GETTING PHYSICAL; Nineteen Years Have Passed since Bob Palko Coached in His First WPIAL Championship, Reaching Three Rivers Stadium as a Relatively New Head Coach at West Allegheny. [Derived Headline]

By Harlan, Chris | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, November 17, 2016 | Go to article overview

GETTING PHYSICAL; Nineteen Years Have Passed since Bob Palko Coached in His First WPIAL Championship, Reaching Three Rivers Stadium as a Relatively New Head Coach at West Allegheny. [Derived Headline]


Harlan, Chris, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Nineteen years have passed since Bob Palko coached in his first WPIAL championship, reaching Three Rivers Stadium as a relatively new head coach at West Allegheny.

Yet, those memories stuck with him.

"What a rush," Palko said. "I can remember Ben Herbert intercepting the first pass and taking it down for a touchdown. That memory is very vivid in my mind."

It was 1997, and Palko was finishing his third season at West Allegheny when his Indians won the WPIAL Class AAA title 51-24 over Brownsville. So, Palko can appreciate the rush McKeesport's Matt Miller will feel Friday taking his Tigers to Heinz Field in his first season as a head coach.

"That's pretty neat," Palko said. "He should be really proud of how they've handled that situation. With coach (George Smith) leaving, you're following a legend. ... I don't know (Matt Miller) but I know Coach Smith, and I'm sure he's as proud as can be."

Come Friday afternoon, the first-year coach will share the field with the coach who owns the most WPIAL titles. No. 1 seed West Allegheny (11-0) and No. 3 McKeesport (9-2) meet at 2 p.m. Friday in the WPIAL Class 5A championship at Heinz Field.

McKeesport is in the WPIAL finals for the first time since 2005, when the Tigers won the Class AAAA state title. Miller was an assistant coach for that team, but was promoted in February to lead a staff of veteran assistants.

"There's a lot more pressure, that's for sure," Miller said with a laugh. "You kind of hid behind Coach Smith for years and years, and now you're thrust into that position."

This will be the ninth WPIAL finals appearance for West Allegheny and Palko, who leads all coaches with seven titles.

"It never gets old, I'll say that," Palko said. "The feeling is great."

But this final has a new wrinkle as the first Class 5A championship in WPIAL history.

West Allegheny excelled in Class AAA the past two decades, winning WPIAL titles in 1997, '99, 2000, '01, '09, '12 and '13, and finishing as runner-up in 2014. The Indians jumped two classifications this year and still reached the finals.

West Allegheny outscored opponents 383-88, and held seven teams to a touchdown or less.

"The biggest difference is how physical the teams are," Palko said. "The Parkway (Conference) was physical, but (Class 5A) was really physical. …

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