You could say Logan Kushner’s sensational showing in Saturday’s unforgettable WPIAL Class 6A championship clash brought back memories of Terrelle Pryor in his heyday, but that wouldn’t be entirely true.
After all, even Pryor never had a WPIAL championship performance for Jeannette that could rival the numbers Kushner amassed for No. 2 North Allegheny (11-1) in a captivating 44-41 win against No. 1 Central Catholic (10-2) on Saturday night at Norwin High School.
Nearly one year to the day after he rushed for 184 yards and the go-ahead touchdown in last year’s 35-21 championship-game win over the Vikings at the very same stadium, Kushner delivered an encore for the ages when the Tigers needed it most. The dual-threat senior passed for 107 yards and a pair of touchdowns while rushing for 240 yards and four scores on 25 carries, finishing with 347 total yards and six total TDs and out-dueling Central Catholic QB Payton Wehner in one of the most memorable championship games in WPIAL history.
“The kids just kept battling. They never gave in,” said North Allegheny coach Art Walker. “With all the great athletes that were on the field tonight, [Kushner] was the best one. What he did consistently all game was nothing short of remarkable.
“You’ve got to give both teams credit. An unbelievable game for people who were here.”
Kushner fired a pair of deep touchdown passes in the first quarter to fellow senior Khiryn Boyd, who also caught two long touchdowns from Kushner in last year’s title game and finished with three receptions for 107 yards and two scores. Kushner then shifted from more of a passer to a runner as the game went on, using his legs to pick up big chunks of yards and move the sticks on a consistent basis. His fifth touchdown of the game came with 28 seconds left in the first half, giving the Tigers a 34-20 lead going into the break.
Then, with the game on the line after a furious rally by the Vikings and the Tigers clinging to a three-point lead with less than three minutes remaining, Kushner broke free down the sideline for a 76-yard scoring run that effectively sealed Central’s fate and secured North Allegheny’s sixth WPIAL title.
“It feels amazing, being able to win two years in a row,” Kushner said. “I just have to give a shoutout to the offensive line for blocking amazing all night.”
Senior Tyree Alualu also had a big game for the Tigers, rushing for 100 yards on 18 carries and playing a physical brand of football on both sides of the ball. The son of former Steelers defensive lineman Tyson Alualu, he made several would-be tacklers pay while powering through contact as a runner — and his thunderous hit late in the fourth quarter on defense sent a jolt throughout the entire stadium.
“It feels great to be a champion back-to-back,” said Alualu, whose family flew in from Hawaii to watch the game in person. “Ever since that loss to Central [on Sept. 22], we’ve been just cooking. Me personally, I feel like people bailed on us, and that put a chip on my shoulder.
“It woke something inside all of us.”
For the Vikings, Wehner completed 21-of-31 attempts for 280 yards and three touchdowns with one interception to cap off his storied career. He finishes his senior season as Central’s all-time single-season passing yardage leader with 2,940 yards passing and 36 TDs to just six interceptions, and he offered high praise for his counterpart while fighting back tears after the game.
“[Kushner] is a great player, man. I’ve been battling with him for three years. He’s a dog. College coaches need to get on him,” Wehner said. “That’s a great team. All props to them. We battled and did everything we could have.”
Heralded as one of the best defensive players in the state, Michigan recruit Cole Sullivan made a big impact on offense for the Vikings with six catches for 46 yards and two scores. Junior running back Elijah Faulkner tallied 76 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 15 carries, and senior wideouts Peter Gonzalez and Vernon Settles each hauled in seven receptions in the defeat. Gonzalez, a Penn State recruit, went for 153 yards receiving, while Settles went for 71 yards and a touchdown. Another Penn State recruit, senior linebacker Anthony Speca, blocked a field goal and an extra point to help keep Central in the game, and talented junior Bradley Gompers finished with a game-high 17 tackles for the Vikings.
“Our senior class — I couldn’t be more proud of those kids,” said first-year Central coach Ryan Lehmeier. “Just the effort — we didn’t leave anything out here. We were short on the scoreboard, but I was really proud of the way the kids played.”
While the Vikings were hoping to avenge last year’s championship defeat, the Tigers also had revenge on their minds after a 50-22 mercy-rule loss against Central at their own home stadium on Sept. 22. That game left many believing the Vikings were in a class of their own in Class 6A, but it didn’t take long for North Allegheny to prove otherwise on Saturday.
After Xxavier Thomas returned the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown to give Central an early 6-0 lead, Kushner and Boyd wasted little time striking back. Kushner’s 45-yard TD pass to Boyd gave the Tigers a 7-6 lead to cap their opening drive, and the teams would spend the rest of the first half exchanging haymakers and body blows back and forth.
Sullivan’s 11-yard TD reception on the ensuing drive put the Vikings back on top, 13-7, then Kushner immediately answered with a 57-yard scoring strike to Boyd to make it a 14-13 lead for North Allegheny. After a 52-yard bomb from Wehner to Gonzalez, Faulkner’s 2-yard TD plunge gave the advantage back to Central at 20-14, but again the Vikings’ lead was short-lived.
Kushner showed off some nice moves on a 39-yard TD run later in the second quarter, putting the Tigers on top for good with his third score of the first half — but he wasn’t done yet. Kushner added a 7-yard TD run moments later after a Vikings fumble to make it 28-20, then his 3-yard scoring run with 28 seconds left in the half made it a 34-20 halftime lead for North Allegheny.
Coming out of the break, the Tigers chewed up more than 10 minutes off the clock and appeared to make it a three-score game on another TD run by Kushner, but a holding penalty wiped the touchdown off the board. Then, with all the momentum seemingly in North Allegheny’s favor, Speca blocked a field-goal attempt and Gompers scooped up the bouncing ball before returning it all the way to the Tigers’ 18-yard line. Two plays later, Faulkner scored his second TD on a 16-yard run, and all of a sudden, it was a one-score game again.
Peter Notaro’s 30-yard field goal gave North Allegheny some breathing room with a 37-27 lead early in the fourth quarter, but Central marched right down the field and cut the deficit to three on an 18-yard TD pass from Wehner to Settles on third-and-15. That set the stage for Kushner’s championship-clinching touchdown run on the ensuing possession, as he outraced Sullivan down the sideline to make it a 44-34 Tigers lead.
Wehner fired one more touchdown pass to Sullivan with 28 seconds left to cut it to 44-41, but the Vikings were unable to recover the loose ball on the onside kick attempt that followed. That set off a raucous celebration in the visiting stands and on the North Allegheny sideline, as the Tigers held on to win their second consecutive title while bringing Walker his seventh WPIAL crown.
Next up, North Allegheny will host District 10 champion McDowell in the PIAA Class 6A quarterfinals.
“Every year is so different,” Walker said. “There are so many people who are a part of it. … It takes a program to win a WPIAL championship, and I know that, for sure. I share that honor with all of them.”