East Xtra: For Central Catholic, it's been a 'special' season


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Central Catholic has taken the term "special teams" quite literally this season.

In that phase of the game, the Vikings are, well, special.

A nearly impenetrable defense and an outstanding running game have garnered most of the attention, but it's an excellent special teams unit that has played just as big a part in Central Catholic winning the WPIAL championship and reaching the PIAA title game.

Central Catholic (15-0) will face District 12 champion St. Joseph's Prep (12-2) of Philadelphia in the PIAA Class AAAA championship game at 6 p.m. Saturday at Hersheypark Stadium.

To get to Chocolatetown, Central Catholic's special teams units have been sweet. There have been big punt and kick returns, strong pushes by the line in attempts to block punts, good kick coverage, and a top-notch kicker-punter combo.

All of that has led to the Vikings offense continuously having superb field position.

"So far they've been tremendous," Central Catholic coach Terry Totten said. "There has been lots of hustling, lots of big plays and lots of tilting the field in our favor."

The 45-0 win against Lower Dauphin in the PIAA semifinals was a microcosm of what special teams has meant to the Vikings.

* Junior John Petrishen had several long punt returns, including one that went for 69 yards and a touchdown in the third quarter. In the first half, the Vikings began four drives on Lower Dauphin's side of the field and another just inside their own territory. They scored four touchdowns on those possessions.

* In the second quarter, Lower Dauphin punter Adam Domovitch was pressured heavily and fumbled as he tried to elude the rush.

* Central Catholic junior kicker Mitch MacZura converted all six of his extra-point attempts and also connected on a 29-yard field goal.

Special teams coach Ron Fuchs has done an excellent job putting his players in positions to succeed, and those players have showed a lot of effort and determination on their way to executing their assignments.

With a defense being as good as it has been -- most recently, Central Catholic held Lower Dauphin to one first down and 21 total yards -- the Vikings force a lot of punts. They typically make the most of them with returners such as Petrishen, senior Cameron Sutherland and sophomore Ronnie Jones flashing their talents with sizable returns.

"We work very hard at it," Totten said. "There's a precise spot for everyone to be. We set up a lot of nice blocks for guys to get downfield."

Petrishen, in particular, has been outstanding. He's returned three punts and one kickoff for touchdowns, and has also brought back an interception for a score.

"He's been excellent," Totten said. "He's really come into his own. He has good vision and good athletic ability."

Sutherland has three punt return touchdowns and Jones has one. The two combined for three of them in a 55-0 win against Butler on Oct. 25.

In a 49-10 victory against Penn-Trafford in the WPIAL semifinals, excellent punt returns helped Central Catholic begin all of its drives in Penn-Trafford territory, prompting Warriors coach John Ruane to say, "It was ridiculous. I've never seen anything like it."

Totten said his team's ability to play with short fields has been critical to the team's success.

"Oh yeah, it's obviously been big," he said. "Especially in big games, which these [playoff games] have been."

Opposing punters have been hurried repeatedly, many times due to the pressure of senior Cody Troesch and junior Cullen Buckley.

MacZura and senior punter J.J. Cosentino give Central Catholic a solid tandem of kicking specialists. MacZura has been nearly automatic on extra-point attempts. In addition to his quarterback duties, Cosentino has often showed off a strong leg with booming punts that have left opponents with poor field position.

The Vikings are making their fifth PIAA finals appearance. They won titles in 1988, 2004 and 2007, and finished as the runner-up in 2003.

If the Vikings are to win their fourth title, Totten said his special teams will once again have to play a big role.

Said Totten: "On Saturday night, it will be absolutely critical."


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