West Allegheny’s Nico Flati named Trib HSSN Football Player of the Week
An unexpected source helped provide an unexpected result in a thrilling eyebrow-raiser in the WPIAL football playoffs.
Despite plenty of big performances from Championship Saturday at Heinz Field, our Player of the Week comes from Final Four Friday.
Outside of the West Allegheny locker room, few gave the Indians a chance in the Class 5A semifinal against undefeated and defending champion Gateway. The Gators had been a dominant force on both sides of the ball in overpowering opponents to a 12-0 record.
However, the will to win “one more” for coach Bob Palko seems to be driving the Indians to great heights this postseason.
“Coach Palko is an awesome coach,” West Allegheny’s Nico Flati said. “He’s taught us so many things. He’s like a father-figure to us. To make it to the WPIAL championship for coach Palko is awesome.”
Awesome would be a good word to describe Flati’s play Friday.
Coming into the game against Gateway, Nico’s older brother, Dante, was the Indians’ leading rusher.
But Nico was the man Friday with his biggest night of the season. He ran for 137 yards on 20 carries and scored three rushing touchdowns plus he caught a big scoring pass late in a 42-28 West Allegheny victory.
“We know he’s a good player,” Palko said about Nico Flati. “He’s a great player, and he’s only a sophomore but you can’t measure the heart that he has. A lot of it has to do with his older brother.”
Nico Flati’s scoring reception was a 24-yard pass from Kam Kruze on a fourth-and-2 that clinched the victory.
“It’s a play we call Halloween,” Palko said. “We executed it, and Kam made a great throw.”
Nico Flati’s explanation of his scoring catch: “It’s a play we practiced all week and ran it against Moon once and it worked. Kam just puts it on the spot, and I just catch it.”
This is Palko’s final season and the only eight-time WPIAL championship-winning coach realizes the upset of Gateway was truly something special.
“If you are going to beat an extremely talent team like (Gateway), you need to steal possessions and we were able to do that,” Palko said. “We had to play a perfect game and have some things go our way and those things happened. This is very special.”
WPIAL Week 12 honorable mentions:
Cole Spencer – Pine-Richland
Ben DiNucci and Phil Jurkovec won WPIAL titles as senior quarterbacks at Pine-Richland. Now etch the name Cole Spencer on that impressive list. Oh wait, he’s only a sophomore. Spencer performed like a wily veteran on Saturday against Seneca Valley as he connected on 11 of 18 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns plus he rushed for 95 yards and scored on runs of 16 and 3 yards in a big third quarter as the Rams beat the Raiders, 34-7, for the team’s third title in four years and second consecutive WPIAL 6A crown.
Mike Trimbur – South Fayette
The much-anticipated cat fight between WPIAL powers that had been teased but never came to fruition the last two years finally came to be in this year’s WPIAL 4A title game, and it did not disappoint. Neither did the performance of Mike Trimbur for Lions fans. With the long blond hair flowing outside of his helmet, Trimbur raced around Heinz Field like a hare as he caught five passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns, including an ice-breaking 82-yard scoring reception for the Lions’ first punch. Then he delivered the game’s final blow with a diving interception of a Shane Stump pass at the goal line in the final minute of play to seal the Lions’ fourth championship this decade and end the Jaguars’ three-year run with a 31-24 victory.
William Gipson – Aliquippa
William Gipson and Aliquippa made their mark early in the WPIAL Class 3A championship game and quite often through the afternoon against Derry. After an early Trojans turnover, Gipson immediately caught a 15-yard touchdown pass, the first of 22 first-quarter points as the Quips jumped on top and never looked back. Gipson caught seven passes for 165 yards and three touchdowns, including 42- and 20-yard scoring receptions, plus he had an interception as Aliquippa cruised to a 42-19 victory over Derry for the Quips’ 17th WPIAL championship.
Tyler Bradley – Our Lady of the Sacred Heart
An early turnover titled the field for Our Lady of the Sacred Heart as the Chargers were playing in the program’s first-ever title game. Perhaps nerves helped keep the Chargers off the scoreboard early despite a couple of good chances, but once the points started, they kept coming in even quarters. OLSH scored two touchdowns in the second and fourth quarters, and the common denominator was Tyler Bradley. The senior quarterback scored the game’s first touchdown on a 1-yard run and then later chucked three scoring passes. For the day, Bradley was 13 of 22 passing for 169 yards and scoring tosses of 28, 15 and 33 yards as the Chargers rolled to their first WPIAL title with 28-6 win over Rochester.
Bonus mention – Semifinal sensations
Here are the other performances that led to semifinals wins and a berth in the WPIAL finals on the Route to Norwin in Class 5A and the Road to RMU in 2A.
Penn Hills – Hollis Mathis threw for 131 yards and two touchdowns in Indians’ comeback victory.
South Side Beaver – Jake Botkin rushed for 145 yards on 24 carries and two touchdowns as the Rams rallied.
Steel Valley – Todd Hill scored three touchdowns as Ironmen rolled into third straight Class 2A title game.
Don Rebel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Don at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @TheDonRebel.