HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: Wildcats, Marauders see mirror images in District 6 title game
It doesn’t happen every week. Or even every year, for that matter.
Homer-Center faces a golden opportunity in Saturday’s District 6 Class A championship game, one that historically hasn’t come around to Indiana County football teams all that often.
“I want these kids to be filled with memories and with the fact that what they’re doing is really special, and you don’t get there every year,” Homer-Center coach Greg Page said. “Enjoy it, work hard and do everything you can Saturday night to become first place and not settle for anything less.”
Here are five things to look for in Homer-Center and Bishop Guilfoyle’s battle for the district crown:
1. WHO’S HOT?: Bishop Guilfoyle has won 10 in a row after opening the season with losses to Bedford and Richland, and the fifth-seeded Marauders are flying high after a 42-10 thrashing of top-seeded Portage last Friday.
Homer-Center had some ups and downs over the last month, beating Penns Manor to claim the Heritage Conference title and then losing at Portage in the regular-season finale, dropping from the top ranking to the second seed in the playoffs.
The Wildcats have since rebounded with convincing victories over Juniata Valley and Bishop Carroll.
“It definitely feels good,” junior running back Ean Lee, said, “but we go week-by-week, like our coaches always say, game-by-game. Last Saturday was a nice win. We celebrated it over the weekend. We were happy about it, but we’ve got to get focused for this Saturday and prepare.”
2. GETTING PHYSICAL: Everyone’s first impression of the Wildcats is the same: They’re big. The offensive line has paved the way for two 1,000-yard rushers, and the defensive front has given opponents fits.
“We’ve been physical with teams for the most part,” Page said. “If we match that physicality and get the ball in the hands of people that have made plays for us, we feel good.”
“They are a very physical team with some definite big size, and maybe two of the best backs as a combo that I’ve seen all year,” Bishop Guilfoyle coach Justin Wheeler said. “I was at the Carroll game last week, and the offensive line and defensive line for Homer-Center just did an amazing job of controlling the line of scrimmage.”
3. RUN LIKE THE WIND: It’s a staple of small-school football — you have to be able to run the ball. Homer-Center and Bishop Guilfoyle sure can, and they will have a few highly regarded backs on display.
Lee leads the Wildcats with 1,254 rushing yards, while Mike Newhouse comes in with 1,027. In nine games, after missing the first three due to injury, Bishop Guilfoyle quarterback Brandon Chadbourn has handled the Marauders’ rushing burden, with 969 yards and 13 scores.
“He’s an outstanding player,” Page said of Chadbourn. “He’s one of several they have that are good, quality athletes. It starts with him. He has the ball in his hands every play at quarterback, so they have him doing some things that put him in a good position to make plays.”
4. AERIAL ATTACK: The teams use the passing game in a similar way: as a complement to a run-based offense, but the Marauders throw the ball a lot more than the Wildcats.
Chadbourn is 53 of 89 passing for 789 yards, and Bishop Guilfoyle has passed for 1,001 yards on the season — most often to 6-foot-1 tight end Matt Gormley.
“(Chadbourn) can get the ball to their other skill people, who I’m very impressed with,” Page said. “(Sam) McCloskey, (D.J.) Kitt, Gormley, those are guys that they spread the ball around to, and they all know what to do when they get it.”
Homer-Center changes pace a little less, but very efficiently. Aaron Berezansky has thrown for 713 yards on 48 of 76 passing. The Wildcats worked the pass in perfectly last week on an audible to a fly pattern that resulted in a 64-yard touchdown pass to Lee.
“Even though we don’t throw the ball a lot, it’s good to be able to keep the defense looking for the run,” Berezansky said, “and that’s when we pass on them.”
5. HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE: Homer-Center, the second seed, will be the home team in name only Saturday night. Bishop Guilfoyle will be playing at its home field, Altoona’s Mansion Park, the longtime predetermined site for district championship games.
“It’s the way it is,” Page said. “They’ve been playing District 6 championships there for over 20 years at least, maybe longer. I have no problem with that, personally. They earned the right to be there, just like we did. It just so happens that’s where the game’s played.”
The Marauders are happy to be at home.
“It brings a lot of familiarity to the situation,” Wheeler said, “so in a week that’s kind of crazy and hectic, to be able to play at a park you’re used to is definitely something I like as a coach, and it’s pretty exciting for the kids.”