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PIAA “AA” State Championship – Lancaster Catholic Preview

Written by: on Thursday, December 17th, 2009. Follow Josh Funk on Twitter.


To put it simply, Bruce Harbach’s got things rolling in the Rossmere neighborhood of the northeastern reaches of the city of Lancaster. The Crusaders have become a mainstay in the District 3 “AA” landscape, and can usually be counted on as a lock to make up half of the ticket of the District 3 championship game. Wins, and lately points, pile up like presents at Christmas time, and records fall faster than prices at Wal-Mart.

Harbach’s career record in his time at Lancaster Catholic: an impressive 77-23 (.770).

Now, Lancaster Catholic is on the verge of adding more gold to its trophy case. The Crusaders are playing for their first-ever PIAA football championship this coming Saturday, and they’ll need to muster every ounce of fight left in them – they’re drawing a WPIAL opponent that has been battering opponents around these last few weeks, with a recent come-from-behind victory the lone exception.

Lancaster Catholic (14-1) faces powerful Greensburg Central Catholic (13-2) for all the marbles in the PIAA “AA” state championship game Saturday afternoon from Hersheypark Stadium, with kickoff slated for 1 p.m.

Since the start of the 2004 season, Lancaster Catholic has been on an absolute roll. The Crusaders boast an overall record in that span of 70-10 (.875), and they’ve added five appearances in the District 3 “AA” finals (3 wins), three victories in the PIAA playoffs, and the school’s first Eastern Finals’ victory against West Catholic last weekend. To give you an idea, West Catholic has won 26 games in the last two years, and are 67-15 overall (.817) in the same time frame as LC.

Lancaster Catholic has also set some gaudy season point totals. The Crusaders’ 2006 edition became the first in school history with 500+ points, scoring 545 before falling to Montoursville in the “AA” quarterfinals. Nick Downey, Bobby Checcia and company set the standard, and Kyle Smith and his band of purple people eaters have since shattered that mark twice.

Last season, LC scored 579 points in 15 games, the 49th-best output in state history. Presently, LC has scored 597 points, just a field goal shy of becoming the 31st team in state history with 600 or points, and the fourth such team in Lancaster County history. Lancaster Catholic’s 2009 point output currently ranks 34th in state history.

Looking on paper at what quarterback Kyle Smith has done, not only this season, but throughout his impressive varsity career, you would think that the Crusaders are merely a pass-first team. Horribly untrue. In fact, break down the 749 total offensive plays the Crusaders have run this season, and 461 of them are runs, 288 are passes.

Sure, the Crusaders have run the ball 61.5 percent of the time, but that’s by no means an assertion that this purple and gold team is conservative. Merely, balanced. Lancaster Catholic averaged 176.9 rushing yards and 188.9 passing yards per game.

Smith has posted a cool stat line for the 2009 season that reads as follows: 164-of-260, 2,721 yards, 50 touchdowns and only 6 interceptions. Smith’s completed over 63 percent of his passes this season, and his career completion percentage is hovering in the 60s, too. Accuracy is one of Smith’s strong traits, and Harbach has also compared Smith, on numerous occasions, to having another football coach out there on the field.

For his career, Smith has thrown for 8,509 yards and 118 touchdowns, both state records. Smith broke Pat Devlin’s state passing yardage record (8,162 yards) in the Crusaders’ 42-6 victory against Delone Catholic a couple of weeks ago. He set the state touchdown passes record a couple of weeks before that.

And, just last week, Smith broke the record for most touchdown passes thrown in a single season. Clearfield’s Chad Kroell previously owned the record of 49, which stood for a full decade and a half.

Smith has a full compliment of receivers to throw the ball to. Senior Tyler Purvis has posted his second consecutive 1,000-yard season, hauling in 60 passes for 1,057 yards and 17 touchdowns. But Purvis alone is not the only target. Kevin Cotchen (31, 488, 8), Quinn Houser (16, 384, 7), Rhys McCall (19, 305, 5), and Andrew Millay (23, 238, 6) are all quality threats to catch a Smith aerial.

Junior running back Jordan Stewart has run for a school-record 1,527 yards and 20 rushing touchdowns, another Crusader record. Stewart surpassed 1,000 yards rushing as a sophomore and scored 15 rushing touchdowns. In his career, he’s run for 2,528 yards and 35 touchdowns.

This is the first foray for a Lancaster-Lebanon League Section 3 team (current or former) into the PIAA finals. Cocalico lost in the 1994 “AA” Eastern Final to Mount Carmel and Lampeter-Strasburg lost the 2007 “AAA” Eastern Final to Garnet Valley. Lancaster Catholic made the section 0-3 when it fell to West Catholic last year.

Lancaster Catholic is the third program from Lancaster County to reach the PIAA finals, joining Conestoga Valley (1991) and Manheim Central (2003, 2004, 2009).

Will Lancaster Catholic claim another golden football for the county? Prior to 2003, Lancaster County had never won a PIAA football title. Can Smith continue being effective and can a balanced LC team overcome a physical Greensburg Central Catholic Centurion club?

Find out Saturday afternoon.

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