North Xtra: Unbeaten North Catholic closes in on Eastern title

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A trip to the WPIAL championship game has always been a personal goal for the Ravenstahl family, especially Bob Ravenstahl.

Whether as quarterback, running back or head coach, a Ravenstahl has helped lead North Catholic close to the WPIAL championship game four times since 1997 -- but they never quite made it.

In 1997 when North Catholic was playing in Class AAA, Bob Ravenstahl watched from the stands as the Trojans and his son, Luke, fell to Brownsville Area, 14-13, in the WPIAL semifinals. Luke Ravenstahl later became the mayor of Pittsburgh.

In 2001 when North Catholic was playing in Class AA, Bob Ravenstahl again watched from the stands as the Trojans and his son, Adam, fell to Beaver Falls, 46-30, in the WPIAL semifinals.

As a head coach Ravenstahl watched from the sidelines in 2009 and 2012 as his team fell short against Rochester, 14-7, and Sto-Rox, 34-20, in WPIAL Class A semifinals.

"It has been a personal thing for me and my family, maybe more me than my family," Bob Ravenstahl said. "It is not easy to get there."

There is still a lot of football to be played between the seventh week of the WPIAL regular season and the WPIAL Class A championship game Nov. 23 at Heinz Field, but after Friday night's 21-12 win at No. 4 Avonworth, it is clear the No. 2-ranked Trojans will have a chance to make a playoff run and it is clear that the Trojans have the talent to make that run a deep one.

"We are taking it one game at a time," Bob Ravenstahl said. "Obviously [Avonworth] was a big win, it was a pretty competitive game against probably our biggest rival. We have bigger wins down the road in mind."

Having played only conference games thus far, North Catholic is 6-0 overall and alone atop the Eastern Conference with remaining conference games against Wilkinsburg (2-4, 2-4) and Leechburg (1-5, 1-4).

Sandwiched between those two conference games is a Class A non-conference showdown with No. 3 Neshannock (5-1).

The game against Neshannock will have major seeding implications but unlike in years past, there is no clear-cut favorite to attempt to avoid in the brackets. Sto-Rox is undefeated and ranked No. 1 but unlike in years past with Clairton ruling Class A, the classification appears a bit more wide open.

"You always got to look to Clairton," Bob Ravenstahl said. "Until you beat the champs, they are going to be the champs. Sto-Rox and Neshannock have most of their guys back and there are some teams out there you shouldn't look past like Fort Cherry and Beth-Center."

The climb to the top of the Class A pecking order began last year when North Catholic knocked off Rochester in the WPIAL quarterfinals, a result that many considered an upset.

"Obviously last year had a great impact on this season," coach Ravenstahl said. "We worked hard in the offseason. The kids all bought into the program and they are working hard."

The Trojans got back their best offensive weapon just in time for the Avonworth game, junior running back P.J. Fulmore. A catalyst behind the Rochester upset a year ago, Fulmore was out for most of this season with a high ankle sprain. In his place, Jerome Turner did a great job, rushing for 548 yards on 52 carries in the team's first five games.

Against Avonworth Fulmore returned and gained 60 yards on 14 carries. Junior quarterback Adam Sharlow has been an offensive weapon with his arm and his feet this year. With Fulmore and Sharlow, this Trojans offense resembles the 2009 unit that featured quarterback Martin Long and running back Julian Durden.

"Martin was a lot like Sharlow, he was a runner plus a passer," Ravenstahl said. "I guess you can compare the teams but this is a unique group."

There are teams in Class A that can match North Catholic weapon for weapon but when it comes to the offensive line, the Trojans have a unit with size and experience not often seen in the Class A level.

"I think it is the best offensive line in Single-A football," Ravenstahl said.

hsfootball

First Published October 9, 2013 8:00 PM


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