North Allegheny to rely on defense as offense gets in sync
North Allegheny senior linebacker Cade Hoke is eagerly anticipating the season opener Aug. 24 against Christians of Faith Academy (Ohio).
Eighteen months without live action has Hoke ready to help lead the Tigers’ defense. North Allegheny, which finished 8-4 last season and reached the WPIAL Class 6A semifinals, had the fourth-best totals for points allowed in the classification, holding teams to 21.6 points per contest.
“We’re vocal and try to communicate with each other,” said Hoke, who had a knee injury. “We have intensity that helps us makes the plays and execute. We are always working to put that fist up on fourth down. That gets you fired up.”
Having a strong defensive backing will help as North Allegheny figures things out on offense.
The Tigers return a number of starters from last season’s unit. Senior defensive back Joey Porter Jr. was a first-team all-conference player. Seniors Dante Caputo earned second-team all-conference honors as a linebacker.
“We have a few new lineman coming in, and I have a lot of faith in those guys, and they’ve been doing great so far,” Hoke said. “Our defense will be a loaded group on our side; we have a lot of starters returning. We’re working on new fronts and new schemes. We should be fine coming into Week Zero.”
Tigers coach Art Walker believes having a Week Zero game will be important as players get game experience.
“Settling who those guys are, getting rotation on offensive line and defensive line to point, get great chemistry with one another,” Walker said about what North Allegheny wanted to accomplish in camp. “We want to make sure the guys at quarterback and running back have that experience. It’s a week-to-week process and we got to put a lot of work into it because it’s important. Every week, we have to get better and not take it for granted.”
North Allegheny will be looking to replace Luke Trueman — who rushed and passed for more than 1,000 yards — at quarterback and Derek Devine — who went to Virginia — on the offensive line. At quarterback, junior Ben Petsche and senior Gunnar Fisher are battling for the top spot.
“We’re still in competition mode,” Walker said. “Fisher is a senior and more of an athlete. Petsche is a junior and more of a prototypical quarterback. Until we get live action, it’s hard to evaluate; you can’t evaluate quarterbacks based on seven-on-seven stuff.”
Getting everything in sync quickley will be crucial in Class 6A, as there are only nine teams, so each program will play eight conference games.
“Every game, except your nonsection games count toward the playoffs,” Walker said. “If you make the playoffs, you’re going to see somebody again. Everyone’s in the same situation, and the only difference is where the nonconference games are. It will be easier for some teams than others.”
Coach: Art Walker Jr.
2017 record: 8-4, 4-2
All-time record: 404-245-14
Date, Opponent, Time
8.24, Christian of Faith Academy (Ohio), 7:30 p.m.
8.31, at Norwin*, 7 p.m.
9.7, Central Catholic*, 7:30 p.m.
9.14, at Canon-McMillan*, 7 p.m.
9.21, at Mt. Lebanon*, 7:30 p.m.
9.28, Seneca Valley*, 7:30 p.m.
10.5, Butler*, 7:30 p.m.
10.12, at Hempfield*, 7 p.m.
10.19, at West Allegheny, 7 p.m.
10.26, Pine-Richland*, 7:30 p.m.
*Class 6A Conference game
Passing: Luke Trueman*
84-114, 1,160 yards, 18 TDs
144-1,021 yards, 8 TDs
Receiving: John Varzdel*
20-442 yards, 9 TDs
Josh Rizzo is a freelance writer.