PIAA “AA” State Championship – Greensburg Central Catholic Preview
How do you normally think of celebrating a 50th anniversary? Usually, there is cake involved, or a large party of some sort. For WPIAL representative Greensburg Central Catholic, it’s celebrating its 50th anniversary of its football program in a different way – playing for a PIAA title.
Playing for a state championship is nothing new for teams that currently take residence in the WPIAL’s Interstate Conference, which lays claim to Greensburg Central Catholic. East Allegheny played for, and lost, a PIAA final in 1992; Washington played in state title games in 1993 (a 31-7 loss to Dallas) and 2001 (a 19-12 win over Pen Argyl); and Jeannette played in consecutive state finals in 2006 (a 29-28 loss to Wilson Area) and 2007 (a 49-21 victory over Dunmore).
Greensburg Central Catholic (13-2) gets its chance to even the Interstate Conference’s record at 3-3 in championship games Saturday afternoon, when it takes on the high-flying Lancaster Catholic Crusaders (14-1) from Hersheypark Stadium. Kickoff of the “AA” title tilt is slated for 1 p.m.
The Centurions are the 10th WPIAL “AA” program to play for a PIAA football championship. Of all the WPIAL’s “AA” teams, Aliquippa has the most PIAA finals appearances (3; 1991, 2000, 2003). Jeannette, South Park, and Washington each have a pair. Aliquippa and South Park have each won two titles. All told, WPIAL “AA” programs have won six golden footballs – Washington and Jeannette account for the other two.
The Centurions’ title appearance almost didn’t happen. Wilmington, making its fourth straight appearance in the Western Finals (a “AA” classification record, as an aside), held a 10-0 lead, and GCC had to fight back to win, 14-10, scoring the winning touchdown with less than two minutes left in the game. Since 2004, the Wilmington football program has gone 71-10 (.876).
Prior to that comeback in the Western Finals, Central Catholic won in dominating fashion against 13-time WPIAL champion Aliquippa (33-7) and District 5 Cinderella Bedford (49-12).
There’s nothing really imaginative about Greensburg Central Catholic’s offense, to be blatantly honest. But thanks to an offensive line anchored by behemoth Bernie Sarra (only a sophomore) and a battering ram of a running back named David Miller, GCC has flattened 11 straight opponents after a surprising 2-2 start out of the gate.
During the 11-game streak, GCC ended Jeannette’s run of 15 consecutive WPIAL playoff appearances, a game in which Miller chewed up over 300 yards of McKee Stadium turf and single-handedly outscored the Jayhawks by himself.
Miller’s 2009 season stat line reads as follows: 306 carries, 2,424 yards, 38 touchdowns. He’s also racked up more than 300 receiving yards out of the backfield and scored three touchdowns in that department. Miller ran for 191 yards against Wilmington, his fifth playoff game of six this year in which he’s run for 190 yards or more. He had opened the playoffs with four straight 200-yard games, all in the WPIAL playoffs, against Freeport, Center, Keystone Oaks, and Aliquippa. In those four games, he ran for 842 yards and 10 touchdowns. To say that Miller has been on fire might be the biggest understatement of the year.
Miller’s effectiveness on the ground has not only helped GCC churn out nearly 230 rushing yards per game, but it’s made the Centurions’ passing attack that much more effective. Bowling Green commit Trent Hurley has thrown for 1,879 yards and 27 touchdowns this season. Here’s the keeper stat, though: Hurley has attempted 214 passes this season – and only four have been intercepted. That means that Hurley has gone 53.5 pass attempts (on average) between interceptions this season. An excellent model of efficiency this is.
Hurley’s favorite target at receiver is Evan Marshall, who, entering the Wilmington game had snared 45 passes for 875 yards and 10 touchdowns. Ross Deglau caught the winning touchdown against Wilmington, and has nearly 300 receiving yards and a pair of scores this season. But pretty much, things on the offensive side of the ball center around Miller, Hurley, and Marshall.
Defensive backs Zach Guiser and Tyler Aiken have posted interception totals of eight and five, respectively. Pat Mahoney and Adam Passione have combined for 16 sacks. Add in Bernie Sarra’s four sacks, and that trio accounts for nearly 63 percent of GCC’s sacks this season. Greensburg Central Catholic had only turned the ball over seven times through its first 14 games while generating 23 interceptions and 27 fumble recoveries, a +43 turnover margin through its first 14 games.
Will GCC be able to keep on pounding away, and be able to wear down Lancaster Catholic? Can the Centurions’ defense, which has held nine opponents to seven points or less, be up to the task of containing Lancaster Catholic’s explosive offense?
Find out Saturday afternoon.
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