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Pittsburgh Central Catholic Slams The Door On Wilson

Written by: on Sunday, December 4th, 2016. Follow Andy Herr on Twitter.


andyweek142016aThere’s no denying that Pittsburgh Central Catholic is a behemoth when it comes to Western Pennsylvania high school football. The Vikings have the size, speed, depth, and talent to compete with the best in the state and nationally as well. Needless to say, the Vikings cause a lot of sleepless night for the offensive and defensive coordinators that line up against Central Catholic. On Saturday night at Mansion Park in Altoona, the Vikings had the opportunity to showcase their bevy of weapons to the Eastern side of the state when they went toe to toe with a highly successful program in their own right in the Wilson Bulldogs. It would likely be a tall order to take down the reigning PIAA AAAA state champions as Wilson quickly found out. In the end, it was Vikings from Central Catholic that ran off with the giant Hershey bar after the game signifying their third trip to Hershey in the last four years after 48 impressive minutes of action Saturday night.

Central Catholic got things started early as junior Cam Laconire turned the opening kick to the Viking 37 to set the offense up. The Wilson defense was up to the task up defensively as evidenced by the stuffing of PCC’s third & two attempt for a minimal gain setting up a fourth & one try.

Central Catholic trusted their offensive line to do the job which they did as junior quarterback Troy Fisher picked up five yards to move the chains out to midfield and extend the opening drive. After a holding call was whistled against Central Catholic that moved the ball back to the Viking 37, senior running back J.J. Younger saw the perfect opportunity to make the game’s first big play as he raced 63 yards to the house off the perfect screen pass from Troy Fisher to give Pittsburgh Central Catholic the 7-0 lead just 2:22 into the ballgame.

Senior return man Justin Weller was a bright spot for Wilson all night with his prowess in the return game and it showed from the start as he set Wilson’s offense up at the Dawg 37. With the Viking offense having already made a good first impression, it was time for the defense to do the same. Notre Dame commit David Adams was there on cue to do the damage as he came free to collect a tackle behind the line for a loss of eight yards setting up a third & 12.

After the pass sailed high, the Wilson punt team trotted onto the field to kick it back to PCC, or so it appeared. The Bulldogs rolled the dice and went with the fake, but they were stopped short of the marker giving the ball back to Central Catholic at the Wilson 40.

The Vikings were faced with their own third down attempt on the next series in the form of a third & eight from the Wilson 38-yard line. That pass also sailed incomplete. The Vikings tried to counter with their own fake punt, but it was to no avail giving the ball back to Wilson at their own 31-yard line.

It appeared that the Bulldog offense may have had something going after junior quarterback Connor Uhrig found senior Brian Wright for the first down to the Wilson 46. Uhrig was able to elude pressure and extend the play with his legs on Wilson’s next series. Junior running back Iggy Reynoso followed up the Wright reception with a run into Central Catholic territory to the 46.

From there, the Central Catholic defense rose up and took matters into their own hands, literally. Kurt Hinish, also bound for Notre Dame, stuffed a Bulldog play, and senior defensive back Rodney Thomas was there to pounce as he took an interception back to the house from 52 yards away to give Central Catholic the 14-0 advantage with 4:31 left in the opening stanza.

After the PCC defense forced Wilson into a three and out, the Vikings took over at their own 29 looking to do more damage.They did just that as speed demon J.J. Younger blazed a path to the end zone from 63 yards out to increase Central Catholic’s lead to 21-0 thanks in part to great blocking from the Viking offensive line with 1:49 left in the first quarter.

Needing to score to stay within shouting distance, the Wilson offense went back to work after Younger’s long touchdown gallop. Faced with a third & one, Reynoso gave Wilson a fresh set of downs after he ran for three yards, followed up with an offsides call against Pittsburgh Central Catholic. The Bulldogs found themselves in another third down situation later in the drive with a third & five from their own 48. Connor Uhrig was then able to keep the Wilson drive alive as he scrambled down to the Central Catholic 40-yard line to end the first quarter of action.

Wilson’s third down attempt was not as successful as the previous two as an incomplete pass set up a fourth & five from the PCC 35-yard line. The fourth down attempt didn’t end well either as sophomore Brian Dallas and his defensive mates were there for the sack to give the ball back to the Vikings.

One play was all it took for Pittsburgh Central Catholic to make it a four touchdown advantage as Jack Rielly was all by his lonesome in the secondary following a nice play action fake for the 60-yard TD bomb to make it 28-0 with 10:26 left in the half.

Having to get past a third & six attempt at their own 41 on the ensuing drive, Uhrig was able to find Mason McElroy open across the middle for a first down to the PCC 49-yard line. The Bulldogs moved closer to the Viking end zone when Uhrig was able to find senior wideout Foday Jalloh for a 21-yard pickup that ended at the 26-yard line. Once again, the Viking defense had an answer for any momentum Wilson tried to muster. After Kurt Hinish and Brian Dallas combined on a sack, Jacob Hinishgot was in on the sack action as well to force Wilson into a third & 27. Even though the Bulldogs were faced with third & long, the Bulldog drive was kept alive by a personal foul call against PCC and a pass interference call as well to get it down to the 14-yard line. That’s all Wilson would need as Uhrig found Justin Weller across the middle for the touchdown connection to get Wilson on the board with 6:26 to go in the half making the score 28-7.

PCC wasted little time in answering Wilson’s score. After the kickoff return got Central Catholic out to their own 45, J.J. Younger busted off another long sprint down to the Wilson 29-yard line. A Troy Fisher run followed suit and with the aid of two personal foul calls tagged against Wilson, the Vikes found themselves on the doorstep yet again at the Bulldog one. Fisher called his own number on the quarterback sneak to cap the four play, 55-yard drive that took just 1:09 off the clock.

It was time for the Viking defense to have a say on the next Wilson possession. A sack by Central Catholic’s David Green forced a third & 15 attempt that went incomplete after Jamain Stephens brought the heat on the play. After a second Wilson fake punt that proved to be unsuccessful, the Vikings took over at their own 35-yard line.

The Wilson defense would be able to get the ball in the hands of their offensive relatively quickly after the Bulldogs forced a Viking three and out as Foday Jalloh was the man applying the pressure on the third & 12 play.

Following the PCC punt, Wilson set up shop at their own 42-yard line and began to move. The march began when Uhrig surveyed the defense and found Mason McElroy open across the middle for a nine-yard pickup. A Uhrig run later in the drive moved Wilson down to the PCC 21-yard line which led to a fourth & three for Wilson. Wilson was awarded a new set of downs before the play began after the Vikings jumped offsides making it first & 10 from the 16-yard line. The flags continued to litter the field on a holding call that went against Wilson moved it back to the 30-yard line. Uhrig went to the air again and promptly found Mason McElroy for the 30-yard score for his second TD toss of the night to make it 35-14 Vikings just before the half came to a close.

Even though it was clear that the first half was dominated by Central Catholic, Wilson got the ball to start the second half in hopes of scoring a touchdown out of the break and perhaps rekindling some of that magic they found last week in their 28-0 second half performance to topple Cumberland Valley. Not so much this time around. The initial Wilson drive of the final half came to a close with a David Green sack on third & ten forced Wilson to punt after just three plays. On the night, Green was credited with a team best two sacks, while the Vikings as a whole earned six sacks as their constant defensive pressure created pockets that evaporated quickly for Wilson.

While Wilson was unable to score points on their first possession of the half, Central Catholic was looking to make good on their first dance with the football. The Viking drive was ignited with Justice Evans taking the jet sweep down to the Bulldog 27-yard line on a third & five. Add in a bruising run from David Green down to the ten, and the Vikes suddenly had a first & Goal. J.J. Younger did the rest from there as he ran it in for his second and final touchdown of the evening to make it an impressive looking 42-14 lead in favor of Central Catholic.

Wilson still maintained a chance after a 46-yard connection from Uhrig to Brian Wright got Wilson down to the Central Catholic 32-yard line which led to the second Uhrig to Wright hookup of the drive that culminated in a 27-yard TD pass and catch between the two to make it 42-21 Vikes with 8:07 left to play in the third.

After Central Catholic was forced to punt on their next drive, Wilson started to make things interesting when they took over at midfield. Seeing that Uhrig to Wright was a combination that was working, Wilson stuck with it and was rewarded with an 11-yard gainer to the Viking 39-yard line. However any hopes of a possible Wilson comeback went into the chilly Altoona air when PCC’s Khalil Weathers made a spectacular interception to end the Bulldog threat.

Sensing the opportunity to put this one out of reach, the Vikings did not disappoint. Central Catholic rattled off big plays in chunks in this game-clinching drive. A pass from Fisher to Justice Evans accounted for 16, David Green contributed 28 yards in 16 and 12 yard clips, and David Marshall Jr ran for another nine before a 22-yard TD run by Troy Fisher. It appeared to be nothing more than a quarterback sneak by design, but it increased the Central Catholic lead to 49-21 with 2:20 to go in the third.

Like sharks circling, the Viking defense feasted on the next drive ending any possible Wilson answer with a David Adams sack via the blitz on third & 15.

Central Catholic kept the pedal to the floorboard on their next series as Fisher found Justice Evans again for the 42-yard pickup through the air down to the Wilson three-yard line. Three yards would prove to be the distance for Troy Fisher’s third touchdown on the ground and fifth overall on the night to make the scoreboard shine in favor of Pittsburgh Central Catholic 56-21 on the last play of third quarter.

Central Catholic would punch it in one more time on the evening by way of David Green’s bulldozing five-yard TD run which was set up by Gavin Thompson’s interception return to the Bulldog five to make the score 63-21 Central Catholic. This allowed the Vikings to cruise home for the remainder of the final quarter and put the final bow on their 42-point victory.

With Saturday night’s win, the WPIAL champion is now 10-1 against the District 3 champion dating back to 2004 in the state semifinals of the former AAAA bracket, now the newly implemented 6A bracket. The lone triumph came from Central Dauphin in 2011, the same year they went on to claim state gold.

With such success on the big stage, are there any common bonds that tie the previous District 7 champs together to explain their dominance over the recent years? “No, that would be hard to say,” Pittsburgh Central Catholic coach Terry Totten said postgame. “It’s worked out that way. I’d like to think that we play a pretty physical brand of football back our way that’s going to hold up in weather and stuff like that, but it’s been different teams.”

Central Catholic now moves on to the state finals to take on highly touted St Joe’s Prep in a matchup that has been anticipated dating back to the preseason that features that irresistible Pittsburgh vs Philadelphia flavor. Even with the victory against Wilson, Central Catholic appears to already be focused on preparing for next week. “It’s a matchup that we wanted,” Totten said when illuminating next week’s state title tilt. “I told the kids if you’re a Pennsylvania high school football fan you got a matchup that you wanted, #1 and #2 in the state. They’re ranked very high in the nation, have on the one of the best players in the nation, and they’re a solid program.”

NEXT UP: Central Catholic and St Joe’s next Saturday night at 8 for all the marbles inside Hersheypark Stadium. Let the pregame excitement begin. Both teams are coming in extremely hot with Central Catholic coming off back to back 60+ point performances, including three overall in the postseason. The Vikings have not lost since a Week 1 defeat to St. John’s out of the Washington D.C. area. The unbeaten Hawks from St Joe’s are having an equally impressive 2016 season coming into next week’s contest fresh off a 35-25 victory over previously undefeated North Penn. St Joe’s also dipped in their toe into the national competition early in the season as they traveled out to California to take care of Oaks Christian 49-17 before taking care of Don Bosco Prep in Week 2 35-24. Next week should be a ticket that any high school football fan would be looking to purchase as both teams are loaded with talent all over the field.

Wilson ends their season with a 12-2 mark after another successful season in the annuals of Bulldog history. The Dawgs wrapped up their 9th straight Lancaster Lebanon Section 1 crown this year and will enter 2017 not having lost a game to a Section 1 foe since 2007 which is arguably one of the most remarkable streaks statewide. In addition, the Bulldogs were able to claim the District 3 6A crown after rallying from behind to defeat Cumberland Valley last weekend to advance to Altoona. With many key players returning, the Bulldogs look poised for another strong season in 2017.

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