North Xtra: For Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic, it's just one more time

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Bob Ravenstahl has a singular focus as he and his Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School football team prepare for a historic trip to Hersheypark Stadium for Friday's 1 p.m. game against Old Forge that will decide the 2013 PIAA Class A football state championship.

The game will be televised on the Pennsylvania Cable Network.

Ravenstahl, a 1972 graduate of the school which up until this past June was known as North Catholic High School, had some lofty goals as he and his coaching staff considered the team they had and the goals that each believed were realistic. But his goals in August were more focused on a football stadium located about 2 miles from the school's Troy Hill campus.

"I thought getting to Heinz Field would be our greatest accomplishment," said Ravenstahl as he, his assistants and the team prepared this week for what would be yet another accomplishment in the most historic season since the school opened its doors in 1939.

Friday's game is the school's final football game while its headquartered on Troy Hill before the school packs up its belongings and moves to its sparkling new campus in Cranberry Township, about 20 miles north of its present location.

Competing for a state championship wasn't in the original equation. But the school and the team have quickly embraced the opportunity.

Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic earned the trip to Hershey with a 39-12 victory against Clarion Area in a semifinal game played this past Saturday at DuBois Area High School.

Many fans and observers would think that playing for a state championship would be an overwhelming concept. But Ravenstahl plans to coach this game as he has for the past eight seasons since he became the school's football coach.

"The way I look at it, it's just another game," he said. "What we've done has been a total team effort. The staff and the players have been working together for the past 15 weeks, and we don't want to look too far ahead.

"Old Forge likes to run the ball just like we do, so it could be a good game that features a lot of running. We've faced a lot of challenges over the last 15 weeks, and we've dealt with them."

Challenges like the usual bumps and bruises a football team faces over the course of the season.

Challenges such as losing starting quarterback Adam Sharlow to a season-ending knee injury in a 21-14 non-conference victory against Neshannock in the eighth week of the season.

Challenges like losing standout running back P.J. Fulmore to a high ankle sprain for four weeks before Sharlow went down with his injury.

And challenges like turning Fulmore into a quarterback with Sharlow offering sage advice while hobbling around practice and at games on crutches.

With all of those issues taking place, Ravenstahl and his team haven't had much time to consider the consequences of a stellar football season.

"This has been a special football season, and once it's over, we'll have time to reminisce," he said. "I'm not sure it has sunk in yet, but it will be all over on Friday. That's the last time all of us will be together as a coaching staff and as a team for this season. It's sad in some respects, but this has been a significant and historical season."

There will be a lot of "lasts" for this team as it leads up to the last game. That includes the final practice ever at Gardner Field, the Troy Hill softball field that doubled as North Catholic High's baseball field in the 1970s and was the football team's primary practice field before Lt. J.C. Stone Field was built in North Park.

"That field brings back a lot of memories," Ravensthal said. "It was a tough field to practice on, and anyone who played for North Catholic practiced on that field.

"Back in the 1970s, there were 100 or so kids on that field practicing. We're down to 35 [football players], and it still feels somewhat congested when we practice there. But we made it work in the 1970s when we practiced there, and we've made it work today. There are some teams that practice on fancy surfaces. Practicing at Gardner Field is something we use to our advantage."

One final practice. One final game. For Ravenstahl and his Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic football team, they hope to give one final football hurrah for Troy Hill on Friday afternoon.

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