Central Catholic delivers crushing defensive performance to qualify for PIAA championship
ALTOONA — Central Catholic left Mansion Park Stadium with the look of a championship team.
For some, it took just one play to see.
“We ran into a buzz saw,” said Lower Dauphin coach Rob Klock, who saw Central Catholic dominate Saturday afternoon's 45-0 semifinal victory in the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs. “That's a quality football team. I've got to be honest with you, on the first play, just (watching) the hitting that went by, I knew.”
Central Catholic (15-0) scored six touchdowns. District 3 champion Lower Dauphin (13-2) had 6 total yards.
Central Catholic senior Luigi Lista-Brinza rushed for 123 yards and three touchdowns, junior Riley Redman scored another, seniors J.J. Cosentino and Shafer Swann combined for a 27-yard touchdown pass, and junior John Petrishen reached the end zone with a 68-yard punt return.
Yet the Vikings defense was even better.
“We saw them on film. We knew how good they were,” Klock said, “but wow! They're good. They're real good.”
Central Catholic reaches the PIAA final for the fifth time and first since it beat Parkland, 21-0, in 2007. The Vikings, 3-1 in state championships, will face District 12 champion St. Joseph's Prep at 6 p.m. Saturday at Hersheypark Stadium.
“We've been waiting for this for weeks. You can hear it,” linebacker Niko Thorpe said outside a loud locker room. “We're loving this right now.”
Central Catholic's defense allowed just 5 passing yards, 1 rushing yard and one first down. It might have been its best performance in a season with seven shutouts.
“I thought today they turned it up another notch,” Central Catholic coach Terry Totten said. “They've been stellar all year. They turned it up a little bit more today.”
Lower Dauphin, which rarely throws, featured a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in seniors Troy Spencer and Dalton Yentsch. But Spencer managed just 16 yards on 13 carries, and Yentsch lost 1 yard on four carries.
Lower Dauphin ran 24 first-half plays, but just seven of them gained yards. Five went for no gain, seven were losses, four were punts, and one was an interception by Cameron Sutherland. Central Catholic led 31-0 at halftime.
“We were in the film room for hours on end this week,” Thorpe said. “We knew them. We were calling out their sets and calling out their plays. We knew what they could do out of each set. Then we were just flying around, running as fast as we could, hunting everything.”
This lopsided effort brought back memories of 2004, when Central Catholic dominated LeSean McCoy and Bishop McDevitt in a 44-0 semifinal victory in Altoona. Until now, that had been the most lopsided PIAA Class AAAA semifinal score.
Starting with its second possession Saturday, Central Catholic scored on three consecutive drives: a 10-yard touchdown run by Redman and two more by Lista-Brinza of 1 and 19 yards. The Vikings added a 28-yard field goal by Mitchell MacZura and a 27-yard touchdown catch by Swann before halftime.
Lista-Brinza's third touchdown, a 19-yarder with 8:36 left in the third that gave Central Catholic a 38-0 lead, brought the mercy rule's running clock.
When Petrishen sprinted 68 yards with a third-quarter punt, the rout was complete.
“It's a great time to peak, but we're not peaking yet,” Thorpe said, “because we still have one more game.”