By virtue of its 20-19 win over Aliquippa on Saturday afternoon at Mansion Park, the Tyrone Area High School football team will get a shot at an offensive juggernaut and recent state champion.
Sean Titus caught a 16-yard touchdown pass from Andrew Dzurik with 53 seconds left, then picked off a pass to preserve Lancaster Catholic's 23-20 win over Philadelphia West Catholic at Coatesville in a battle of the last two PIAA Class AA champions in the other state semifinal.
The Crusaders are 15-0 and have scored 651 points this year. When Lancaster Catholic won the PIAA title in 2009, it scored 618 points in 16 games.
Unlike the Lancaster Catholic team of two years ago that relied on the passing of record-setting Kyle Smith, this Crusader team boasts a pair of 1,500-yard rushers in Roman Clay and Brandon Hollister running behind an offensive line that averages 250 pounds. Dzurik also has thrown for nearly 2,000 yards.
Lancaster Catholic lost in the state semifinals in 2010. The Crusaders won't be a factor in the Class AA bracket next season, though; they're set to move up to Class AAA.
Old faces, new places
In addition to Steve Franco being on the receiving end of a touchdown pass instead of his typical role of throwing one, several other familiar Golden Eagle players were utilitzed in unusual positions on Saturday.
One one play, Eagle senior defensive end Corbin Nevling-Ray lined up as a fullback. Meanwhile, during a lengthy second-quarter drive that came away without any points, defensive tackle Shaquille Williams went in and hit a block that opened a big hole to help spring Christian Getz for a 7-yard gain on a third-and-1 at the Aliquippa 29.
Getz himself got to play some defense after Ben Makdad sprained his ankle in the fourth quarter. Getz went into the secondary, as Markus Wagner moved up into Makdad's linebacker spot.
"I had to step in and fill the position,'' Getz said. "I played probably 20 plays max [on defense this season], but, they needed me to do it, so I went in and did what I was supposed to do.''
As good as he Getz
Getz had nine 100-yard running games heading into the District 5-6 Class AA championship game against Richland, but Saturday afternoon marked the third straight week Tyrone's slashing tailback was held under the century mark.
Aliquippa probably provided the toughest challenge so far for the 5-foot-8, 160-pound Getz: Aliquippa held him to 45 yards on 24 carries. After one hit late in the game, Getz, a senior, came up limping.
"We're in the state finals now. Every week, the defenses get better,'' Getz said. "But we're going to keep fighting.''
Getz, though, still turned in a huge offensive play, getting behind the Quip secondary for a 40-yard pass from a scrambling Franco down to the Aliquippa 10 in the fourth quarter. Later in the drive, Franco handed off to J.D. Dorminy, then ran out to catch an 8-yard touchdown pass that gave the Eagles a 20-13 lead.
Working for every yard
Aliquippa's defense entered the game reputed to be among the best in Class AA in the state, and the Quips lived up to that billing for the most part.
In addition to holding Getz in check, Aliquippa was the first defense in seven games to hold record-setting Tyrone receiver Nick Patton without a touchdown catch or to fewer than five receptions.
Saturday also was the first time in three games Franco didn't pass for 200 yards and the first time in four weeks he didn't complete at least 50 percent of his passes. Franco, though, ran for a touchdown to go along with his receiving TD.
Next Saturday afternoon's PIAA Class AA championship game will be broadcast live on Pennsylvania Cable Network at noon from Hersheypark Stadium.
The game then will be rebroadcast at 3 p.m.
A fitting finale
Longtime Tyrone assistant coach Chuck Banas got a Gatorade bath at the conclusion of the Eagles' 5/6-AA championship win over Richland.
Banas, who helps with the defense and also serves as something of an unofficial public relations director for the team, already had announced that he was retiring from coaching effective the end of this season. But Banas still has one more game to go, and has gone as far as he possibly could in his final season.
"I came in with a state championship game,'' Banas said. "I might as well go out with one.''