West Catholic Rolls Into State Quarterfinals
By Don Leypoldt
To run in the December 3rd Bucks County Herald
The 2010 West Catholic Burrs won the 2A state title.
The 2015 Burr apple has not fallen far from the tree.
District 12 champion West (9-4) took a 41-0 lead into halftime on Saturday’s first round PIAA playoff game and cruised to a 55-14 win over District 1 champion New Hope-Solebury. The Lions close the year at 12-2.
“Mr. Jones…you’re gonna be a big star,” Counting Crows prophetically sang and that was West’s story. Senior Craig Jones ran for a 31-yard touchdown on the Burrs’ second play from scrimmage, and followed it one drive later with a 42 yard reception. Calil Wortham’s five-yard run two plays later put the Burrs up 14-0.
The Lion defense roared a series later when senior linebacker Russell Abernethy pressured West’s quarterback Joshua Evans. Abernethy forced Evans, who ranks in the City League’s top three in both yards and touchdown passes, to fire a pass into the arms of big junior Lion Matt Fest, who ran it to the Burr-13.
But one play later, Jones picked off an NH-S pass and raced 89 yards for a touchdown, putting West up 20-0 with 3:14 left in the first.
The Lions lost the ball on sophomore Rovny DiSilva’s third down strip sack, but Abernethy broke up an Evans’ fourth down pass to end that threat.
But a Burr team with one Rutgers commit and several other likely D1 signees would not be denied. Supreme Kemp’s 23 yard touchdown run capped an eight play drive. After forcing a three-and-out, Evans hit Jameer Bryson on a 20 yard swing pass for a touchdown that ended a 68-yard march and put the Burrs up 35-0.
After another Lion three-and-out, NH-S senior Matt Kolen boomed one of his four punts of over 35 yards; Lion linebacker Tommy Capriotti made a beautiful open field tackle on Jones for a five yard loss.
“I was coming down on the left side and sat there because I thought he might reverse it around,” Capriotti said. “When he came up, I made the tackle.”
But Jones struck yet again, catching a 49 yard pass to set up Ociele Miller’s 12 yard touchdown run with 30 seconds left in the half.
And two plays into the second half, West extended the lead to 49-0; Ahmad Kent caught a long pass from backup quarterback Josh Holsopple and raced 71 yards for a score.
Here, the Lion offense came to life. Junior running back Brendan Shadle gained 18 yards on a third-and-nine. Abernethy picked up a blitzing Burr who outweighed him by 30 pounds, three plays later enabling sophomore quarterback Nick Garritano to connect with junior running back Jack McKenna on a 39-yard bomb.
“Being undersized in almost every game,” noted Abernethy, “we teach a lot of technique and getting low. If you have the right leverage, you can pretty much block anybody who is bigger or more aggressive than you.”
The 12 play drive ended when Garritano hit senior wideout Blake Hildebrandt on a nine-yard fade pattern for a touchdown late in the third quarter.
Burr Jacir Savoy scored on a five-yard sweep one drive later, but the Lions closed the year on a high note. McKenna carried seven times on the team’s final drive, going over 1,000 yards for the season in the process. Shadle’s one yard plunge with 1:51 in the game made the score 55-14.
West will play District 2 champion Dunmore in a state quarterfinal match up next weekend.
West’s four losses were to excellent AAA and AAAA teams; the Burrs played mighty North Penn more than respectably in a 40-24 loss on week two and are 7-0 against AA teams this season. The Burrs met the Lions in the post-season once before, defeating them 26-7 in the 2013 District 1/12 semifinal.
Evans completed 6-of-13 passes for 148 yards. Jones picked up 122 yards on three touches. Miller’s 44 yards on five carries led a West attack that rushed for 249 yards. For New Hope-Solebury, McKenna picked up 108 yards on 20 touches while Shadle added 31 yards on nine carries.
The game concluded a wild eight days for NH-S, who 65 hours before kickoff were engaged in a battle royal with their Thanksgiving rival, a South Hunterdon foe “who brought their A+ game,” per NH-S coaches.
“They really embraced it,” said Lion head coach Jim DiTulio, “and it didn’t have any bearing on us today. If we had two weeks to prepare for West Catholic, it wouldn’t have made a difference. We were outmatched today. Speedwise, they had too much for us.”
The loss in no way undermines the best year in New Hope-Solebury’s young history. The Lions’ defense yielded just 70 points in their 12 wins. Three of the “W”s were shutouts. Five opponents suffered their lowest point total of the year against NH-S’ defense.
Everyone has to play their part to craft a successful defense, but the play of senior co-captains and linebackers Franco Mannino, Abernethy and Capriotti stood out all Fall.
“It’s like a family,” said Mannino. “We have each other’s backs. We never fight with each other. We always come out every play knowing our brother is going to make the play.”
NH-S set a program wins record and claimed the District title. “We built upon the old team and kept the winning tradition going,” Capriotti reflected.
“I feel like when I came in, we were the underdog,” said Abernethy, who started his high school career at Archbishop Wood, “and I feel like next year and in years to come, New Hope won’t be as much of an underdog going into some of our bigger games.”
“I think we’re leaving NH-S with a winning tradition behind,” Mannino feels, “one that inspires future classes to reach the goals we’ve achieved this year and possibly go farther through that work that needs to be accomplished.”
Can a game like this be a learning experience for the returning Lions? “No doubt about it,” DiTulio responded. “Having our underclassmen see and experience a caliber of team like West Catholic can only drive and motivate us to get back in the weight room and set the bar even higher next year. They’re a great program.
“The kids battled for 48 minutes and never quit,” DiTulio commended. “When you’re down 41-0 at half, you play for pride and they did.”
There is one date left on the NH-S calendar: the banquet on December 13th where DiTulio’s Pride can celebrate a proud season of Lion football.
Don Leypoldt’s book Keystones and Wishbones: Faith, Values and Football in the Delaware Valley is now available on Amazon! The book features interviews with over a dozen NFL veterans, all with Delaware Valley ties. Click here to order:
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