PIAA “A” State Championship – Bishop McCort Preview
Written by: Josh Funk on Thursday, December 17th, 2009
Bishop McCort calls the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference its home. And, when you look at some of the names that are included in the LHAC, there are powers past and present, like Bishop Carroll, Forest Hills, Greater Johnstown, and so on. But there’s been one thing that’s eluded the conference – a PIAA football championship.
That’s not to say that the conference hasn’t had its shots. It has had two of them, one in Altoona and one in Hershey. But each title appearance had a familiar theme – the LHAC reps faced powerful coal region football teams steeped with storied lore and tradition all their own.
In 1994, Forest Hills fell to then-District 11 rep. Mount Carmel Area, 20-14, in double overtime in a cold downpour. Forest Hills was in the game despite a multitude of turnovers. And, in 2003, Bishop Carroll found out just how powerful Southern Columbia’s juggernaut of a football team was. The Tigers crushed the Huskies, 49-20, winning their second of five state titles in a row.
Now, undefeated Bishop McCort gets its chance to do what neither the Rangers or Huskies could do. That’s bring Cambria County a golden football.
McCort (14-0) represents the eastern half of the PIAA bracket in Class “A” and will face WPIAL champion Clairton (14-1), a team that has surrendered just 58 points all season, Friday afternoon in Hersheypark Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m.
With its 42-27 victory over Tri-Valley Friday night, McCort became the first District 6 Class “A” team to win an Eastern Final. District 6 had only reached the Eastern Finals juncture once prior to this – 2006 – when Southern Columbia dismantled Bellwood-Antis 35-0. McCort’s semi-final win was also significant, because, prior to this season, District 6 as a whole was 4-21 in PIAA semi-final games.
McCort also made an appearance in the “AA” Western Finals in 2001, falling to eventual state champ Washington, 42-21.
The four-time defending District 6 champs are in uncharted territory, in part because their last three state playoff appearances ended in the quarterfinals. In 2006, McCort had a 6-0 lead against Wilmington, only to fall, 13-6. A year later, McCort got an early lead, but lost it to Wilmington, falling 35-24. Then, last year, Steel-High wore the Crushers down in the fourth quarter, 27-9.
The Crushers, who own a 94-20 overall record (.824) since 2001, definitely face a tall order in Clairton. Not only do the Bears boast the state’s best defense, but the Bears are also one of only three PIAA affiliates to ever produce consecutive 600-point scoring teams. While McCort will have its hands full, it could also give the Bears some trouble with its tricky Wing-T offense and sizeable offensive line.
McCort’s offense is paced by backs Josh Seidel, Chaz Merriman, Luke James and Dane Domonkos, quarterback Josh Pinkerton, and an offensive line that averages 235 pounds per man.
Seidel has ground out 1,913 yards rushing and 32 touchdowns – 185 yards and four of those scores came in the Crushers’ victory over Tri-Valley. Seidel has had a magical senior season to say the least. Earlier in the year, against Richland Township, Seidel set a single-game record with 327 rushing yards and tied a record set by his late father, Dave Seidel, by scoring six touchdowns. Josh’s father died of complications from a long battle with cancer just two weeks before the season started.
Merriman, who served as a two-year starter at nearby Westmont Hilltop High School his freshman and sophomore seasons, has run for over 800 yards on the year. Luke James and Dane Domonkos also help contribute to the McCort ground game, which averages over 286 yards per game.
Domonkos, actually, is quite the athlete for McCort. He literally does a little bit of everything. He’s run for 544 yards, added another 344 receiving, and scored 18 total touchdowns. He’s also the Crushers’ kicker, and he’s dead-on accurate. Domonkos has booted 68 extra points and 6 field goals this season, and has scored 194 total points, touchdowns included, on the season. Domonkos is also a kick and punt return specialist, and a darn good one. Through the Millersburg game, he was averaging 17.5 yards per punt return and 39.7 yards per kick return.
McCort’s offensive line, comprised of seniors Mike Bako, Steve Belskey, Nick Bambino, and Shane Rugg and junior Tim Hornick, has flattened many an opponent this season and has helped McCort set school records for points scored in a season (582), and rushing yardage (3,720). The team rushing yards mark was updated through the Millersburg state quarterfinal game.
Defensively, James, Merriman, Belskey, and Nathan Moot each have over 100 tackles. Anthony Pioli has racked up 16.5 sacks this season, and the Crushers’ defense has picked off 18 passes and recovered 22 fumbles. They boast an impressive +29 turnover margin, having only lost six fumbles and thrown five interceptions all season long.
McCort’s season scoring output, as a final side note, is the second-most proficient season scoring total in District 6 history, behind only the 1998 Huntingdon Area Bearcats team that scored a whopping 623 points in 14 games. McCort could become the 31st team in state history to join the 600-point club, but gaining yards and scoring points against Clairton has been a challenge these last two years.
Will McCort bring home the LHAC’s first-ever PIAA title? District 6’s only PIAA title came in 1999, when Tyrone defeated Mount Carmel, 13-6. Can McCort dent Clairton’s stone cold defense?
Find out Friday afternoon if McCort will make some more football history for Cambria County.
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