On Nov. 9, 2002, a Bishop Guilfoyle High School football team led by the likes of Matt Georgiana, Tom Forr, Sean Pacifico, Shane McConnell, Chris Mathis and Josh DeStefano left Mansion Park with a 20-0 loss to Windber in the semifinals of the District 5-6 Class A playoffs.
It's taken the Marauders 11 years and more than a regular season's worth of postseason games to get back home.
Twelve playoff games later, though, Guilfoyle has won its way back to Mansion, where the Marauders will try to walk away with district gold for the first time since 1987 when they take on second-seeded Homer-Center in the District 6 Class A championship game on Saturday at 7 p.m.
"Things definitely have been really exciting around the team and around the school. Everyone's excited. To get to this point is quite an honor for the kids, and it's deserved," Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic third-year coach Justin Wheeler said. "[To be playing for the championship at home] is a really exciting point for our guys and our fans.
"For two years we went everywhere on the road for playoffs - Bellwood, Juniata Valley, Portage, Penns Manor - so, for the first time in those five games we get to be at home, and it happens to be for the district championship, so there's a lot of excitement for our kids."
Bishop Guilfoyle is 10-2. The Marauders entered the playoffs as the fifth seed and dispatched fourth-seeded Penns Manor and top-ranked Portage to get to this point, running their winning streak to 10 games in the process.
In last week's win at Portage, both quarterback Brandon Chadbourn and running back Sam McCloskey topped the 100-yard mark. For Chadbourn, it was the fourth time this season he's reached 100 yards on the ground, and the junior signal-caller who played little offense the first three weeks of the season because of injury now has rushed for at least 80 yards in seven of the last eight games.
Now a lot of people on the outside have been thinking the Marauders are going to be hard to beat. Often, that can go to a team's heads.
"You get that with success. We talk a lot about that, being that I've been around some undefeated teams and coached on some. With more success comes more scrutiny," Wheeler said. "This team just has been so great with each other as far as not caring who gets the ball. I told them that's a special quality and not to let that change. You just have to listen to what people say and take it with a grain of salt and remember it's about the team."
The Marauder defense has played like a special unit, last week holding a Portage team that was averaging 40 points to 10. Guilfoyle is limiting its opposition to 106.5 rushing yards per game and 3.1 yards per carry during 10-game winning streak.
It figures to need that kind of performance this week. Homer-Center is piling up nearly 270 yards per game on the ground and has a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in Ean Lee and Mike Newhouse running behind a big, strong, physical line.
"Seeing Homer-Center live put in perspective how good that football team is," said Wheeler, who was on hand for the Wildcats' 28-7 victory over Bishop Carroll in the semifinals. "It's going to be a battle for four quarters."
Homer is 11-1. The Wildcats are looking for their third District 6 Class A championship in as many trips to the finals - they won the first-ever 6-A championship game in 1985 and topped Bellwood-Antis at Mansion Park in 1994.
The Wildcats are coached by Greg Page, whose father, Jerry, guided Laurel Valley to a trio of 6-A titles.
"Our kids feel that they deserve to be there," Page said of reaching the championship game. "We have such a hard-working group, a determined group of seniors. They exemplify what our program's all about. To make it to this game has pleased a lot of people in the school and in the community. But they know you just don't want to get there. You want to get there and you want to earn it against a quality opponent."
The Wildcats gave any doubters food for thought with last week's win over Carroll. The Huskies were coming off an impressive comeback win at defending PIAA semifinalist Bellwood and only lost to BG by seven points in the regular season.
"More than anything, it gives our kids confidence that they can compete with these teams," Page said of the Carroll victory. "To be honest, when I saw Carroll and Guilfoyle play several weeks ago, I came away very impressed with both teams. For Class A football, they had the ingredients for success: physical kids, nice size, athletes. It gives our kids hope they can play against these teams. You need that if you are going to play in a championship game. You have to feel that you belong."
Page thought the key was being able to match Carroll's toughness and physicality. Guilfoyle is cut from a similar cloth, so this figures to be a similar kind of game.
"It's how well we play," Wheeler said. "If we can do the things that we have done and limit penalties and limit turnovers and be explosive on defense and play good defense against the run, we have a good chance to win. But it's going to be a fight."