North Catholic holds off Neshannock, keeps perfect season intact
North Catholic's magical season continued Friday night at J.C. Stone Field in North Park as the second-ranked Trojans edged No. 3. Neshannock, 21-14, in a thrilling, late-season nonconference matchup of Heinz Field hopefuls.
The Eastern Conference champion Trojans (8-0, 7-0) are a Week 9 victory over Leechburg away from securing the school's second perfect regular season and in prime position for a high seed in the Class A playoffs.
“They beat us pretty badly last year,” North Catholic coach Bob Ravenstahl said. “We had this one circled since the day we walked off that field.”
North Catholic may have exorcised the demons of last year's 42-7 loss to the Lancers, but its quest for the school's first WPIAL football title may come with some adversity. Star quarterback Adam Sharlow was knocked from the game on a hit in the third quarter.
Sharlow had another superb performance in North Catholic's no-huddle offense. He guided the Trojans to a 21-7 third-quarter lead, but Gianni Oliva's hard shoulder tackle sent the senior to the bench.
The play changed momentum and produced some late-game drama. Ernie Burkes threw a 1-yard touchdown to Steven Jefferies that trimmed the score to 21-14.
P.J. Fulmore's fourth-quarter fumble gave the Lancers a late chance to tie the score, but the Trojans survived a would-be touchdown pass from Eli Owens to Burkes that slid through the streaking senior's open hands.
North Catholic had built a 21-0 lead behind Sharlow, who threw touchdown passes of 12 yards to Ronnie Meder and 3 yards to Fulmore after opening the scoring with a 1-yard run.
With Sharlow on the bench, North Catholic was forced to run the wildcat offense with Fulmore, who is working himself into game shape after missing four weeks with a high-ankle sprain.
The blue-chip junior rushed 22 times for 108 yards, with many of them coming in the fourth quarter as Neshannock threatened to make its push.
“The line stepped up, and the holes were huge,” Fulmore said. “People stepped up when I was injured, so I knew I had to do it when our QB went down.”
For most of the game, North Catholic held Burkes in check: The senior completed only two passes and was intercepted three times. Burkes finally broke through on a 35-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that made the score 21-7.
Senior Ryan Long led the defensive charge for the Trojans with seven tackles and a pass defended. Sharlow completed 13 of his 19 pass attempts for 117 yards and two touchdowns and added 71 yards on 14 carries.
“Every time we step onto the field we want a big stop,” Long said. “This one came down to the hard work we did in the offseason.”
Brian J. Duermeyer is a freelance writer.