It took Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic about seven minutes for the realization to come through.
Six days after the Trojans made history by winning the first WPIAL football championship in school history in a palatial NFL venue, they played in front of fewer than 1,000 fans at a local high school stadium surrounded by snow. Worst of all, they stared at a seven-point deficit 7:05 into their game against Tussey Mountain.
But faced with some early adversity, North Catholic responded resoundingly.
Jerome Turner rushed for three touchdowns to spearhead a 28-point second quarter as the Trojans turned a first-quarter hole into a rout by halftime, sprinting past District 5 champion Tussey Mountain, 48-7, Friday night at Hampton High School in a PIAA Class A quarterfinal.
"They started to realize this was going to be a football game," North Catholic coach Bob Ravenstahl said. "We keep trying to tell them that you can't take anybody lightly, and I don't think we took them lightly, but they scored first and we responded from that."
For a team led by the rushing combination of Turner and P.J. Fulmore, it was freshman Mario Latronica who had the biggest game, rushing for a game-high 197 yards on 18 carries along with a touchdown.
The Titans (11-3), who entered the game averaging more than 300 rushing yards as a team, were held to 164, more than a third of which came from their lone touchdown. Since the beginning of the WPIAL playoffs, the Trojans (14-0) have allowed opponents to score just 5.6 points per game.
"We knew we had to stop their run," Ravenstahl said. "If we stopped their run, we thought we would be all right. That was our game plan going in."
Not even a week after holding Sto-Rox scoreless for the first time since 2005, the North Catholic defense showed vulnerability in the early moments against Tussey Mountain as Daniel Taylor broke off a 66-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead.
But from there, seemingly everything went right for North Catholic.
About two minutes after Taylor's long touchdown, Turner finished a 67-yard drive with a 14-yard touchdown run to tie the score. On North Catholic's next possession, Turner scored another touchdown, this one on a 16-yard rush. The Trojans never trailed again.
Latronica and Turner added touchdowns later in the quarter and, after a successful onside kick attempt, the Trojans used a 50-yard pass from Fulmore to Ronnie Meder to cap a four-touchdown outburst in less than 10 minutes.
The Titans, who had just 27 players on the roster, lost two starters early in the game in Brock Rhoat and Darrin Sipes.
Sipes rushed for more than 1,000 yards this season and was the team's second-leading tackler. But even with him and Rhoat, there was little Tussey Mountain could do to stop what became an overwhelming barrage.
"Against a good team, you have to keep your focus the entire game," Tussey Mountain coach Josh Smith said. "We didn't quite do that in the second quarter."
Fulmore, North Catholic's star running back who switched to quarterback after starter Adam Sharlow was injured Oct. 18, passed for 126 yards and a touchdown.
With the victory, the Trojans will face Clarion or Lakeview, who play today, in the semifinals.
Regardless of the opponent, North Catholic knows that despite already making plenty of school history, there is still more to accomplish.
"We came out and we did it," Latronica said. "We've still got more. We're just going to keep going until we can't go any more."
Craig Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.
First Published November 29, 2013 10:07 PM