No. 4 Derry blanks No. 2 North Catholic

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Friday, September 21, 2018 | 10:54 PM


Derry opened Friday’s WPIAL Class 3A Big East Conference first-place showdown against No. 2 North Catholic by recovering an onside kick.

The No. 4-ranked Trojans didn’t score on the initial possession, but it set the tone for the game. And that tone was heard all over the WPIAL.

Justin Flack scored four touchdowns, Derry’s defense shut down the potent North Catholic offense, and the Trojans earned an impressive — and, perhaps, shocking — 27-0 victory.

“Derry played that well,” North Catholic coach Pat O’Shea said. “You can say we were off a little. Derry dominated all phases of the game from the first play onward.

“They were physical, and we tried to prepare what they liked to do and couldn’t stop them. They were more physical than us, and their defense was outstanding. They were well-prepared.”

Derry’s defense harassed North Catholic junior quarterback Zack Rocco all night — sacking him five times and forcing a fumble — and sophomore defensive back Matt McDowell intercepted two passes. Rocco completed 10 of 20 passes for 58 yards, and North Catholic was limited to 25 yards rushing.

Flack didn’t have a big night rushing, held to 37 yards on 16 carries, but Dom DeLuca rushed for a team-high 89 yards on nine carries and Colton Nemcheck added 85 yards on 16 carries. Derry rushed for 232 yards. Flack caught three passes for 100 yards.

Derry welcomed back junior running back Justin Huss. And while he didn’t run the ball much, he recovered the onside kick to open the game.

“We prepared for that all week,” Derry coach Tim Sweeney said. “It’s something we felt we could get.”

North Catholic’s defense, led by linebacker Nakhai Hill-Green, stopped Derry at the 10 on downs on the first possession. Derry drove to the North Catholic 9 on its next possession, but Rashod Allen knocked down a fourth-down pass at the goal-line.

But McDowell got the ball back for Derry when he picked off Rocco’s high throw at the North Catholic 20.

Faced with third-and-8 at the 18, Paul Koontz hit Flack in the left flat, and the senior raced into the end zone thanks to a great downfield block for a 7-0 lead.

“We were clicking on all cylinders,” Sweeney said. “We prepared hard all week, and the defense stepped up again. The fact we kept them off the board was an extra-special effort. ”

Derry’s defense stopped North Catholic’s next possession on sacks by Nemcheck and DeLuca.

North Catholic got the ball back when Cameron Branch returned an interception 12 yards to the Derry 18. Derry’s defense stiffened again and held on downs at the 13 with 1:35 left in the first half.

But Derry wasn’t content with a 7-0 lead. On the second play, DeLuca raced 48 yards to the North Catholic 40. A couple of plays later, DeLuca raced 15 yards for a first down at the North Catholic 25.

With 20 seconds left in the half at the North Catholic 26, Koontz lofted a pass down the right sideline to Flack for a 13-0 lead at halftime.

“This was a big win,” DeLuca said. “We wanted to come out and play fast and physical. The offensive and defensive lines were awesome, and Justin had another big game. He’s playing his best football ever.”

North Catholic came out with a different defensive look in the third quarter and forced a quick three-and-out, but when Rocco tried to connect on a deep pass to Tyree Brown, McDowell was there to pick off his second pass.

“We did what we practiced,” Sweeney said. “We teach getting to the ball on defense, and they’re like trained dogs.”

A quick pass to Flack on the first play after the turnover gained 56 yards, and the Trojans finished off the nine-play, 86-yard drive with Flack scoring from the 10 to make it 19-0.

Sweeney said was surprised to learn that Flack scored four more touchdowns.

“He’s our do it all Joe McCall guys,” Sweeney said. “He runs the ball for us, catches for us, plays defense and doesn’t leave the field.”

Derry forced a fumble a little later, and Flack put the game out of reach early in the fourth quarter with a 1-yard run.

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at pschofield@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Schofield_Trib.

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