A rainy, overcast day in Shaler turned out to be Mike Neugebauer’s moment in the sun.
The junior linebacker converted three pivotal defensive plays in the fourth quarter to lead No. 9 North Hills to a 21-9 victory over host Shaler on Saturday afternoon in Quad North football.
“Someone had to step up and make the play, and the opportunity came,” he said. “I did what I could for the team.”
With North Hills clinging to a 14-6 lead in the fourth quarter, Neugebauer made a pair of key plays deep in Indians’ territory.
On a first-and-goal from the North Hills 10-yard line, he tracked down Shaler quarterback Lou Massimiani and sacked the senior for a 5-yard loss.
On the next play, he deflected a pass intended for running back Steven Brown.
“The kid beat me out into the flat, and I was late,” he said. “I hustled my butt off and just got a finger on the ball and knocked it away.”
Senior defensive back Chris Kappas broke up a third-down pass in the end zone, and instead of a potentially game-tying touchdown, Shaler had to settle for Dante Cincotta’s 32-yard field goal to pull to within 14-9.
On Shaler’s next possession, Massimiani fumbled the snap, and Neugebauer pounced on the ball at the Shaler 12 with 5:20 to play for his third big play in a six-minute span.
“He’s an intense kid, and he plays hard,” North Hills coach Jack McCurry said. “He had a good game today.”
Four plays after the fumble recovery, Andrew Johnson, who finished with 76 yards on 26 carries on the muddy surface, scored on a 1-yard run to put North Hills ahead 21-9 and ruin Shaler’s homecoming.
North Hills (4-1, 2-1) recovered the ensuing squib kick and ran out the clock to stay one-half game behind first-place Mt. Lebanon heading into next week’s game against visiting Butler (2-3, 1-1).
“We had our back to the wall, and we prevailed,” Johnson said.
Neugebauer provided a much-needed spark after Shaler gained second-half momentum. Shaler (2-3, 1-2) pulled to 14-6 on Massimiani’s 1-yard sneak with 8:01 to play in the third quarter and moved to the North Hills 10 early in the fourth quarter. But Neugebauer sacked Massimiani, losing his helmet as he dove to ankle-tackle the scrambling quarterback.
“When I called the blitz, I had a feeling they might be rolling away from him,” defensive coordinator Pat Carey said. “I wasn’t sure that Mike had the speed to catch up with Massimiani. But he made an outstanding effort and dove and pulled him down.”
Neugebauer, generously listed at 6-foot, 180 pounds, is a first-year starter. The North Hills defense is ranked No. 2 in the WPIAL Quad A at 7.2 points per game.
“He’s an overachiever,” Carey said. “He has great desire and a nose for the ball. He has a special attitude.”
Shaler wasted a scoring chance in the final moments of the first half. The Titans, who gained two total yards in the first 23:46 of the first half, reached a first-and-goal at the North Hills 6 after a pretty 29-yard over-the-shoulder catch by Tom Neiman with 14 seconds to play. Brandon McNearney ran 2 yards to the North Hills 1, but the clock expired before Shaler could run another play.
“We thought we could pound it in with the run, but it didn’t work out that way,” Massimiani said.
North Hills led 14-0 seven minutes into the game. Sophomore quarterback Ryan Lehmeier, playing on the same field where his older cousin Brandon became Shaler’s all-time leading rusher, scored on a 1-yard run 2:36 into the game, and lineman Mike Schmitt recovered teammate Andrew Janeski’s fumble in the Shaler end zone for a 14-0 edge with 4:59 to play in the first quarter.
Lehmeier completed 6 of 12 for 142 yards. Massimiani, held to minus-26 yards in the first half, finished with 55 yards on 19 carries.