Central Catholic looking to regain championship swagger

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Monday, August 8, 2022 | 11:53 PM


Editor’s note: Starting today, Trib HSSN will preview one WPIAL conference per day until the start of high school football season Aug. 26.

“Inexperience” is a word high school football coaches use a lot in August. Whether it is at a starting position or depth, the fear of the unknown has made many a coach sweat well before heat acclimation week.

Central Catholic coach Terry Totten isn’t in fear about the upcoming 2022 season, but optimistically nervous would be a good description about how he feels about his Vikings.

“It’s a good group and they have worked very hard,” he said. “You can’t always return 22 starters, but I do like my team. There are plenty of questions that need answers, but I like them.”

The Vikings return 10 starters from a team that finished 9-3 overall last season and saw their two-year reign as WPIAL 6A champions come to an end at the hands of Mt. Lebanon in the district title game, 47-7.

Leading the six starters back on offense is junior quarterback Payton Wehner.

Wehner hit on 123 of 201 passes for 1,460 yards with 17 touchdowns as a sophomore.

“He took care of the ball for us,” Totten said. “We ran a lot of RPO (run-pass option) and he did pretty good with it. We’re looking for efficiency, leadership and distributing the ball effectively.”

With a couple of talented junior wide receivers back in Pete Gonzalez and Vernon Settles, will we see the Vikings open things up and air it out this fall?

“We like to mix it up,” Totten said. “I’d love to sit back and throw it 20 times a game, but the running game is something you want to establish.”

Last season, Gannon Carothers led the Vikings with over 1,000 yards on the ground. The graduated senior was also a force on defense and special teams.

Totten is optimistic the Central Catholic rushing attack will still have success on the ground this fall. He just doesn’t know who the feature backs will be.

“Our offensive line is one of our strengths and we have a lot of capable candidates at tailback,” Totten said. “We just don’t have that proven guy yet. We’re looking for one or two kids to step up and grab it.”

One player who stepped up as a freshman and has made his mark in two short years is the unquestioned leader of the Central Catholic defense, Anthony Speca.

The 6-foot-3, 219-pound junior linebacker not only has caught the eye of all opposing coaches and players, but he also has over 20 Division I offers from the likes of Pitt, Penn State, West Virginia, Ohio State, Michigan and Notre Dame among many others.

“My expectations for this defense are the same as always,” Speca said. “There’s a standard at Central and it’s up to us to achieve that standard. I know everyone is working hard and I’m excited to see what the 2022 season has in store for the ‘Chain Gang.’”

Speca is also expected to play a bigger role on the Vikings offense this fall.

With four out of five teams in 6A qualifying, making the playoffs is almost a foregone conclusion. However, the Vikings aren’t satisfied with just making it to the postseason. They want to add more gold to their bulging football trophy case.

“There are some teams on the rise,” Totten said. “I think it’s going to be a knockdown, drag-it-out type of year.”

Speca is excited about 6A football. He admits while it is smaller in numbers this season, it appears to be very competitive.

“I honestly couldn’t tell you who I think are going to pose the biggest threat because they all have some players,” he said. “I think until the season starts, it will be hard to tell who’s best. I know there are going to be some battles though.”

Central Catholic

Coach: Terry Totten

2021 record: 9-3, 6-1 in Class 6A

All-time record: 567-324-44

SCHEDULE

Date, Opponent, Time

8.26 at St. Edward#, 8

9.2 Abraham Lincoln, 7

9.9 at Bethel Park, 7

9.16 Mt. Lebanon*, 7

9.23 North Allegheny*, 7

9.30 at Canon-McMillan*, 7

10.7 Pine-Richland, 7

10.14 Penn Hills, 7

10.21 at Seneca Valley*, 7

10.28 Gateway, 7

*Conference game

#at Tom Benson Stadium, Canton, Ohio

STATISTICAL LEADERS

Passing: Payton Wehner

123-201, 1,460 yards, 17 TDs

Rushing: Gannon Carothers*

186-1,006, 14 TDs

Receiving: Brandon Jackson*

45-428, 2 TDs

*Graduated

FAST FACTS

• Terry Totten begins his 18th season as Vikings head coach with six WPIAL championships under his belt. This is his 42nd season coaching with the last 22 at Central Catholic.

• In the last 20 years, Central Catholic has won back-to-back WPIAL football championships three times. The Vikings repeated as Quad A champions in 2003-2004, did it again in by winning the AAAA crown in 2015 and the first 6A title in 2016, and then won back-to-back Class 6A gold in 2019-2020. They have never been able to three-peat.

• It might not be at the same level as the current 14-year championship game streak that Aliquippa is on, but Central Catholic has also been on a dominant run for the past decade. Since 2012, the Vikings have played in the Class AAAA or 6A WPIAL football championship game every year but one. The Vikings finished off a 7-4 season with a loss to Seneca Valley, 15-14, in the 6A quarterfinals in 2018.

• This is the 95th season of Central Catholic football.

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