PHILADELPHIA CATHOLIC LEAGUE FOOTBALL –
In 48 hours, the Catholic League has the capacity to send three teams to the PIAA state football championship.
The opposition would prefer that the trio look ahead to the final instead of concentrating on this weekend’s semifinals, but that’s not going to happen.
“We have had the same goal since last January, and it was to get to state,” said Archbishop Wood senior linebacker Dylan Urbanowski. “We have played many good teams this season and it took some losses to be able to piece together the last stretch.”
Wood (9-3 overall) has won nine of its past 10 and is coming off a 38-7 quarterfinal demolition of Hollidaysburg. At 7 PM Friday, the Vikings travel to Chambersburg High School to face a huge Class 5A test against Penn Hills. The Indians are 15-0 and ranked eighth in the state, four spots higher than Wood.
Archbishop Wood will play Penn Hills on Friday - Winner will advance to the PIAA 5A state championship - PSD Photo by Francesca Rossillo
Leading Wood’s offense is junior Tom Santiago, who has gained 1,661 yards and scored 16 touchdowns. After intercepting three passes in the first eight games, Wood’s defense has picked off seven in the past four, part of the reason the Vikings have surrendered one touchdown or less five times.
“The players are more than ready to play Penn Hills on Friday,” said Urbanowski, “as long as we work together and stay on our game plan.”
Prediction: Archbishop Wood shines at this time of the year. With four state titles over the past five years and five in seven, it would be imprudent to doubt the Vikings. It won’t be a blowout, and may even require overtime, but the Vikes prevail, 28-22.
On Saturday at 1:00, top-ranked St. Joseph’s Prep brings its perfect 11-0 record to Altoona and will take on third-ranked, Class 6A stalwart Pine-Richland (11-2).
Although the Hawks’ offense has been nothing short of dynamic behind sophomore quarterback sensation Kyle McCord (2,301 yards passing and 30 touchdowns, three of them in a 42-14 quarterfinal beatdown of Bethlehem Freedom), senior receiver Johnny Freeman (42 catches for 691 yards and 10 touchdowns), and sophomore wide-out Marvin Harrison, Jr. (38-569-8), the underrated defense has fueled much of the Prep’s success.
St. Joe's Prep will face last year's championship foe Pine Richland on Saturday at 1PM at Altoona HS - PSD Photo by Mike Gray
Over the past nine games, the Prep has allowed no more than 17 points in any game. Whenever the Hawks need a big play, they seem to force one either on an interception (11 for the season), a fumble recovery, or a sack.
The Hawks will undoubtedly face their stiffest test against a Pine-Richland squad that defeated them in last year’s state final.
“People can play out the narrative that this is a revenge game and the game we’ve been waiting for,” said senior cornerback Zach Bouggess, who leads the team with three interceptions. “But for us, this game is just as important as others because it is the next one.”
Prediction: The Prep plays its best game of the season and pulls away in the second half for a 35-20 victory.
West Catholic (12-2) ignored the headache of a quarterback change and romped past Richland, 35-7, and advanced to the Class 2A semis against undefeated Southern Columbia 7 PM Friday at Lehigh/Slatington.
A season-ending injury to junior Zaire Hart-Hawkins necessitated senior Tre Johnson taking controls behind center, and his efficient 9-for-17, 101-yard, one-touchdown performance did the trick.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that senior Jacir Savoy chose the perfect time to collect a career-high 183 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries, or that the Burrs’ defense intercepted a staggering four passes to give them seven in two games.
“We are taking this one game at a time,” said senior linebacker/lineman Kha’Jey Frazier. “We are confident but humble, just like we were this whole year. We’re playing the role of the underdogs once again and we plan to keep this mindset throughout the whole week.”
The Burrs are will have to battle past 14-0 Southern Columbia Friday night to reach the 2A state championship - PSD Photo by James Williamson
Prediction: Southern Columbia is 14-0, has shut out three opponents and held six others to only one touchdown, and enjoys a state ranking twice as impressive as West (19thto 36th). Everything needs to go right for the Burrs as they attempt to stretch their winning streak to seven. Just for an added dose of West Catholic motivation, let’s go with Southern Columbia remaining undefeated after a 34-17 victory.
(John Knebels can be reached at Jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.)