, Ben Petschke fought for the next three, Gelosh ran for five more, Percise Colon added six -- and on they went.
It wasn’t a quick strike that sparked NA’s offense Friday night but rather a long, slow, steady touchdown drive in the rain and cold at Newman Stadium.
North Allegheny was held scoreless for nearly three quarters before reaching the end zone on three consecutive possessions to defeat Pine-Richland, 27-7, claiming the conference title and the No. 1 seed in WPIAL Class 6A. NA’s first touchdown drive lasted 15 plays, 74 yards and six minutes, shifting momentum in its direction.
“That 15-play drive really set a tone and sent a message about what we’re capable of doing,” NA coach Art Walker said. “And then the defense got rested, came out and was relentless.”
No. 2-ranked North Allegheny (10-0, 8-0) won with a run-heavy attack and a resilient defense that forced No. 1 Pine-Richland (8-2, 7-1) into four failed fourth-down conversions.
North Allegheny rushed for 345 yards led by senior Ben Maenza, who had 141 yards and a touchdown on nine carries. NA’s offense totaled 358 yards from scrimmage compared to 174 for Pine-Richland.
Combined, the teams passed for 25 yards.
The win gives North Allegheny the conference title, but the rivals could rematch at Heinz Field in three weeks for the WPIAL title.
North Allegheny will enter the six-team playoff bracket seeded first with Pine-Richland second. Both teams earned first-round byes and will host semifinal games in two weeks.
“It hurts, it’s a humbling experience,” Pine-Richland coach Eric Kasperowicz said of Friday’s loss. “It’s never fun to lose. It was for the conference title, something that was very important to us. But with all that being said, it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. We’re one game away from Heinz Field.”
Senior running back Luke Meckler led Pine-Richland with 114 yards on 28 carries, and quarterback Cole Spencer added 41 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. But the Rams scored on only one of their nine possessions.
They had drives stall at NA’s 19-, 22-, 34- and 25-yard lines.
“It’s 14-0 if we get one of those, and it’s a different game,” Kasperowicz said. “Then (North Allegheny’s) offense has to be in more of an attack mode. They can’t just sit there and run the ball like they did.”
Cade Hoke led NA’s defense with 10 tackles and two sacks, and Ethan Augustine made 9½ tackles.
Trailing 7-0, NA stuck to its game plan and ran at Pine’s defense until Gelosh plunged into the end zone for a game-tying 12-yard touchdown with 1:47 left in the third quarter. The Tigers attempted three passes on the 15-play drive but all fell incomplete on a night not ideal for passing.
So, all 74 yards came on the ground.
“We hit them (with a run to the) outside, hit them way inside, came back weak side, hit them strong again,” Walker said. “We just kept countering. ... Our guys played well up front, they battled, we used multiple ball carriers and our quarterback played one of his best games.”
Petschke completed just 4 of 11 pass attempts for 13 yards, but the junior had 67 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. He followed Gelosh’s tying touchdown with an eight-yard touchdown run on NA’s next possession. Maenza broke loose for a 69-yard touchdown four minutes later as the Tigers surged ahead 20-7.
Once they found run plays that worked, they stuck with them.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Petschke said.
Petschke added a two-yard touchdown run late in the fourth.
Colon finished with 70 yards on six carries, and Gelosh had 49 and a touchdown on seven.
“Just pound the ball every single down,” Petschke said. “We had over 800 yards on them (in two games) last year and that’s just what we had to do again. That’s what we did.”
North Allegheny almost scored on its first possession. A 60-yard run by Maenza carried the Tigers to Pine-Richland’s 5-yard line in the opening minutes, but the drive stalled there with a missed 19-yard field goal.
NA’s offense seemed primed for a strong night, but its next four possessions produced two punts and a lost fumble. The fourth possession ended with the arrival of halftime.
Pine-Richland took a 7-0 lead on Spencer’s 1-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second quarter.
“We all knew that we were still in the game,” Maenza said. “We all knew we’d have a good chance to win, so we all just came together and played harder. ... We blocked better, ran harder and did everything better.”