North Catholic looks to avenge regular-season loss to Derry
Don’t expect North Catholic to look past Derry this time around.
That’s because North Catholic learned a valuable lesson on Sept. 21 when Derry won 27-0 in a first-place showdown in the WPIAL Class 3A Big East Conference.
“We gained a lot of respect on how they play,” North Catholic coach Pat O’Shea said. “Being in Class 3A was new to us, and we were still learning about the teams in the conference. Derry took it to us and was more physical. We have to match that this time around.”
The teams will square off for a second time this season Friday at Hempfield’s Bill Abraham Field at Spartan Stadium in the WPIAL semifinals for the right to play at Heinz Field for the championship against the Aliquippa-Beaver Falls winner.
North Catholic (10-1) is looking for a different outcome.
The teams tied for the conference title as Derry fell to Elizabeth Forward, 25-22, the following week, and North Catholic defeated Elizabeth Forward, 27-0, on Oct. 5.
“We did things in that first meeting that was not like us,” O’Shea said. “We were standing around on defense, and now we’re flying to the ball. We’ve continuously talked openly about that loss to Derry.”
Since that loss, North Catholic’s defense has been outstanding, allowing 10 points in the final five regular-season games. O’Shea said the defense had a little lapse last week in a 31-24 win against Quaker Valley in the opening round of the playoffs.
Derry’s defense shined in the first meeting. Defensive back Matt McDowell intercepted North Catholic quarterback Zack Rocco twice. Rocco was sacked five times and completed 10 of 20 passes for 58 yards. North Catholic managed just 84 yards on offense.
Justin Flack scored all four touchdowns, two on receptions from quarterback Paul Koontz, but was held to 37 yards rushing. He caught three passes for 100 yards.
Picking up the slack in the running game was Dom DeLuca, with 89 yards, and Colton Nemcheck with 85.
“North Catholic is hot. They are well-coached and have been playing really well since that first meeting,” Derry coach Tim Sweeney said. “We’ll have to play our best game to have a chance.”
Derry ousted Central Valley for the second time in three seasons in the opening round of the playoffs, this time with a 46-0 whitewashing.
It was only the third time Derry won a playoff game. Now, the Trojans are looking for their first semifinal win.
“We’re as healthy as we’ve been all season,” Sweeney said. “We’ll have to come up with some new things for this game.”
Sweeney said this will be a different game this time around.
Derry opened the first meeting by recovering an onside kick. It gave Derry an early edge in the field-position battle.
“There were things that we felt we’d be able to do in that first meeting and didn’t get,” O’Shea said. “The credit goes to Derry. They dominated all phases of the game. If we don’t match their physicality, we might get the same result.”
Trojans quarterback Zack Rocco has completed 103 of 162 passes for 1,721 yards and 24 touchdowns. Tyree Brown has been his primary target, catching 28 passes for 653 yards, but four other players have caught more than 10 passes.
Nikhai Hill Green has 20 catches for 323 yards. Cameron Branch is the leading rusher with 677 yards, and Rocco is next with 469 and 10 scores.
Flack leads Derry with 1,165 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns. Onreey Stewart, who missed the first meeting with an injury, is back. He’s rushed for 770 yards and six touchdowns.
Sweeney likes to utilize his stable of backs, which began the season a little banged up. Nemcheck and Justin Huss were injured in the summer and missed some of the early games.
“This is a great bunch of players,” Sweeney said. “I love coaching them. We’ve overcome some adversity, but we’re just focused on Friday’s game and anything beyond that is just gravy.”