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Lancaster Catholic wins second PIAA title in three years

Written by: on Saturday, December 17th, 2011. Follow Josh Funk on Twitter.


HERSHEY, Pa. – Holding a five-pound Hershey’s chocolate bar firmly in his left hand, Lancaster Catholic junior Roman Clay outlined the Crusaders’ set of goals for the season.

“We wanted to win our non-league games; win our section; win Districts; win the state championship,” Clay said.

The purple and gold have a message to headquarters: Houston – err, Lancaster – mission accomplished.

Lancaster Catholic (16-0) got another 150+-yard rushing effort on the ground from Clay and a stout defensive performance which limited Akron recruit Steve Franco to just an 8-of-23 day passing in a 17-7 victory over District 6 champion Tyrone (14-2) in the PIAA Class AA championship game Saturday afternoon from a chilly Hersheypark Stadium.

The victory gave Lancaster Catholic its second PIAA football championship in three seasons and allowed the purple and gold to become Lancaster County’s first two-time state football champion. District 3 also remained undefeated in small school state championship games (4-0 in A; 3-0 in AA). District 6, meanwhile, fell to 1-6 all-time in PIAA championship games; the region has been outscored in its title game appearances by an average of 13 points.

Additionally, Lancaster Catholic joined the 2008 Steelton-Highspire team as the only other District 3 school to post a 16-0 season.

“This is the last check mark,” said Lancaster Catholic head coach Bruce Harbach, who celebrated his 105th career victory. “It’s absolutely mission accomplished.

“It means so much for the kids and so much for the program,” Harbach continued. “It’s especially important for the seniors who have played their last game for us and will never wear the purple and gold again. We wanted them to go out in style with that championship and we got it for them.”

Seniors like Northwestern-bound lineman Adam DePietro. Like running back/linebacker Brandon Hollister. Like receiver/defensive back Charles Sweigert. And others, too.

A week after celebrating its second victory over perennial WPIAL powerhouse Aliquippa, the mood was much more somber on the Tyrone sideline. The Golden Eagles, who were making their third PIAA championship appearance and first since 1999, took home state silver for a second time.

“I don’t know if it’s the finality of the season that’s upsetting – I think it’s the fact that we lost that’s more upsetting,” said Golden Eagle head coach John Franco. “We made too many mistakes in the first half.”

Those mistakes could have – and possibly should have – put the game out of reach for the Golden Eagles. But despite a botched snap of a punt (a 10-yard loss), two interceptions and a lost fumble, the Golden Eagles only found themselves down 7-0 at intermission.

Lancaster Catholic put the lone dent in the scoreboard over the first 24 minutes when it gained possession of the ball following the botched punt snap at Tyrone’s 35. Eight plays and 4:11 later, Clay crashed in from two yards out and Lancaster Catholic held a 7-0 lead. Satchel Ziffer extended the Crusader lead to 10-0 with a 20-yard field goal in the third quarter.

Between Clay’s touchdown and halftime, however, the game slogged to a turnover fest. Five straight possessions between both the Crusaders and Eagles ended in a turnover. LC threw a pair of interceptions and Tyrone threw a pair of interceptions and lost a fumble. One of the Lancaster Catholic interceptions came after it drove inside the Tyrone 10-yard line.

“Our kids pressed a little,” Harbach said.

Clay admitted much the same.

“We pressed a little and we got close to scoring on a couple of occasions,” Clay said. “But we didn’t hang our heads because we’ve been in tight games before.”

Harbach said Tyrone’s defensive front seven worried him a bit with their ability to stuff the run.

“But we thought that we could ultimately wear them down with our size advantage,” Harbach said.

Tyrone pulled to within 10-7 on a Christian Getz (17 rush, 88 yards) 4-yard run with 3:11 left in the third quarter. Getz finished his senior season with 1,803 yards and 22 touchdowns. But that’s as close as Tyrone would get.

“On the (state finals preview show), the writers were saying that the game would be over by halftime,” Franco said. “I thought we battled well with those guys for the whole game. We battled them tooth and nail in everything.”

Catholic finally broke the Eagles’ collective backs and championship chances with 1:36 left in regulation when Sean Titus (3 rec., 35 yards) hauled in a 15-yard pass from senior Andrew Dzurik (11-of-17, 121 yards).

Clay’s 154 yards rushing and the first-half touchdown gave him 1,899 yards and 32 touchdowns – both LC single-season school records. Backfield mate Hollister finished with 53 yards on 16 totes, giving him 1,547 yards and 25 touchdowns for the season. Lancaster Catholic became the 12th PIAA champion (and the 19th PIAA finalist) since 2001 with a pair of 1,000-yard rushers. Sweigert caught four passes for 59 yards.

The Crusader’s defense limited Akron-bound Steve Franco to just an 8-of-23 passing day for 101 yards with two interceptions and minus-30 yards rushing on seven carries. Franco did surpass 6,000 yards passing for his career, finishing his senior season with 2,602 yards and 30 touchdowns. Tyrone, though, ran for only 60 yards and averaged barely more than three yards per play (53 offensive plays, 161 yards).

“All season long our defense was under-rated,” Harbach said. “They always played hard and gave it their all.”

Interestingly, Clay, who is hearing from Miami (FL), Maryland and Rutgers, among other Division-1 programs, said he wouldn’t have viewed the season as a failure if the Crusaders hadn’t hoisted state gold.

“It wouldn’t have been a failure, but it wouldn’t have been what we wanted,” Clay said. “If we had only reached three out of our four goals, I (personally) would have been OK with that, so long as we all left everything we had on the field.

“I thought we all played well as a team,” Clay continued. “I think I did my job well and the line did their job well so I could do mine.”

NOTE: Lancaster Catholic finished the season with 668 points scored, finishing 14 points shy of tying the District 3 record for points scored in a single season, set by the 1994 Manheim Central Barons (682). The Crusaders are the 19th PIAA champion to score 600+ points in a season.

Clay’s career rushing total boosted to 3,443 yards and 52 rushing touchdowns. Clay ran for 1,544 yards as a sophomore.

Since the start of the 2004 season, Lancaster Catholic is an impressive 98-11 overall (.899).

Photos provided by Matt Topper and Mike Zortman

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