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West Allegheny Too Hot for Perry, Advances to Hershey

By: Rick Smith, Nauticom Sports Network

Photos by Pete Gyrich

West Allegheny celebrates its first trip to Hershey

Appropriately enough, it was Indian Summer this past Saturday at Pittsburgh's South Stadium. Appropriate because, following a 31-14 win over Perry Traditional Academy, the West Allegheny Indians (13-0) basked in the warmth of the feeling that they had just earned their first-ever trip to the PIAA Class AAA championship game. West Allegheny will play Strath Haven (14-0) for the state title Friday night at 7pm at Hersheypark Stadium.

Spectacular view of Pittsburgh from South Stadium

Sophomore sensation Tyler Palko led an offensive onslaught that produced a 31-0 Indians' lead early in the third quarter. The 6'2" 200 pound quarterback completed two touchdown passes and ran for two more scores as West Allegheny avenged a 1997 loss in the PIAA Western final to the Commodores. Palko finished the afternoon with 172 yards in the air while completing 9 of 17 pass attempts.

Tyler Palko leaps for 2 point conversion

"We learned a lot from the '97 team about trying not to be satisfied (with just a WPIAL title)," said Palko, "We have our sites set on the state championship game."

Bridge-eye view Ready for Hershey

The West Allegheny defense came up with yet another dominating performance. The Indians, giving up an average of less than four points per game this season, caused five Commodores' turnovers and held Perry's high-powered offense in check until the game's outcome had already been decided. Chris Leonard intercepted two passes and Kellen Campbell intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble for West Allegheny.

Allen Miller Mike Bracken
Chaz Coleman Eugene Goodwine

After West Allegheny's Derek Javarone missed a 25 yard field goal, Perry (9-4) appeared poised to take the lead on its first chance on offense. O.J. Macklin, a 5'10" 170 pound senior slotback, broke off a 49 yard run that advanced the ball inside the Indians' 20 yard line. But the West Allegheny defense stiffened, aided by a sack that occurred when Commodores' quarterback Damian Cornish slipped to the turf, and the Indians took over possession of the ball on downs.

It was all West Allegheny for the remainder of the first half.

Perry's band performs at halftime

Allen Miller got things started for the Indians as he turned a missed tackle by a pair of Perry defenders into a 73 yard catch and run for the game's first tally. Perry immediately fumbled the ball away to the Indians' Jamie Fitzgerald and Javarone converted the opportunity into a 39 yard field goal that gave West Allegheny a 10-0 lead as the first quarter clock expired.

Derek Javarone

Palko scored from 7 yards out midway through the second quarter to up the Indians' lead to 16-0. Unable to find an open receiver as he rolled to his left on third down and goal, Palko reversed directions and outraced the Perry defense around right end and into the endzone for the score.

William Graham

Leonard's first interception of the game set up a 13 yard touchdown pass from Palko to Miller with 1:36 remaining in the half. Miller, running a fade pattern, made a beautiful over-the-shoulder grab for the score. Palko hurdled a Commodores' defender for the two point conversion that gave West Allegheny a 24-0 halftime cushion.

Miller's second TD catch

Poor tackling once again nailed the coffon shut for the Commodores in the third quarter. On a fourth down and one play from the Perry 45 yard line, Palko sneaked for the first down and much more as he broke free from the Perry defense and sprinted into the endzone to extend the Indians' lead to 31-0 with 8:09 remaining in the third quarter.

Perry's Brandon Pezzelle (42) Indians' Jamie Fitzgerald (13)

Perry finally scored on a trick play with 1:39 left in the third quarter. Macklin's 28 yard halfback pass to Chaz Coleman, followed by a Macklin to Cornish two-point conversion pass, trimmed the West Allegheny lead to 31-8.

Chaz Coleman scores Damian Cornish adds two

Following the score, Perry kicker John Harris recovered his own on-side kick to set up a 1 yard touchdown sneak by Cornish for the game's final score.

Fitzgerald closes on Perry's Lamar Griffith

West Allegheny showed a very balanced offense during the game, evidenced by the Indians' 170 yards on the ground and 172 yards through the air. West Allegheny did not commit a turnover on offense during the contest.

Nick Allen (17) and Chaz Coleman

The state championship game will feature two teams making their first trip to the finals. Strath Haven lost 13-12 in the Eastern final last season to eventual state champion Allentown Central Catholic. History will not be on the side of West Allegheny Friday night. A WPIAL team has never won the Class AAA state crown.

"There's a first time for everything," said All-State candidate lineman and four year starter Mitch Fedorko, "It's the big time now. We're going (to Hershey) to prove we're #1 in the state." .

Mitch Fedorko