Heartbreak. That could best describe West Catholic’s first experience in the PIAA finals two years ago. The Burrs had it all – a record-setting scoring machine, a trio of 1,000-yard rushers, a quarterback heading to Penn State, a sizeable offensive line, and plenty of speed to burn.
But in the end, District 10 champ Wilmington walked away with a 35-34 victory in double overtime. The Burrs’ juggernaut, which set the single-season Philadelphia Catholic League scoring record (775 points) and the school record for wins in a season (14), hed been denied its ultimate goal: bringing the PCL its first PIAA football championship.
Two years later, West Catholic has a chance to atone for that painful 2008 experience.
The Burrs will face WPIAL champion South Fayette (15-0) for the PIAA AA state championship Saturday afternoon at HersheyPark Stadium. Kickoff is slated for noon. West Catholic will have to contain a South Fayette offense that has scored 40+ points in nine of its 15 games.
The trophy cases at West Catholic are loaded with football hardware. The Burrs have won 519 football games in their history, and marked their 500th all-time victory during the 2009 season. Add to those more than 500 victories a total of 16 Philadelphia Catholic League football championships, three consecutive District 12 AA championships and three consecutive trips to the PIAA AA Eastern Finals. Owners of a 79-17 overall record (.822) since the start of the 2004 season, the Burrs have won a minimum of 11 games each of the last four years. In that span, from 2007-’10, West Catholic has gone 49-8 (.859).
If West Catholic were to claim the golden football Saturday, it could count itself among a group of 10 PIAA affiliates that won a state title on its second attempt after losing in its first appearance. The 10 schools with such a distinction are Aliquippa, Wilmington Area, Farrell, Rochester, Washington, Tyrone, Downingtown (unified), Wilson Area, Jeannette and Clairton.
Offensively, WC employs mostly a pro-I offense, and they execute the system well, averaging more than 369 yards of offense and 35.5 points per game. The bulk of West Catholic’s damage has been done on the ground – the Burrs average exactly 270 rushing yards per game, and, the last three games, the Burrs have posted rushing outputs of 298, 486 and 347 yards. The ground game (and the offense, in general) is keyed by an offensive line that averages 256 pounds per man – Dom DiGalbo (6’3, 255), Mike Makor (6’3, 305), T-J Waters (6’3, 215), Rodney Linder (6’0, 275) and Eric Wyant (6’3, 230).
In fact, according to Ed “Huck” Palmer, West Catholic’s rushing offense has been so good, it has had at least one back with more than 1,000 yards rushing each of the last 11 years. This year, Brandon Hollomon is that back – posting 1,444 yards on just 127 carries. Hollomon has run for 100+ yards seven times this season, including each of the Burrs’ last four games. Hollomon has scored 17 touchdowns, but he’s not the only threat to tote the rock. Senior Joshua Mathis adds 923 yards and 11 touchdowns on 135 carries and sophomore David Williams has 742 yards and 15 touchdowns on just 86 attempts.
The West Catholic aerial assault is keyed by senior Anthony Reid, who came to WC after Northeast Catholic closed its doors and ceased operations at the end of the 2009-10 school year. Reid has thrown for 1,307 yards and 13 touchdowns, and his favorite targets are Jaelen Strong-Rankin (29 rec., 661 yards, 8 TD) and Quran Kent (27 rec., 489 yards, 4 TD). TE Jim Lynch has also been a target for passes, as has Hollomon.
Defensively, Palmer noted West Catholic has shifted to a 3-4 defensive formation. DiGalbo, Kris Padgett and Lynch, along with Eric Rutherford and Devante Ford, all contribute on the defensive line. Lynch has posted 26 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks and Padgett has 45 tackles (15 TFL) and 4.5 sacks. Kevin Burns (97 tackles, 15 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries) and Waters (69 tackles, 8 TFL) key the linebackers, and Hollomon and Dave Sherman (26 combined passes defensed) lead the defensive backfield.
Between its first string and reserves on defense, West Catholic has allowed an average of 9.8 points per game, holding eight opponents to eight points or less, with one shutout.
Will West Catholic finally be able to hoist that long-awaited golden football trophy in Chocolatetown? Find out Saturday afternoon.
Ed “Huck” Palmer, team statistician for the West Catholic football program, contributed some of the information appearing in this preview.