If there is a rallying cry for the 2014 Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic High School football team, it might very well be "the devil is in the details."
It seems pretty clear that Marauders coach Justin Wheeler believes his team could be trying to defend the District 6 Class A championship instead of bringing the first trophy to the school in 25 years had it only taken care of the little things in last year's 6-A final defeat at the hands of Homer-Center.
"We thought mentally we didn't play a very good game. We had a lot of mental errors - offsides penalties, holding penalties and a couple of turnovers," Wheeler said. "Even though our defense had shut Homer-Center down for almost three and a half quarters, with some penalties and mistakes we let them stay in it.
"To be honest, we were four minutes away from winning a district title last year. It was terrible at that time, but what it really did was help focus us for this year."
The Marauders' intended path to redemption begins tonight when they travel to the suburbs of Johnstown. Guilfoyle will endeavor to end the long Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference and home winning streaks held by Richland, which itself is trying to bounce back from an upset loss in the District 6 Class AA championship game last year.
The LHAC intersectional tilt kicks off at 7 p.m.
Game: Bishop Guilfoyle Marauders (10-3) vs. Richland Rams (12-1)
Where: Herlinger Field, Johnstown
When: Tonight, 7 p.m.
The coaches: Bishop Guilfoyle - Justin Wheeler (20-14, fourth year); Richland - Brandon Bailey (76-57, 12th year)
Series record: Richland, 5-1 (first met in 1987 playoffs)
Last meeting: Richland, 43-14 (Sept. 6, 2013)
Although Wheeler tried to portray the Marauders as the underdog tonight, many think Bishop Guilfoyle is the region's best bet this year to make noise in the state playoffs. BG returns 18 out of 24 lettermen, eight starters on offense and seven on defense from a team that won LHAC Section 1 and admittedly is hungry after falling short in the district finals last season.
Among Guilfoyle's key returnees is quarterback-defensive back Brandon Chadbourn, a Villanova recruit, and slotback-defensive back Sam McCloskey and tight end-defensive end Matt Gormley have gotten Division I college recruiting interest, too. Andrew Berger contributes size and experience on the line.
With that kind of resume, Guilfoyle opens this season in the role of the hunted, not the hunter it was at the beginning of Wheeler's first three years at the Pleasant Valley parochial school.
"With the publicity and our kids getting Division I offers, that kind of success and that kind of spotlight, it kind of puts more pressure on everybody, which we definitely didn't have last year," Wheeler said. "Last year people wondered if it was a one-year thing. Now we've had a couple of seasons of success, and the expectations are even greater.
"So far, it's motivated (the players) to live up to that."
If anyone knows what it's like to be in the Marauders' shoes, it's Richland coach Brandon Bailey and his Rams. Richland has played in three straight District 6 finals - winning it all and advancing to the state semis in 2012. The Rams have won 20 straight regular season contests, 21 in a row against teams from the LHAC and 15 consecutive at home.
Gone from those teams are mainstays like quarterback Matt Shaffer and running back Tanner Solarczyk, who accounted for almost 5,000 yards themselves last season. In fact, the only two returning starters are tackle Killian Snopko and defensive end Sam Finotti.
Even so, the early returns on the Rams from their scrimmages are that they look pretty good, maybe good enough to make another run at the 6-AA finals.
"I'm really proud of our kids and our team. We've had a good offseason and a good couple of weeks of camp. Obviously, we haven't seen a test like we're going to see with Bishop Guilfoyle. They're very similar to the teams we've had the last three or four years. They have multiple guys that can hurt you. They have a solid offensive and defense line," Bailey said.
Bailey said the key to his team maintaining a high level of play was that the Rams got many of the younger kids meaningful snaps in reserve roles last year. Also, a number of Richland's games were out of hand or running-clock affairs by the third quarter.
The Rams handed Guilfoyle a 43-14 defeat at Mansion Park early last season, although Chadbourn was injured heading into that game.
"I think (beating them) is going to be an extremely difficult task," Wheeler said. "I don't think our kids would have it any other way."