Facing a team that relies on a productive running game is nothing new for the Central Catholic defense. But the way Central Catholic's next opponent runs the ball is completely new to the Vikings.
Central Catholic (14-0) meets Lower Dauphin (13-1) in a PIAA Class AAAA semifinal at 1 p.m. Saturday at Mansion Park Stadium in Altoona. Lower Dauphin rarely throws the ball (7.5 times a game) and the Falcons running game has an unusual style.
Lower Dauphin, a District 3 school near Hershey, uses some of the veer, an offense that was popular at high schools and colleges in the 1970s. The offense has been successful as the Falcons average 249 yards a game on the ground.
"To be quite honest, I don't know if I've ever seen anything like this," Central Catholic coach Terry Totten said. "It's kind of a McKeesport theory of offense but different. It's sort of the wildcat formation with one back and five other people, other than linemen, who are deployed to block."
Lower Dauphin changed to the unusual offense this season.
"Last year we were more of a zone blocking team and that's what we practiced all spring," Lower Dauphin coach Rob Klock said. "Then we went to a college camp this summer, came back and said we're not going with that offense and we went to a veer scheme. It's a base veer. It's not like we're doing the old-school triple option, but we do a lot of unusual sets out of it."
The offense has been led by quarterback Troy Spencer, a 5-foot-11, 180-pound senior who has rushed for 1,579 yards. He averages 18 carries a game. Dalton Yentsch has rushed for 1,101 yards on 200 attempts.
"In a lot of offenses, [Spencer] would be a tailback," Klock said. "He's a tough runner. I've made the comment that he has the moves of a tailback, but he can drop his shoulder like a fullback, too."
But good luck in trying to run the ball successfully against Central Catholic. The Vikings don't seem to budge. In five postseason games (WPIAL and PIAA), the only team that has run for more than 100 yards on Central Catholic has been Baldwin, and the Highlanders had only 104. In those five games, Central Catholic is allowing only 58.8 yards rushing and 140 yards overall.
"Running is our bread and butter and if we can't do that, then we're probably in trouble," Klock said. "There is no other way to say it than Central Catholic is very good. But we also might have to throw it more than we have."
Klock has been especially impressed with Central Catholic linebacker Niko Thorpe.
"We were watching film Sunday morning and I admit I was enjoying watching him. He's that good," Klock said.
Klock's son, Trey, is a 6-5, 260-pound tight end who already has committed to Georgia Tech. Lower Dauphin also features a top kicker in 5-11, 200-pound senior Joe Julius. He made a 54-yard field goal this season and has made 12 of 19 overall. Of his 73 kickoffs, 60 have been touchbacks.
"I think he's the best kicker in the state," Klock said.
Central Catholic is trying to make it to a PIAA final for the fifth time. Lower Dauphin made it once in 1995, losing to Penn Hills, 35-14. In 2002, Lower Dauphin lost in the Class AAA semifinals.
Lower Dauphin won the District 3 championship this year, but it wasn't long ago that Lower Dauphin was struggling. The Falcons had back-to-back 1-9 seasons in 2010 and 2011. Last year, they were 8-3.
"I think we knew we had a quality team coming back this year," Klock said. "We didn't use the words 'district championship' at any time this year. We didn't think we were going to be district champs. But I think it was in the back of our minds that if the stars align right, it was possible to do some good things.
"Well, they aligned."
For more on high school sports, go to Varsity Blog at www.post-gazette.com/varsityblog. Mike White: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1975 and Twitter @mwhiteburgh.