WPIAL Class A semifinal matchup: Sto-Rox vs. North Catholic
Class A semifinals: (2) Sto-rox (10-1) vs. (6) North Catholic (9-2), 7:30 p.m. Friday at Dormont Stadium
Heading into the season coming off a trip to Heinz Field for the WPIAL title game last November, Sto-Rox returned star quarterback Lenny Williams, four linemen and not much more starting experience. It didn't take long for the rest of the Vikings' roster to catch up to Williams and his linemen.
As expected, Williams has been one of the best quarterbacks in the WPIAL, and Sto-Rox's play in the trenches has been strong. But it's been the play of others that's been the difference in the Vikings' return to the semifinals.
“I hate to say it this way, but it kind of went according to plan,” first-year Sto-Rox coach Dan Bradley said. “We ended up getting the leadership from the guys who returned from playing all those big games in the playoffs last year, and there was a group of younger guys who really have stepped up at a good pace.”
Included in that group are running back Brendan Blair, fullback Marcus Jackson and receivers Ben Shackleford and Javelle Kirkland. Sto-Rox entered the quarterfinals ranked seventh in the WPIAL in total offense, split almost equally between rushing and passing.
“We're playing well-balanced football,” Bradley said.
The Vikings are averaging 39.4 points per game, tied for second in WPIAL Class A. But it's been the defense that has been at the forefront lately: Sto-Rox has allowed only 15 points in its past five games. Then again, North Catholic's defense has been its strength all season. The Eastern Conference champion Trojans rank third among Class A teams in opponents' scoring (11.7 per game) and have four shutouts.
North Catholic's offense has increasingly been built around a player who has emerged as one of the top sophomores in the WPIAL — P.J. Fulmore. His 22 touchdowns and 1,616 rushing yards rank among the WPIAL leaders.
The Trojans won the Eastern conference title, and the Vikings shared the Big Seven championship with Neshannock and Rochester. North Catholic beat Rochester last week, one of three common opponents between the teams. Sto-Rox and North Catholic both lost to Neshannock, who is in the other WPIAL semifinal. The Vikings, which beat Rochester in the regular-season finale, topped Northgate, and the Flames beat North Catholic in September.