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Sto-Rox, North Catholic focused on championship glory

| Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, 10:48 p.m.
Ronald Vezzani Jr. | For the Tribune-Review
Sto-Rox's Brendan Blair eyes a pass from quarterback Lenny Williams during their WPIAL Class AA semifinal game against Clairton on Friday, Nov. 15, 2013, at Chartiers-Houston.

Sto-Rox quarterback Lenny Williams spent Saturday at home, quietly celebrating his 18th birthday. Meanwhile, Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic lineman Ryan Long watched Duquesne's football team defeat Central Connecticut in the afternoon, then called it a day.

After big wins Friday night to reach the WPIAL Class A championship game, there wasn't much celebrating for teams with similar mindsets looking to avoid a hangover.

The top-seeded Vikings (12-0) take on No. 2 North Catholic (12-0) at 11 a.m. Saturday at Heinz Field after each team cleared a hurdle in the semifinals.

For Sto-Rox, it was a victory over five-time defending champion Clairton, which defeated the Vikings in the championship game the past two seasons.

Having finally dispatched the Bears, Sto-Rox shifted its focus to the next game. The Vikings know all too well that what comes next is the ultimate prize.

“That game was just to get where we needed to be,” Williams said.

Saturday was a year ago to the day that Williams spent his 17th birthday knocking North Catholic out of the semifinals, a game in which he tossed a pair of touchdown passes and ran for two more. There was no celebrating the following week when Clairton won the title 58-21.

“They're going to come with a head of steam to win this game,” said Long, noting the championship game losses the past two years make the Vikings hungry for a title.

After inheriting a 1-9 team in 2006, North Catholic coach Bob Ravenstahl has led teams to the semifinals three times before bowing out. The Trojans are playing for the school's first title.

“It's been a long time coming,” a choked-up Ravenstahl, who graduated from the school in 1972, said after Friday's victory.

Each team is undefeated, has a star athletic quarterback, can score in bunches and fields a shutdown defense.

Junior workhorse P.J. Fulmore leads the North Catholic offense. When starter Adam Sharlow went down for the remainder of the season with an injury Oct. 18, Fulmore moved from running back to quarterback. He carried the ball 42 times for 216 yards in a semifinal win against Neshannock. Paving the way in front of him is a group of linemen who have no qualms with — and in fact take pleasure in — being called nasty North Siders.

The group includes center Dylan Grieco, tackles Joe Sadler and Long, and guards Nick Nyman and Joshua Churchin.

The Vikings also can play a physical game.

“Either team will be ready to do whatever it takes to win the game,” Sto-Rox coach Dan Bradley said. “We know what they are going to do, and they know what we are going to do. Whoever does it the best is going to win.”

While Fulmore's best work is done with his legs, Williams does damage through the air. He is the WPIAL's all-time leading passer with more than 8,000 yards. Perhaps his best stat is the ratio between touchdowns and interceptions: 34-2. He's no slouch when running, either. He rushed for 133 yards against Clairton.

With so many similarities, it's no wonder both teams agree that victory begins during the week with thorough preparation and astute note-taking while reviewing film.

“The most important thing is going to be putting the work in during the week,” Long said. “We have to have good focus and a solid week of practice.”

Ed Phillipps is a freelance writer.

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