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Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic sees a little of itself in Old Forge

| Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, 10:09 p.m.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic's Mario Latronica runs for 50 yards against Tussey Mountain in a PIAA Class A quarterfinal playoff game Friday, November 29, 2013, at Hampton High School.

As Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic prepares for its first PIAA Class A championship game Friday at Hersheypark Stadium, watching film of its opponent, Old Forge, has been like looking in the mirror.

“To be honest with you, they look a lot like us,” North Catholic coach Bob Ravenstahl said. “This might be the fastest game in PIAA history.”

Both teams have found their identity in running the ball. North Catholic is led by juniors P.J. Fulmore and Jerome Turner, who each have rushed for more than 1,000 yards. Old Forge has leaned heavily on senior Brandon Yescavage, who eclipsed the 2,500-yard mark last week against Steelton-Highspire.

All of the top passing offenses in the state have been sent home, including Sto-Rox and the WPIAL's all-time passing leader, Lenny Williams. At this point in the season, it's no coincidence that the two remaining teams bear a striking resemblance to each other, Old Forge coach Mike Schuback said.

“I think getting this deep into the tournament you need to run the football,” Schuback said. “You can't be flicking the ball around when it gets this cold.”

By no means has either team had an easy road to the championship, but Ravenstahl hasn't been bothered by that.

“I think that made us a better team because quite a few weeks we were challenged,” Ravenstahl said. “When you face good competition, I think your players rise to the occasion.”

The Trojans have done just that. In their last three games, they've held opponents to less than seven points per game while scoring 33.

With every second of play now exponentially important, Ravenstahl has communicated to his team that his early-season commitment to giving playing time to all 35 players can't continue. He's seeing that commitment paying off though.

“I think it's helped us in the long run because some of the young kids have really been playing well,” Ravenstahl said.

One of those players is Mario Latronica. In the last two playoff games, the freshman has carried the ball 34 times for 282 yards, tripling his previous season totals.

“He came into the year a great athlete but lacked a little inexperience,” senior left tackle Ryan Long said. “He's really starting to mature into a good football player. Over the course of the year, he just adapted to the speed of high school football.”

Yescavage has been a surprise in his own right. He is a first-year starter for Old Forge, but none of his teammates doubted his ability.

“We knew the talent level he had,” Schuback said. “The problem was a lot of people don't know he got hurt in 10th grade and basically missed the whole year.”

After spending his junior year as a backup to Brian Tomasetti, now at Penn State, Yescavage has taken full advantage of his opportunity to start. His 2,597 yards and 44 touchdowns are a new Lackawanna Conference single-season record.

“He runs downhill. He seems to be a nice-sized young man, and he seems to have a passion to play football,” Ravenstahl said. “I don't know if we've faced a running back of his stature to be quite honest with you.”

With just one game left in the season — and career for several players — North Catholic has been content to keep doing what they've been doing all year.

“Our whole season, we've been learning every week that we've just got to come out and play our game to win,” Long said. “This is a big stage. This is the biggest game some of us might ever play. We're just all taking it day by day, working hard in every practice.”

After all, being who they are is what's brought the Trojans this far.

Gary Horvath is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at ghorvath@tribweb.com.

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