Central Catholic defense gets Vikings into PIAA semifinals
ERIE — Central Catholic standout linebacker Niko Thorpe lined up his target.
He exploded through Erie McDowell running back Jamie Szymczak, jarred the ball loose and returned the fumble 52 yards for a touchdown.
Thorpe's defensive touchdown was part of a dominant effort by the Vikings' defense Saturday as Central Catholic held McDowell to 69 yards of total offense in a 48-7 rout in the PIAA Class AAAA semifinals at Veterans Stadium.
“They were flying around the ball and filled in the gaps on the option,” said Central Catholic coach Terry Totten of his defense. “It's tough to stop the triple-option, and you have to play assignment football. Our guys knew their assignments and played great on defense.”
Central Catholic (14-0) moves on to the PIAA semifinals against the District 3 champion at a site and time to be determined.
The Vikings dominated from the start as McDowell (7-6) quarterback Jake Tarasovitch was constantly on the run from blitzers. When he was able to pitch the ball to a running back, that back would lose ground trying to avoid the waves of Central Catholic defenders.
“Their defense was as good as we've seen this year,” McDowell coach Mark Soboleski said. “There was so much pressure on the backside. If we do anything on offense, that's a football game. We just couldn't do anything offensively.”
The tone was set immediately as McDowell fumbled on the game's first offensive play, and Cullen Buckley fell on it for the Vikings.
Although Central Catholic's first drive stalled, it went 38 yards on six plays on its next drive, capped by a 1-yard touchdown run from quarterback J.J. Cosentino. He then scored on an 8-yard bootleg in the second quarter to give the Vikings a 14-0 lead.
“It was kind of a weird game to come up to Erie and play at 1 p.m. on a Saturday, but we did what we had to do to win,” Cosentino said. “We were getting some good fakes off on the bootlegs, and usually it's wide open. It worked sometimes, and they shut it down at times as well.”
With the McDowell defense holding its own, the Trojans got the ball back with 58 seconds left on the Central Catholic 44-yard line. Tarasovitch delivered a swing pass to Szymczak, who was drilled immediately by Thorpe. The rest was history as Thorpe scored on the fumble to give the Vikings a 21-0 lead at halftime.
“That was a back-breaker,” Soboleski said. “I thought the kid was still in the air when the defender hit him, but to go from being down 14 and feeling good to going down 21 and feeling terrible, it broke our backs at halftime.”
Luigi Lista-Brinza added a 3-yard touchdown in the third quarter before Tyree Spearman hauled in a 26-yard touchdown pass from Tarasovitch to start the fourth quarter and give McDowell hope. Trailing 28-7 with 11 minutes, 30 seconds left, the Trojans decided to try an onside kick.
In one scoop and run, John Petrishen ended McDowell's comeback hopes and secured another Central Catholic win by going 50 yards untouched for a touchdown.
“The defense was awesome, and they are definitely the best part of our team,” Cosentino said. “They hold us together, and it's hard to move the ball on them. It's great to know as an offense they we'll keep getting the ball back.”
Riley Redman led Central Catholic with 73 yards on five carries, including a 59-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, and Lista-Brinza had 72 yards on 20 carries.
Tom Reisenweber is a freelance writer.