Allentown Central Catholic Big Challenge for Unbeaten Selinsgrove
By Jack Burns, ESPN AM-1240 Play-by-Play Announcer
Selinsgrove’s quest for a first-ever PIAA Class AAA Championship will run into their largest hurdle of the season when the undefeated Seals (13-0) tangle with a familiar name in the statewide circles in District 11 Champion Allentown Central Catholic (12-1) at Shamokin’s Kemp Memorial Stadium in PIAA Class AAA Quarterfinal Game.
The resurgent Vikings once were among the elite in the commonwealth, capturing state titles in 1993 and 1998. In fact, there are two ironies from Allentown Central Catholic’s championship squad of 11 years ago. One is that a member of that Viking unit was current ACC coach Harold Fairclough (4th.-year, 24-20), who was a junior linebacker on the team that blanked Moon, 10-0, for the crown. The second interesting note is that the first game in Allentown Central Catholic’s run was a District 4/District 11 Class AAA Subregional Semifinal victory over Selinsgrove, 35-13, a J. Birney Crum Stadium in Allentown.
In that game, the Vikings would build a 28-0 lead through three quarters against the Seals, which finished at 6-5 in 1998, before Selinsgrove got on the board in the final period with a pair of touchdowns. Dominic Cardine led Allentown Central Catholic with 137 rushing yards and the Seals were paced by sophomore quarterback Jack Lydic, who was 7 of 14 through the air for 64 yards and a touchdown with one interception.
That was 11 years ago. For the Vikings their rise back to state prominence was expected, but maybe not necessarily in 2009. After three consecutive losing seasons, including a 4-6 record a year ago, ACC has stumbled just once in their very strong Lehigh Valley Conference, in which the Vikings faced eight Class AAAA schools. The lone setback for Allentown Central Catholic was a 42-21 loss at eventual District 11 Class AAAA runnerup Parkland, 42-21. Fairclough knew he had some players coming up in the system, but even he was caught off guard by the immediate success this year.
“I was expecting more next year (to make a state playoff run). Not this year. We were just like be competitive in our league and make it to Districts and see what happens from there,” admitted the former Susquehanna University linebacker (1997 1st.-Team Middle Atlantic Conference – Commonwealth All-Star). “We knew we could be competitive this year. It was just a matter of how much the kids bought in and how much they were willing to work to get to this point.”
The Vikings playoff run started with a 42-7 victory over Southern Lehigh in the District 11 Class AAA semifinals, followed by an impressive 49-21 pounding of previously unbeaten Wilson in the District 11 Class AAA Championship Game. Last week, ACC punched their ticket to the state quarterfinals by downing District 2 champion Abington Heights, 28-14.
Selinsgrove’s course to the round of eight was quite a bit easier, with District 4 Class AAA playoff wins over Columbia-Montour Vo-Tech, 54-0, and Shikellamy, 44-7, and then last Friday in a PIAA Class AAA First Round Game at arctic Richland High School, the Seals took out the District 6 champion, Johnstown, by a 35-3 score.
Ranked as the number one team in the state in Class AAA by the Harrisburg Patriot-News, Selinsgrove has received just one challenge on the season, a 35-28 victory over traditional Class A state power Southern Columbia. In that contest, the Seals led 35-14 before the Tigers threw for a couple of touchdowns in the final half of the fourth quarter.
“I think the advantage for us is that we’re not battle-tested,” said Selinsgrove coach Dave Hess (2nd.-year, 26-2) about meeting Allentown Central Catholic. “We’re fresh. We haven’t used up the emotional highs. You’re limited in the number of emotional highs you can use. We got three left I’m sure. The thing is with ACC, I’m sure they used some of those up. So, we don’t know where they are in terms of that, but I don’t think they are going to be as fresh as we are.”
This is the Seals’ eighth trip to the state quarterfinals in the last ten years with Selinsgrove finally breaking through to the state semifinals last year, beating Berwick, 14-6, in the quarterfinals. Selinsgrove lost the following week to Archbishop Wood, 13-7, to just miss that elusive trip to the title game.
“They have a lot of experience,” acknowledged Fairclough about the Seals. “They’ve been in this position before. They made it deep into the playoffs last year, so they’ve been here. They know how to handle certain situations.”
The winner of the Selinsgrove-Allentown Central Catholic game will meet the winner of the District 12 Champion Archbishop Wood (10-2)-District 1 Champion Pottsgrove (13-0) game for the Eastern Championship next week.
Selinsgrove Offense vs. Allentown Central Catholic Defense
The Seals’ Kyle Reinard continued his great postseason play last Friday on the frozen tundra at Richland. The junior tailback, who rushed for a career-high 200 yards the previous week against Shikellamy, carried the ball 17 times for 138 yards and a touchdown against Johnstown and also returned a punt 48 yards for another score. The performance put Reinard over the 1,000-yard mark for the second consecutive year. Reinard, who’s now eighth on Selinsgrove’s all-time rushing list, has amassed 1,120 yards and 13 touchdowns on 123 rushing attempts.
Senior fullback Matt Wenrich, normally the lead blocker for Reinard, carried the ball 10 times for 86 yards against the Trojans, keeping his average at just over 10 yards/carry with 40 rushes for 401 yards and 7 touchdowns.
Not to be forgotten was the performance by senior quarterback Cory Briggs on the inclement evening. Briggs, bound for Harvard University next fall, threw for a pair of touchdowns to up his career record for TD tosses to 57. On the year, Briggs has completed 114 of 205 passes for 1,668 yards and 26 touchdowns with only 4 interceptions.
The top target for Briggs for a second straight season has been wide receiver Ryan Keiser. The Seals senior has 44 catches for 789 yards and 13 TD’s this year and for his career, Keiser, who has preferred walk-on status at Penn State for next season, has a school record 32 touchdown receptions. Flanker Matt Ruby has 17 catches on the year for 245 yards and 3 touchdowns and tight end Kyle Schuck, who missed last week’s contest because of injury, has hauled in 27 passes for 354 yards and 7 touchdowns.
Selinsgrove’s offensive line of Spencer Myers, Logan Hetherington, Jon Trego, Anthony Hauck, and Brett Amerman have helped lead the Seals to an offense that averages 382.3 yards (231.8 rushing yards and 150.5 passing yards) a game and 47 points/game. Myers, Hetherington and Trego (for a second straight year) were recently recognized as 1st.-Team Heartland Athletic Conference-Division I All-Stars this season along with Briggs, Keiser (second straight year), Schuck and Wenrich.
It’s always tough for schools that haven’t played any comparable opponents to figure out how the new opponent compares with schools they’ve played. Fairclough and his staff attempted to evaluate Selinsgrove with ACC’s Lehigh Valley Conference foes.
“We tried to do that and I think we came up with a combination of a couple of teams,” explained Fairclough. “Whitehall, and their passing game, is really a strong passing game with a bunch of athletes that get the ball in space and make plays and Emmaus and their run game. They’re solid in what they do. It’s nothing fancy. They’re a lot about two backs and they’re coming at you and they’re sound at what they do. So, that’s who we kind of compared them to. They’re tough and physical like everybody else we play in the Lehigh Valley Conference, so it’s going to be a good matchup.”
The Vikings enter the game with an aggressive 3-5 defense that likes to fly to the ball with very athletic linebackers and ACC has recorded 42 sacks on the season. They reminded Hess of another team.
“I told our kids that when you look at Allentown Central Catholic, it’s like holding a mirror up in front of you guys. They’re very much like you guys,” said Hess, the 2008 Associated Press Class AAA Coach-of-the-Year. “They’re quick. They have good team speed. They’re tough. They’re hitters. They’re very fundamentally sound. They’re very well coached and they’re very, very athletic.”
Leading the way for the Vikings is junior middle linebacker Connor Faust, who has a team-high 68 total tackles and is second on the squad with 5 sacks. Outside linebacker Brad Shaffer, who paced ACC with 9 tackles last week against Abington Heights, is second on the unit with 64 stops followed by defensive end Dave McFadden with 58 tackles. McFadden leads the Vikings with 11 sacks on the campaign. Senior cornerback Tim Arner has picked off three enemy passes to head up the secondary of Allentown Central Catholic’s defense that has allowed only 14.5 points a game.
“I think we have a real, real strong group of linebackers,” commented Fairclough. “We knew that coming into the season that would be one of our strengths. Our linebacking corps is tough with (Shane) McNeely and Faust and (Nick) Rittenhouse. I think our defensive line has done a great job in keeping guys off of them to let them run around and make some plays.”
Allentown Central Catholic Offense vs. Selinsgrove Defense
There are many reasons why the Vikings have risen back to elite status this season, but first and foremost, is the play of sophomore sensation Brendan Nosovitch at quarterback.
Two weeks ago, Nosovitch broke ACC’s single game record with 286 passing yards against Wilson and last Friday followed up that performance with a 195-yard, 3-touchdown outing against Abington Heights. Nosovitch has completed 119 of 206 attempts for 2,010 yards and 20 touchdowns with 8 interceptions. He is tied for the Vikings single season record of 20 TD passes with Tim Cramsey (1991) and is just behind the single season record for passing yards of 2,060 yards by Dan Csencsitz (2001).
“He doesn’t get rattled,” said Fairclough about his prized signal-caller. “He does a great job of keeping his composure. He’s playing within the system and playing within himself and not trying to do too much, just take advantage of what people are giving him. Again, a kid who steps up and makes plays when he needs to. I think Coach (Tim) McGorry, our quarterbacks coach and assistant offensive coordinator, has done a great job coaching with him and putting in some extra time, film-wise and mechanics-wise and doing those little things.”
The leading receiver for Nosovitch is sophomore wide receiver Kevin Gulyas, who has 41 receptions for 837 yards and 7 touchdowns. Gulyas, who is closing in on the single season receiving yardage record of 883 yards set in 2003 by David Horton (currently a senior defensive back for the University of Richmond), also returned a kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown last week against Abington Heights.
Other weapons at Nosovitch’s disposal are Shane McNeely (28 catches for 461 yards and 5 touchdowns), Jack Sandherr (23 catches for 364 yards and 5 touchdowns) and Kevin McKellick (13 catches for 231 yards and 2 touchdowns). Nosovitch also happens to be the leading rusher for Allentown Central Catholic, keeping the ball 178 times for 863 yards and 19 touchdowns.
“The quarterback gets outside. When he gets outside and the receivers scramble, he just delivers the ball. The receivers have a knack for getting open,” said Hess about the Viking aerial game that averages 154.6 yards/game. “The quarterback is elusive, too. He’s hard to get a handle on, so that’s the scary part. Anytime you have a quarterback that tries to get the outside, gets the corner, you don’t contain him, you’re in trouble. That’s the thing with this kid is he doesn’t get contained. He’s quick enough to get outside and when he needs to scramble he can and his receivers seem to find the open lanes.”
In the backfield, ACC has Shaffer with 86 rushes for 572 yards and 6 touchdowns and Ian Majczan with 120 carries for 657 yards and 8 TD’s to balance the Viking offense, which averages 34.3 points a game.
Selinsgrove’s defense has been up to the task all year, save for the 28 points yielded to Southern Columbia. Middle linebacker Seth Lauver is the team leader in tackles with 56 and second in sacks with 3. Fellow linebackers Wenrich (52 tackles), Bryant Trautman (49 tackles), and Dylan Elliot (49 tackles) are right behind Lauver in stops. Myers, a 2008 A.P. Class AAA 2nd.-Team All-State All-Star and who’s heading to the University of Maryland on a wrestling scholarship, has 5 ½ sacks to head the Seals in that category.
Keiser, a 2008 A.P. Class AAA 1st.-Team All-State selection, has one interception this season after picking off nine passes a year ago. Wenrich and cornerback Dan Bausinger lead Selinsgrove with two interceptions apiece.
The Seals have allowed the opposition just 112.2 yards (63.3 rushing yards and 48.9 passing yards) a game and 6.1 points a contest.
“Defensively, they run the same defense that we do and watching them on tape, it’s almost like a mirror image of us,” said Fairclough. “They’re doing a great job defensive line-wise, a couple of good linebackers, they got number five in their secondary, an all-state player coming back, so you don’t get to this point without having good players and being a good program and doing things the right way, so they’re a tough opponent.”
Selinsgrove defenders just named to this season’s 1st.-Team HAC-Division I All-Star team were Myers, Trego, Wenrich, Trautman, Keiser and cornerback Cameron Benner.
“We got to go out and play our game,” explained Hess in summing up the showdown. “We can’t get all caught up in the moment of the ‘big game of the year’. We’ve got to stay calm, go out, play our football game and hopefully, we’ll be OK.”
Selinsgrove place-kicker Spencer Hotaling has been having a sensational season in his first year. He has connected on 70 of 74 PAT’s (95%), including 34-in-a-row, to set a new single season record for extra points in a season. Hotaling, a 2009 2nd.-Team HAC-Division I All-Star, is 1 of 2 on field goal tries, converting on a 29-yard attempt. Fellow soccer teammate Kyle Bennar handles the kickoffs at a 51.0-yard clip with 10 touchbacks. Reinard, who was also named a 2nd.-Team HAC-Division I All-Star at punter in addition to running back, is averaging 38.5 yards a punt on 13 attempts. He connected on a 66-yard punt last week.
Senior Alex Jarossy is the Allentown Central Catholic kicker, making 55 PAT’s and a field goal to go along with his 47-yard average on kickoffs. Faust is averaging 28.8 yards as the Viking punter.
TE-18 Kyle Schuck (6-1, 220, Sr.)
LT-77 Spencer Myers (6-4, 230, Sr.)
LG-73 Logan Hetherington (6-0, 240, Jr.)
C-55 Jon Trego (6-1, 240, Sr.)
RG-59 Anthony Hauck (5-11, 200, Sr.)
RT-71 Brett Amerman (5-10, 230, Jr.)
SE-5 Ryan Keiser (6-2, 195, Sr.)
FL-10 Matt Ruby (5-10, 180, Sr.)
QB-8 Cory Briggs (6-2, 210, Sr.)
FB-33 Matt Wenrich (6-0, 225, Sr.)
TB-28 Kyle Reinard (5-9, 177, Jr.)
Allentown Central Catholic Defense
DE-86 Dave McFadden (6-6, 210, Sr.)
NG-62 Tyler Zulli (6-3, 215, Sr.)
DE-54 Jared Pitts (5-10, 235, Jr.)
OLB-34 Brad Shaffer (5-10, 185, Sr.)
ILB-84 Shane McNeely (6-3, 225, Jr.)
MLB-41 Connor Faust (6-3, 210, Jr.)
ILB-51 Nick Rittenhouse (5-11, 195, Sr.)
OLB-82 Jack Sandherr (6-3, 220, Jr.)
CB-21 Tim Arner (5-11, 175, Sr.)
S-32 Ian Majczan (6-1, 190, Sr.)
CB-18 Noah Robb (6-3, 185, Soph.)
Allentown Central Catholic Offense
TE-84 Shane McNeely (6-3, 225, Jr.)
LT-53 Tad McNeely (6-2, 230, Soph.)
LG-55 Eric Schwartz (6-0, 230, Sr.)
C-51 Nick Rittenhouse (5-11, 195, Sr.)
RG-54 Jared Pitts (5-10, 235, Jr.)
RT-75 Trevor Scarlato (6-2, 245, Jr.)
WR-4 Kevin Gulyas (6-0, 165, Soph.)
WR-82 Jack Sandherr (6-3, 220, Jr.)
QB-5 Brendan Nosovitch (6-2, 185, Soph.)
FB-41 Connor Faust (6-3, 210, Jr.)
RB-34 Brad Shaffer (5-10, 185, Sr.)
DT-54 K.C. Kantz (6-0, 190, Sr.)
NG-55 Jon Trego (6-1, 240, Sr.)
DT-77 Spencer Myers (6-4, 230, Sr.)
OLB-33 Matt Wenrich (6-0, 225, Sr.)
ILB-27 Dakota Wolf (5-10, 210, Jr.)
MLB-45 Seth Lauver (6-2, 245, Jr.)
ILB-9 Bryant Trautman (6-0, 214, Sr.)
OLB-23 Dylan Elliot (6-0, 170, Sr.)
CB-22 Cameron Benner (5-10, 180, Sr.)
S-5 Ryan Keiser (6-2, 195, Sr.)
CB-81 Dan Bausinger (5-9, 155, Jr.)
PAT/FG’s-6 Spencer Hotaling (6-2, 150, Jr.)
Kickoffs-60 Kyle Bennar (6-0, 180, Sr.)
P-28 Kyle Reinard (5-9, 177, Jr.)
Allentown Central Catholic
PAT/FG’s and Kickoffs-19 Alex Jarossy (6-2, 175, Sr.)
P-41 Connor Faust (6-3, 210, Jr.)
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