North Catholic survives Quaker Valley upset attempt
North Catholic coach Pat O’Shea wouldn’t let his team forget that Quaker Valley was the defending state champions before their playoff game -- and his team responded with an unforgettable win.
The Trojans turned the ball over six times in their Class 3A playoff debut, but No. 3 North Catholic will take the ugly 31-24 victory over Quaker Valley to advance to the semifinals against Derry.
“Quaker Valley is one heck of a football team,” North Catholic coach Pat O’Shea said. “All week long we said that they are the defending and reigning 3A state champions. To even be in the game with them and eventually win it is a tribute to my fellow coaches and players for believing.”
The game-winning, 4-yard touchdown run was scored by North Catholic quarterback Zack Rocco who chose to keep the ball before the ball was snapped. With 38 seconds left on the clock, he found a hole to run through on the left side of his offensive line.
Rocco finished the game with 213 passing yards and a pair of passing and rushing touchdowns. He also threw three interceptions, intercepted a pass on the final play of the game and recovered a fumble on defense.
“On the run I was just thinking, ‘I’m putting this in, they’re not stopping me,’” Rocco said. “It was supposed to be a read-option, but before the snap I was like, ‘I’m taking this,’ because they couldn’t stop me.”
The game-deciding play followed a frenzied second half, in which each team scored 17 points and took a 24-24 tie into the final minutes of the game.
Quaker Valley’s Demetrios Perez seemed to be a potential hero late in the game when he made a diving catch on a 16-yard pass from Ethan Moore. The score led to a game-tying extra point by Will Kunzmann, who had added a 25-yard field goal earlier.
The Quakers’ Cam Wolf also made a miraculous play in the third quarter after he intercepted a tipped pass and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown. The effort put Quaker Valley ahead 14-9 in the third quarter, the team’s only lead of the game.
“They busted their backside every day in the summer, the fall, the nine-game season and tonight,” Quaker Valley coach Ron Balog said. “They wouldn’t die. They went down like champions like a lot of my guys are, state champions. They are also a lot of WPIAL champions. They didn’t give any quarter at all tonight like champions. I’m so proud. I can’t ask for anything more.”
The first half also had memorable plays.
The Trojans’ Nikhai Hill-Green blocked Quaker Valley’s punt at the end of the Quakers’ game-opening drive, and Finnegan O’Shea recovered the ball at the 7-yard line. Hill-Green caught a 3-yard touchdown pass from Rocco two plays later.
Quaker Valley got its first score in similar fashion in the second quarter.
The Quakers, after failing to score on fourth and goal at the 1-yard-line, had North Catholic pinned with the ball barely outside of the end zone. The Trojans fumbled on the first play, and Quaker Valley’s Smith Johnson jumped on the loose ball for a touchdown.
“I think we’ll look at this game as a building block in Quaker Valley football history,” Balog said. “We talk about going from good to great to elite. Even though we didn’t win, I think it’s one of the bricks that went into the wall. I think we’ll look back and know tonight was really important for our program.”