Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic could have saved some time this week when studying film of its PIAA Class A championship opponent.
All the Trojans really had to do was look in the mirror.
When North Catholic makes its first state title-game appearance in school history today at 1 p.m. at Hersheypark Stadium, it will face an Old Forge team that closely resembles itself.
Old Forge (14-1), located in Lackawanna County in Northeastern Pennsylvania, relies heavily on the run, boasts excellent line play and, just like North Catholic (15-0), has a dominant defense that gives up just about 10 points per game.
"They look a lot like us. They play defense and they run the ball," North Catholic coach Bob Ravenstahl said. "This might be the fastest game in PIAA history."
One significant difference between the two is in the running game. While North Catholic features a pair of 1,000-yard rushers, Old Forge is led by a player who has rushed for 2,597 yards.
Senior Brandon Yescavage is a big running back -- 6 feet 2, 190 pounds -- who has put together an even bigger season. In addition to his impressive yardage total (only one WPIAL running back rushed for more yards this season), Yescavage has scored 45 touchdowns. Those are some ridiculous numbers for a guy who played sparingly last season while serving as the backup to Brian Tomasetti, who is now at Penn State.
"We knew he had the talent," said Old Forge coach Mike Schuback, whose team is also in the title game for the first time. "The problem was he got hurt in 10th grade and missed the whole year. His junior year he took some reps, but you couldn't take the ball out of Tomasetti's hands the way he was going. Coming into this season, we knew Brandon would give us a lot of effort. We're not surprised by his production."
Ravenstahl said he has come away impressed with Yescavage, adding "I don't know if we've faced a running back of his stature."
North Catholic will counter with a group of rushing threats led by running back Jerome Turner and quarterback P.J. Fulmore. Turner has rushed for 1,125 yards and 23 touchdowns, while Fulmore has rushed for 1,104 yards and 13 touchdowns.
The Trojans handed Clarion its first loss of the season, 39-12, in last week's semifinals. The Trojans rushed for 376 yards and five touchdowns, led by Turner's 178 yards and three touchdowns.
North Catholic will be hard pressed to put up offensive numbers like those against Old Forge, which has allowed only 34 points in five postseason games. In a 26-7 semifinal victory against Steelton-Highspire, the Blue Devils returned two interceptions for touchdowns.
The Old Forge defense is led by tackle Ryan Paulish (6-4, 290) and three-year starting safety Jake Manetti. The average size of Old Forge's starting defensive linemen is 6-11/2 and 244 pounds.
Old Forge has faced some notable opponents in recent weeks, particularly Steelton-Highspire and Southern Columbia, which the Blue Devils defeated in the first round. Prior to Clairton's four-year reign as state champions, Southern Columbia (five) and Steelton-Highspire (two) had combined to win seven titles in a row.
Old Forge's only loss was to Dunmore, 21-16, but the Blue Devils avenged the defeat with a 27-7 triumph in the District 2 championship game.
North Catholic's defensive dominance rivals that of Old Forge. In six postseason games, North Catholic, led by 6-2, 250-pound tackle Ryan Long, has surrendered 40 points, which includes a shutout against Sto-Rox in the WPIAL championship game. The Trojans have been stingy against the run, allowing fewer than 100 yards per game in the playoffs. Against Clarion, the Trojans gave up only 13.
"I think it's going to be an exciting game," Ravenstahl said. "We both do the same things. Whoever does it better is going to win the game."