Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic wins 1st WPIAL football championship
The Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic Trojans are celebrating a day 40 years in the making.
In its first-ever trip to the WPIAL Class A final since joining the conference in 1973, North Catholic (13-0) defeated top-seeded Sto-Rox, 14-0, on Saturday at Heinz Field.
“I'm proud of our whole team,” North Catholic coach Bob Ravenstahl said. “We've stuck together all year. We've had a lot of adversity, a lot of injury. I'm amazed at what these kids do every day, and it's a credit to them. They deserve it, and they honestly earned it. This is something that I'll always remember in my life, and I know they'll always remember, too.”
Sto-Rox (12-1) has lost three straight title games, falling to Clairton the past two seasons.
The North Catholic defense handed Sto-Rox its first shutout since Sept. 9, 2005, and held senior quarterback Lenny Williams, the WPIAL's all-time leading passer, to 203 yards on 16-of-26 passing with an interception.
“Hit him, that's it,” said NC senior lineman Ryan Long, who had two of the team's six sacks. “Put pressure on him. Keep him in the pocket. Probably the same thing every defensive coordinator would tell his team playing a team like that.”
North Catholic forced Williams into two first-half turnovers — an interception by senior captain Ryan Kirby and a fumble forced by senior Jarred Fragapane and recovered by Long.
“We had a lot of mistakes that I should have handled. It's just too many,” Williams said. “It seems like every time we had some momentum, something set us back.”
Sto-Rox lost leading receiver, Mallory Claybourne, when he separated his right shoulder in the first quarter. The Vikings were crippled even further by committing 15 penalties for 99 yards.
“We did have some mistakes lining up,” Sto-Rox coach Dan Bradley said. “We had some personnel issues once some injuries started, and unfortunately we didn't play with enough discipline like we have for most of the season.”
North Catholic has fought through plenty of injuries as well. Fulmore stepped into the quarterback role when starter Adam Sharlow went down with an injury in October.
“We had people go down all through the season,” North Catholic junior quarterback P.J. Fulmore said. “We had people hurt through the lineup every game and people just step up and step up. We faced so much adversity and we came out victorious.”
Despite the Trojans' stifling defense, Sto-Rox trailed by just a touchdown entering the fourth quarter.
Leading, 7-0, Fulmore took the second play of the final quarter 42 yards on a designed draw on third-and-14 from the Trojans' 26. The drive finished with five straight rushes by junior running back Jerome Turner, capped by a 17-yarder that gave North Catholic a 14-0 lead with less than nine minutes to play.
Fulmore, who scored on a 2-yard run in the first quarter, finished with 83 yards rushing on 26 carries. Turner added 64 yards on 19 carries.
North Catholic will play District 5 champion Tussey Mountain (11-2) in the PIAA quarterfinals at 7 p.m. Friday at Hampton's Fridley Field.
Gary Horvath is staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.