Through the years, the rivalry between North Hills and North Allegheny has delivered a lot of thrills.
Tonight promises more of the same at North Hills’ Martorelli Stadium in the regular-season finale for both teams.
The WPIAL Quad North Conference title is at stake. But with both teams already having secured a WPIAL playoff berth, they hope to come away tonight unscathed.
“We are going to be pounding on each other, even though the playoffs start (next week). But it’s a good thing, a healthy thing,” North Allegheny coach Art Walker said. “I think this game emulates what Western Pennsylvania high school football is about. I don’t think there’s a better rivalry around. There’s some that are close and some similar, but I don’t know that there’s one quite like it.”
North Hills (7-1, 4-0) is riding a five-game winning streak following last weekend’s last-minute, 21-18 road victory over Shaler. The Indians’ only loss is a one-point setback Sept. 12 at Bethel Park.
North Allegheny (5-3, 3-1) has won four of its past five games, including a 24-7 victory last weekend over visiting Butler.
“Regardless of the records, there’s a lot at stake. For one, the conference title is at stake,” North Hills coach Jack McCurry said. “These two communities are side-by-side. It’s a competition between two schools who know each other very well. The importance of the outcome is always escalated when something is at stake.”
McCurry delights in watching his players prepare during the week, knowing they’re going up against their rivals.
“It’s the kids. It’s all about them,” he said. “It just adds a little bit more to it knowing that the game has meant so much to both sides throughout the years.
“It’s a big game, anyway. All the other things that play into it just makes it even more so.”
Both teams figure to pass the ball with regularity. The quarterbacks are almost dead-even, statistically speaking.
North Hills senior Justin Heinauer has completed 80 of 149 attempts for 1,285 yards. North Allegheny sophomore Mike Locke is 81 of 136 passing for 1,166 yards.
Nearly half of Locke’s passes have gone to senior wide receiver Brian Austin, who has 40 receptions for 520 yards and six touchdowns.
North Allegheny, which has won the past two meetings with North Hills, also is a threat to pile up some substantial rushing yardage. The Tigers’ total of 1,746 is nearly 700 yards more than North Hills’ total.
Rising sophomore Alex Papson went over 1,000 yards last week and has gained 1,015. The 5-foot-9, 165-pounder has scored 12 touchdowns.
Walker said that North Hills linebacker Mike Hirt, one of several menacing defensive leaders for the Indians, has gained the attention of the Tigers’ offense.
“We know he’s got to be blocked. He’s a definite concern for us inside,” Walker said of the 6-1, 215-pound Hirt, who also splits time on offense at fullback and tight end.
“We have to know where he’s at,” Walker said.
The winner comes away with the conference title, but both teams know they’re going to be back on the field next week.
“It’s rivalry week in the WPIAL,” McCurry said. “They wanted this game to be a meaningful one, and it’s heated. There’s no doubt.
“It’s a fun game to coach and a fun game to play, when the communities get behind the teams. The stadium will be packed. It’s a healthy situation for everyone.”
Quad North Conference
North Allegheny (5-3, 3-1) at North Hills (7-1, 4-0)
7:30 p.m. · Martorelli Stadium
Radio: WPIT-AM (730)
Notable: North Allegheny senior receiver Brian Austin’s 40 receptions are tied for third in the district. He has caught six touchdown passes for the Tigers. … North Hills senior Cody Patton is an experienced cornerback who leads the Indians in interceptions this season with five.