North Catholic looks to clear semifinal hurdle

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Sunday, August 15, 2021 | 6:01 AM


The seniors on the North Catholic football team have more conference titles than regular-season losses.

But there’s something missing.

The Trojans, despite sharing or winning the conference crown in each of the seniors’ previous three seasons, have failed to reach the WPIAL championship game.

“We’d like to change that,” said senior quarterback Joey Prentice, who was named the WPIAL Class 3A Allegheny Conference Offensive MVP after throwing for 1,208 yards and 16 touchdowns during last year’s covid-abbreviated season.

Since going 16-0 on the way to the 2013 PIAA Class A title, the Trojans have lost in the WPIAL semifinals five times and the WPIAL quarterfinals twice. They have a 24-2 regular-season record in the past three seasons, including a dominant 7-0 run last season, but they haven’t cleared the semifinal obstacle. Last season ended with the No. 2 seeded Trojans losing to No. 3 seed Elizabeth Forward, 17-0, with a spot in the WPIAL title game on the line.

“We haven’t gotten rid of the semifinal jinx,” fifth-year coach Pat O’Shea said. “We have to get past that hurdle. That’s something that we keep striving for. The conference titles are nice. Having the undefeated (regular) season last year was nice. The record is nice. It’s something now that we get out here and we know we can do. But we have to do all those little extra detail things to get that semifinal jinx off our back.”

The Trojans are well-armed for another bid at Heinz Field. They return seven to eight starters on both sides of the ball, including QB/DB Prentice; last year’s leading rusher Kyle Tipinski (87 carries, 607 yards, 11 TDs); four-year starting WR/DB Carson Laconi; WR/DBs Tyler Maziarz and Liam Straub; and two-way first-team all-conference linemen Andrew Stephens and Tyler Primrose.

Sophomore RB/DB Jack Fennell is also expected to play a key role this season.

On special teams, first-team all-conference kicker Ethan Marsico is back.

North Catholic also added sophomore cornerback Chase Arrington, a transfer from Gateway who is regarded as one of the top defensive backs in the WPIAL Class of 2023.

“He’s a super, super nice young man,” O’Shea said of Arrington. “He’s cleared and ready to go. He’s going to do fantastic.”

North Catholic has made nine consecutive WPIAL playoff appearances, but the players say they won’t settle this season for a mere postseason bid and a brief run. They said this year’s team is a tightly bonded group with a singular focus.

“That’s always the goal, to get a little bit further than we have and get over that bump in the playoffs,” Stephens said. “I think our group of guys this year is super-tight. We already have this chemistry going and the fact that we are doing that before the season has even started is making me feel a little bit more confident than prior years.”

Added Laconi, “I can tell this team already has more energy.”

Prentice, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound dual-threat quarterback, will lead the way for the Cranberry Township school. On top of throwing for 1,200 yards last season, he added 94 carries for 568 yards and 12 touchdowns. In his first varsity start last season, he accounted for six touchdowns (four passing, two rushing) in a 55-7 victory at Derry.

“We expect him to be better than he was last year just because he has a year under his belt,” O’Shea said. “That gives us a lot of confidence in him.”

Prentice hurt the thumb on his throwing hand late in the 2020 regular season, fighting through the injury to lead the Trojans past Mt. Pleasant, 35-14, in the WPIAL Class 3A quarterfinals. But Prentice and Co. were blanked against Elizabeth Forward in a sudden, turnover-plagued halt for an offense that had scored 51, 55, 56 and 66 points during regular-season games.

“We’re all in this together,” Prentice said. “We have some experience and we are looking good. … I think this year we are really starting to turn it up. I think we can really do it.”

North Catholic

Coach: Pat O’Shea

2019 record: 8-1, 6-0 in Class 3A Allegheny Conference

All-time record: 454-309-32

SCHEDULE

Date, Opponent, Time

8.27 at Hopewell, 7

9.3 at Ambridge, 7

9.10 Blackhawk, 7

9.17 at Valley*, 7

9.24 East Allegheny*, 7

10.1 at Burrell*, 7

10.8 at South Park, 7

10.15 Deer Lakes*, 7

10.22 at Freeport*, 7

10.29 Derry*, 7

*Conference game

STATISTICAL LEADERS

Passing: Joey Prentice

81-140, 1,208 yards, 16 TDs, 6 INTs

Receiving: Nick Maher*

29-550, 8 TDs

Rushing: Kyle Tipinski

87-602, 11 TDs

*Graduated

FAST FACTS

• The Trojans will play home games at Mars for the fourth consecutive season. Officials at North Catholic, which sits on 72 acres in Cranberry Township, Butler County, have long maintained they want to build an on-campus stadium.

• When the Trojans visit Ambridge on Sept. 3, senior all-conference QB Joey Prentice will get a chance to play against many of his friends and former youth teammates on his hometown Bridgers. North Catholic’s game against Ambridge last season was canceled due to the covid pandemic.

• North Catholic is 32-4 in the regular season in coach Pat O’Shea’s four seasons, and two of those losses were to teams that ended up as either WPIAL or PIAA champions, Central Valley in 2019 and Quaker Valley in 2017.

• North Catholic’s four nonconference opponents (Hopewell, Ambridge, Blackhawk and South Park) went a combined 8-21 last season.

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