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North Hills  1987

 

By Hal Wilson


 

 
     
 

In the midst of a run of outstanding North Hills teams in the 1980's, Coach Jack McCurry created a superb eleven in 1987. Ranked first in the country by USA Today much of season, the Indians upheld their lofty status by sweeping through the WPIAL AAAA playoffs, climaxing a stunning campaign with a 21-0 whitewash of nemesis Mt. Lebanon in the title game at Three Rivers Stadium.
North Hills had reached the final unbeaten and untied in 1986 but Gateway thwarted the Indians' hopes by a 7-6 score. North Hills had been ranked first in the state and No. 2 in the nation by USA Today before the Gators spoiled things.
In 1987, a dream season unfolded. The Indians battered ten regular season foes. The only tough tests came late - the first at Mt. Lebanon in a much ballyhooed meeting. The game was scoreless going into the fourth quarter. Junior tailback Duane Hitchcock then finished the Blue Devils with two touchdown runs, 22 and nine yards. North Hills actually dominated the game, outgaining Mt, Lebanon, 265-116, with 13 first downs to Mt. Lebanon's six.
In the final regular season game, the Indians overcame their tough northern Pittsburgh suburbs rival, North Allegheny, 10-0.
In the first two rounds of the AAAA playoffs, the Indians shut out both Pittsburgh Central Catholic and North Allegheny. The scores were 36-0 and 28-0.
Only two opponents scored on North Hills in 13 games, 14 by Hempfield in a 46-14 romp and six by Bethel Park in a game won 39-6 by the Indians. The first-string defense did not surrender a point.
The Indians were rich in talent. Four of their key players started in a WPIAL title game for the third straight year, including linebacker and tight end Eric Renkey, split end and safety Chris Cisar, fullback and cornerback Pat Carey, and offensive tackle and defensive end Brian Kagle. Linebacker Tom Cohan would have been the fifth but he injured a knee in the Central Catholic contest.
Three Indians, Renkey, Cisar, and two-way tackle Gary Gorajewski were selected to the first team All-State defense. Carey was a second team defensive back. Renkey could be dominating as leader of the North Hills defense. Cisar had five interceptions.
In the diversified multi-threat attack, as tallied before the championship game, tailback Hitchcock had run for 888 yards and 15 TD's. Quarterback Greg Morris had rushed for almost as many, 754, scoring 12 touchdowns. Fullback Carey had 709 yards and 11 scores, while Cisar, the big play receiver had 16 catches for seven TD's.

Star Chris Cisar said recently that, "The word 'loss' was just not in our vocabulary. We lost only the 7-6 Gateway game in three years. Playing on these teams with this group of dedicated people was a great experience. We challenged each other to perform at the highest level, whether in practices or in games".
At the helm of this mighty machine was Jack McCurry who had played his scholastic football at Pine-Richland and then became an All-American at Edinboro in 1971. McCurry's teams have won four WPIAL AAAA titles - in 1982, upsetting a heavily favored North Allegheny team in the semi-finals with a squad that had lost four games; in 1985, a co-championship with Gateway after a 0-0 deadlock; 1987; and in 1993 when his perfect record Indians went on to capture their first AAAA state championship with a thrilling last quarter rally, overcoming a 14-0 deficit to edge Central Bucks West, 15-14, in an amazing victory in the snow and wind at Altoona.
McCurry was honored as National Coach of the Year in 1987. He describes his 1987 squad as "intense - the most intense group we have had". McCurry's practices were intense and thorough. He pushed his players to fulfill their potential.
 

 

The Indians' 1987 offensive starters were:

E 88 Eric RENKEY 6-3 240
T 76 Brian KAGLE 6-1 235
G 60 Jason HOFFMAN 6-0 210
C 64 Marty STANTON 6-2 225
G 63 Mark LASKEY 6-2 220
T 72 Gary GORAJEWSKI 6-4 235
E 84 Chris CISAR 6-2 195
Q 22 Greg MORRIS 5-11 180
H 33 Duane HITCHCOCK 6-1 170
H 3 T. J. SCHMITT 6-0 175
F 20 Pat CAREY 6-1 200

The powerful defensive lineup included:
E 30 Mark ELLERMEYER 6-1 165
T 72 Gary GORAJEWSKI 6-4 235
T 77 Jim LASH 6-2 270
E 76 Brian KAGLE 6-1 235
LB 23 Dave HELON 5-10 165
LB 88 Eric RENKEY 6-3 240
LB 32 Tom COHAN 6-1 215
LB 82 Sam SPADE 5-9 175
C 20 Pat CAREY 6-1 200
C 3 T. J. SCHMITT 6-0 175
S 84 Chris CISAR 6-2 195

Linebacker 44 Doug DICKMAN was also a top defender. Underclass twins Jason and Jeff BENDER played key roles in the team's success.
Many of these 1987 Indians performed well at the college level - among them Renkey and Cisar, despite injuries, at Penn State; Gorajewski at Pitt; and Laskey at Tulsa.

The 1987 Best in the USA record:

28 ERIE CATHEDRAL PREP 0
46 PENN HILLS 14
33 HEMPFIELD 0
33 BUTLER 0
34 UPPER ST. CLAIR 0
39 BETHEL PARK 6
57 SHALER 0
56 BALDWIN 0
14 MT. LEBANON 0
10 NORTH ALLEGHENY 0
WPIAL AAAA PLAYOFFS
36 PITTSBURGH CENT CATH 0
28 NORTH ALLEGHENY 0
21 MT. LEBANON 0

In 1999, a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette coaches' poll named 1987 North Hills as the top WPIAL team in the previous 25 years.
The most honored star of this great Indian era has been Penn State All-American and current Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington, a junior running back and All-State linebacker for the 1995 State champions. Arrington was named to the All-Time WPIAL team in 1996 before his senior season..

 

 


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