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PIAA “AA” state championship preview – Lancaster Catholic (15-0)

Written by: on Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

Prior to 2003, the Lancaster-Lebanon League could only claim a pair of PIAA finals appearances – Wilson-West Lawn in 1989 and Conestoga Valley in 1991. Neither trip ended well for the L-L League. The Bulldogs and Buckskins would lose their appearances by a combined 14 points.

And so it stayed until 2003. But between 2003-’09, the L-L League made four state finals appearances – three by Manheim Central and one by Lancaster Catholic – and brought home a pair of golden footballs.

Now, in 2011, Lancaster Catholic has the chance to do something never before accomplished in Lancaster County football history – win a second PIAA championship.

The Crusaders (15-0) will face nine-time District 6 champion Tyrone (14-1) in the PIAA Class AA championship game Saturday at high noon from Hersheypark Stadium. The Crusaders seek to win their second state title in three years while facing an opponent in Tyrone which has forced 36 total turnovers and tallied 29.5 sacks.

Ever since November 2010, the Crusaders were a team on a mission. That’s when Wyomissing stunned the purple and gold in the District 3 AA semifinals, 21-14, with an effective, efficient and punishing Wing-T offense. Wyomissing lost the district final to Trinity one week later, and one week after that, Trinity fell to Lewisburg in the PIAA quarterfinals. So it became important for th Crusaders to right that single blemish, and go out on top, because, after this season, LC will no longer be a AA program. It will bump up a class, to AAA, and bump from Section 3 of the Lancaster-Lebanon League to Section 1.

When Bruce Harbach, a 104-game winner, inherited Lancaster Catholic’s program, five wins was considered a great season. But what Harbach has done since the 2004 season is flip the program on a complete 180-degree turn. In that span, the Crusaders have posted an overall record of 97-11 (.898) and won a quartet of District 3 AA football championships, appeared in three PIAA semifinals and now two PIAA championship games.

The Crusaders could become the eighth PIAA affiliate school to post a 2-0 record (or better) in PIAA championship games, joining Bethlehem Catholic, North Allegheny, Allentown Central Catholic, South Park, McKeesport Area, Thomas Jefferson and Steelton-Highspire. ACC and TJ are each 3-0 in PIAA championship games.

And the whole second PIAA championship to Lancaster County has had two other chances to happen – Manheim Central in 2004 and 2009, and neither quest ended successfully. The ’04 trip, in fact, ended in one of the worst losses of Manheim Central’s history in the PIAA playoffs.

Lancaster Catholic is looking to become the 18th team which has scored 600 points or more to win a PIAA championship (both Clairton and Southern Columbia have scored more than 630 points each) and possibly 19th if Archbishop Wood claims the AAA crown. Wood has scored 647 points. LC’s 651 points are a school record, the 16th-highest mark in state history and third-highest total in District 3 history, trailing only the Manheim Central teams of 2005 (658) and 1994 (682).

Catholic has proven it can play to any style. It can fly high – the Crusaders have topped 46 points in a game on nine different occasions. It can get down and dirty – LC won tighter-than-normal affairs against Donegal, East Pennsboro and survived gritty Wyomissing and Mount Carmel teams before rallying to defeat Philadelphia Catholic League power West Catholic in the semifinals. You name it, Catholic can do it and adapt to it. They’ve had seemingly everything but the kitchen sink thrown at it.

The Crusaders’ offensive unit is fronted by a vicious offensive line led by seniors Adam DePietro (6’4, 285, Northwestern recruit), James Dreer (6’1, 230) and Anthony Juliano (6’2, 250) and juniors Shay Mento (6’5, 260) and Luke McDonald (6’2, 240). Add it up and that line averages a cool 253 pounds per man.

The line has helped LC’s offensive unit produce a pair of 1,400-yard rushers – junior Roman Clay (1,745 yards, 31 TD) and senior Brandon Hollister (1,494 yards, 25 TD). Clay is generating D-1 interest. And senior quarterback Andrew Dzurik has thrown for 1,872 yards and 20 touchdowns and receivers Sean Titus (34 rec, 806 yards, 13 TD) Charles Sweigert (41 rec., 854 yards, 8 TD) are the focal points in the aerial assault.

Defensively, Lancaster Catholic has made life all kinds of mean for the opposition. Don’t be fooled by the fact the Crusaders only have one solitary shutout to their credit and, between first string and reserves, allow an average of 13.9 points per game. These guys are wicked.

DePietro, Mento and Juliano front the three-man line, backers Charles Bell, Hollister, Bobby DePietro and Carmelo Cruz are tough, and the defensive backfield of Sweigert, Titus, Isiah Taltoan and Peter Heise have proven steady. Satchel Ziffer handles the placekicking chores and Heise is the punter.

Can Lancaster Catholic become the latest in a string of programs to remain undefeated in multiple state title game appearances? Or will it be Tyrone’s day to bring District 6 its second PIAA football championship?

Find out Saturday afternoon.

Jeff Reinhart, editor of L-LLeagueSports.com, the league’s online newspaper, contributed information appearing in this story.

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