HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: Homer-Center knew to expect a challenge in District 6 semifinals
The Bishop Carroll Huskies are the other side of the coin.
Instead of playing the defending champions, Homer-Center plays the team that beat the defending champions, and that’s just as scary a proposition.
Whatever relief the Wildcats (10-1) have in not having to face defending District 6 Class A champion Bellwood-Antis is countered by the threat of the sharks in the water, sixth-seeded Bishop Carroll (7-4), which went on the road and terminated the title hopes of one strong contender and would be more than happy to do it again.
“Going into it, we thought either way, with Bellwood or Carroll, we knew we were going to see a quality football team, and that’s certainly the case with Carroll,” said Homer-Center coach Greg Page, whose second-seeded Wildcats play host to the Huskies in the semifinals at 7 p.m. Saturday. “They’ve done a great job this year after they had a rough time last year. Boy, they bounced back. They’re physical, they have some decent size, they have some really good athletes, and they’re well-coached. They do a lot of things really well.”
The Huskies trailed Bellwood-Antis, 19-0, with five minutes left in the second quarter of last weekend’s quarterfinal, but rattled off 33 unanswered points to punch their ticket to Homer City.
“Going down 19-0 early, that bodes for disaster for most, and we turned it around,” Bishop Carroll coach Greg Snyder said. “We started eliminating our mistakes and turnovers, and we were able to run the ball really effectively on Bellwood. We wore them down in the second half, and we were able to make some big plays.”
The word on the Huskies, as it often is when they get to the playoffs, is that their record is misleading, due to a tough Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference schedule that features a healthy diet of Class AA and AAA competition. All four teams that beat Bishop Carroll this year made the playoffs, and three are still alive.
“We knew we had a good enough team,” Snyder said. “Playing the schedule we do, we play Bedford, which is playing for a District 5 championship this weekend. We play at Forest Hills, which is in the Double-A semifinals this weekend. It’s week-in and week-out you play these hard teams. … The kids get so much better because of the competition level we’re playing. There’s no easy week. They’re tested. They’re ready for any adversity. We’ve played the biggest linemen in the area; we’ve played the fastest kids in the area.”
“We’re aware and we respect the conference they play in,” Page said. “Certainly they’re battle-tested, because they are playing bigger schools and they’re playing some programs that have had a lot of consistency, but you play who you play. They’re probably stronger than a six-seed simply because of that, but what it all comes down to, we feel fortunate through our body of work we’ve been able to earn a couple home playoff games. Hopefully we can neutralize that with the home field and the fact that we’ve played some pretty good football teams the last few weeks, too.”
The Wildcats got back on track with a 42-6 thrashing of Juniata Valley at home last week after concluding the regular season with a 35-19 loss at Portage, which claimed the top seed in the playoffs and faces Bishop Guilfoyle in the other semifinal tonight.
While Homer-Center lacks significant playoff experience — both teams are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2010 — the Wildcats have gained significant big-game experience over the past month, be it battling Penns Manor for the Heritage Conference title, visiting a difficult place to play in Portage or getting a playoff game under their belts last week.
“Our last several weeks have had a playoff feel to them, really starting with the Ligonier game (in Week 8),” Page said. “It’s one of those things that you hope carries over from week to week. You want that excitement. You kind of crave the pressure and the intensity, because that’s what the game is all about. That’s what playoff football is. You can’t go out being all starry-eyed. You have to be ready to play. Over our last four games, that’s kind of the way the atmosphere’s been. That’s kind of how we’ve approached it as coaches, and our kids have understood that.”
Senior running back Mike Newhouse was good to go, on offense at least, last week after suffering an injury in Week 10 at Portage. How much he plays Saturday was to be determined through the week.
“It’s like last week,” Page said. “We’re working him out cautiously and we’re going to see how he feels at the end of the week and decide if either or both sides of the ball he can help us or give us a lift, and we’re going to take it from there.”
Homer-Center goes against a defense that has been even more suffocating than its own and a run-heavy attack spearheaded by senior 1,000-yard rusher Tyler Janosik. Senior Brody Shuty, a receiver for the first five games of the season, took over at quarterback after starter David Maruca was injured.
The two teams crossed paths the last time they made the playoffs — Bishop Carroll dispatched Homer-Center, 28-14, in the 2010 quarterfinals en route to a district championship.
That was Homer-Center’s last playoff game until last week. Seniors Newhouse, Cody Miller and Jim Bence all played key roles as freshmen on that 2010 squad, accounting for all of the Wildcats’ previous playoff experience.
“It helps those three,” Page said. “They all played significantly in that game and that season. Their teammates that are their classmates as well kind of feed off that. They’re a good, tight-knit bunch. That experience, I’m sure, has carried over to them because it was the last time we were in the playoffs. It’s something you expect out of your leadership, your guys who have been there. You expect them to be able to handle situations and kind of play more relaxed.”