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December 15, 2012HERSHEY, Pa. (AP) - After missing a tackle, Brendan Coniker benefited from a lucky bounce. The Coatesville receiver fumbled the ball right in front of Coniker, and North Allegheny's defensive back promptly scooped up the loose ball and raced 80 yards down the sideline for a touchdown.
It was only the start of a wild, record-setting Saturday night that ended with a state title for North Allegheny.
Coniker had one of two long first-quarter fumble returns for scores that set the tone early, Alex DeCiantis ran for three touchdowns and the unbeaten Tigers finished first in Class AAAA for the second time in three seasons following the 63-28 romp over mistake-prone Coatesville.
"It's an amazing moment to share with them," Coniker said as his teammates celebrated around him on the cold turf. "Being state champs, going undefeated - it's a dream come true for a high school football player."
North Allegheny (16-0) set a record for most points scored in any PIAA title game. Dunmore previously held the mark with 57 in 1989.
DeCiantis finished with 115 yards on 21 carries, while quarterback Mack Leftwich deftly guided the offense by throwing 16 of 20 for 199 yards and two touchdowns. Leftwich also had 90 yards rushing and a TD on 16 carries.
The Red Raiders (13-3) could move the ball - when they held on to it. Daquan Worley rushed for an 89-yard touchdown and finished with 160 yards on 17 carries.
But the turnovers - three fumbles and an interception - sapped any chance that Coatesville had against the favored Tigers.
"We didn't play our best game on both sides of the ball," Raiders coach Matt Ortega said. "Defensively we had problems stopping the run game. They were a little more physical than us tonight."
Coatesville likely took little consolation in sharing another record with North Allegheny. The 91 total points set a record for most combined points in a championship game. Worley also made the record books after his second-quarter score set the Class AAAA mark for the longest touchdown run in a title game.
North Allegheny returned home to suburban Pittsburgh with the more coveted prize - the program's third PIAA title and second since 2010.
After Coniker's long fumble return, linebacker Kevin Edwards followed with a 52-yard fumble return for a score on Coatesville's next drive for a 21-0 lead at 3:56 of the first quarter.
"Scoring twice on defense in the state championship game in the first half gives you some breathing room," said North Allegheny coach Art Walker, Jr., who was soaking wet after getting a celebratory bucket of water dumped on his head midway through the fourth quarter.
"I'm ecstatic for the defense," Walker said. "I'm ecstatic it was a team win, on both sides of the football."
The Tigers' 28 first-quarter points were the most in the opening period of any PIAA title game dating back to 1988. They opened the game with a methodical 12-play, 71-yard drive in 4:20, culminating in Leftwich's 8-yard touchdown pass to Skylar Cox, before Coniker and Edwards followed with their big defensive plays on successive Coatesville drives.
Edwards extinguished another Coatesville drive into Tigers territory after intercepting a short pass by quarterback Emmett Hunt and returning it 51 yards to the Red Raiders 25. DeCiantis scored on a 1-yard touchdown run three plays later to make it a 28-point game with 1:01 left in the third quarter.
By the fourth quarter, Hersheypark Stadium resembled Heinz Field after a playoff victory with several fans furiously waving Terrible Towels and others celebrating while bundled up in Steelers gear.
But it was the other black-and-gold team that took the spotlight Saturday night.
The last few minutes resembled a sandlot pick-up game, with more improbable long plays interspersed with a couple more meaningless mistakes.
Speedy Coatesville, which averaged 40.1 points entering Saturday night, picked up the pace trying to rally in the second half. Hunt's second 1-yard TD plunge of the night on the opening drive of the second half got the Red Raiders within 35-21 with 8:53 left in the third quarter.
But Coatesville just couldn't stop North Allegheny and overcome the costly turnovers. Ortega's team will have to settle with the satisfaction of being the first squad from Coatesville to get to Hershey and the best team from eastern Pennsylvania.
"Obviously it's great for our program. A great experience," he said. "But for us to come out here tonight to win, we had to play our best game of the year. That didn't happen, but when it's all said, this group is a special group of kids."
Coatesville 7 7 7 7-28