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Central Catholic looks for knock out against District 3 champion in PIAA semifinals

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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Central Catholic's Luigi Lista-Brinza carries in the snow during the fourth quarter of the WPIAL Class AAAA championship game against Woodland Hills Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, at Heinz Field.

PIAA Class AAAA semifinal

Lower Dauphin vs. Central Catholic

1 p.m. Saturday at Altoona High School

Records: Lower Dauphin (13-1), Central Catholic (14-0)

Of note: This is Lower Dauphin's first trip to the PIAA semifinals since moving to Class AAAA in 2004. Each team has shut out six opponents. Both teams have a second tailback with more than 1,000 yards. Lower Dauphin RB Dalton Yentsch has 1,101 yards and 7 TDs on 200 carries, and Central Catholic RB Riley Redman has 1,112 yards and 15 TDs on 111 carries. Troy Spencer and Yentsch accounted for all of their team's 243 offensive yards last week against Cumberland Valley.

Prediction: Central Catholic, 31-17

Top high school sports
Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, 10:12 p.m.

For its opponents, a game with Central Catholic this year has been a knock-down, drag-out fight, and so far, every challenger has fallen short.

District 3 champion Lower Dauphin is expecting more of the same against the Vikings but is hoping for a different outcome.

“I do look at it kind of like a boxing match,” Lower Dauphin coach Rob Klock said. “I think whoever can be more physical can come out on top.”

Recently though, the struggle for Central Catholic has been mental.

After a 27-7 victory over Woodland Hills in the WPIAL Class AAAA championship, the Vikings fell into what coach Terry Totten called a “WPIAL hangover.” It took a slow start last week against Erie McDowell for Central Catholic to get back to its usual dominant play.

“That was key because you're walking around town and everyone's patting you on the back,” Totten said. “It's hard for 17- and 18-year-olds to think it's not over yet. We brought them down to earth to get them focused again.”

According to senior quarterback J.J. Cosentino, Central Catholic has found the mental edge that it needs to finish off the year with a state title.

“It's been a long road,” Cosentino said. “We started last year in January practicing. Every day, day in and day out, we've been working hard, and it's just been relentless all year. We came this far, and we didn't come to lose.”

Klock has faced similar difficulties at Lower Dauphin and has turned to various pregame speakers, as well as motivational videos, to keep his team engaged.

Assuming both coaches have their teams mentally prepared, the game should come down to whoever makes the fewest mistakes.

“We're both two big teams who run the ball,” said Central Catholic running back Luigi Lista-Brinza, who has 1,481 yards and 18 touchdowns on 200 carries this year. “It just comes down to who can stay on their blocks the longest and actually execute.”

Senior quarterback Troy Spencer is a big reason for Lower Dauphin's success this year. He leads the Falcons with 1,579 yards and 23 touchdowns on 257 carries.

Led by Spencer, Lower Dauphin has out-executed its opponent in every game but one, a 25-14 loss to Bishop McDevitt, which Klock said Central Catholic closely resembles on tape.

“We're going to have to play the best game of the year and execute better than we ever have before,” Klock said. “Overall, our kids have really stepped up to the challenge and again, this is the biggest challenge yet, but hey, we're here. Let's go for it.”

Much like the rest of its opponents, Lower Dauphin's best just might not be good enough to knock out Central Catholic.

Gary Horvath is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at

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