North Catholic holds on for victory over Derry

Friday, September 20, 2019 | 10:47 PM

Derry football coach Tim Sweeney wasn’t very talkative after Friday’s WPIAL Class 3A Big East Conference showdown against No. 4 North Catholic.

That’s because North Catholic quarterback Zack Rocco tossed two touchdown passes, and the defense limited Derry’s ground attack to 64 yards in a 13-3 victory at the Mars Athletic Complex.

Derry (3-2, 2-1), which played without leading rusher Justin Huss because of an injury, also had too many mistakes to pull out a win in a physical defensive struggle.

A bad center snap cost Derry 20 yards to stall a drive, it turned the ball over twice and a couple of 15-yard penalties in the fourth quarter allowed North Catholic to possess the ball and kill the clock.

“North Catholic played a better football game than we did,” Sweeney said. “We had too many self-inflicted mistakes. A lot of that is on me as coach, and we need to get things corrected this week.”

Things didn’t start well for Derry as it fumbled the opening kickoff and gave North Catholic possession at the Derry 9. But Derry’s defense, which held North Catholic to 74 yards rushing, stiffened and held North Catholic out of the end zone.

Derry started at its 1 and quickly escaped the shadow of its end zone as Matt McDowell caught a 24-yard pass and Pryce Donovan rumbled 13 yards. But that’s where the drive ended.

Rocco, who needed 72 yards to surpass 5,000 yards, then directed North Catholic to the game’s first score, capping the 60-yard drive with a 10-yard scoring strike to Nick Maher for a 7-0 lead.

“Derry is always a physical team,” Rocco said. “Last year they gave us two physical games, and we lost both. This year we were more physical and more disciplined, and we came out with a ‘W.’ The defensive line gave me problems because they are so physical.”

Rocco completed 15 of 24 passes for 142 yards.

“Now that I’ve reached 5,000, I’d like to reach 6,000,” Rocco said.

North Catholic (3-1, 3-0) expanded its lead to 13-0 in the third quarter as Rocco hit Maher with a 4-yard scoring strike.

But Derry didn’t quit and reclaimed momentum with a field-goal drive to make it 13-3 with 2 minutes left in the third quarter. Chance White nailed a 41-yard field goal.

North Catholic coach Pat O’Shea said he sensed the momentum swing, especially remembering the WPIAL semifinal in 2018 when Derry rallied from a 29-7 deficit for a 36-29 win, and wondered how his players would respond.

“I wasn’t nervous, but there was a point when I said, ‘OK, are they going to do the same thing again,’ ” O’Shea said. “One thing about them is there is no quit in them.”

Derry defeated North Catholic twice in 2018, 27-0 in the regular season and in the playoffs. Those losses stunned North Catholic.

“Last year in both games it was physical,” O’Shea said. “This was probably the most physical we’ve played since I became coach three years ago.

“Derry’s kids are tough as nails. We knew we had to come out and be as tough. That’s a tribute to them because you don’t have that tough kid anymore, and they do.”

Derry quarterback Paul Koontz tried to rally his team because of the lack of a running game. He completed 13 of 24 passes for 144 yards.

But Derry just didn’t make enough big plays to pull out the win.

Check out an archived broadcast of this game on the TribLive High School Sports Network.

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at or via Twitter .

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