Wildcats’ victory ends Marauders’ impressive title, win streak
All good things must come to an end.
So it is for Bishop Guilfoyle’s nearly-four-year-long football winning streak.
Senior quarterback Mark Conrad and the Marauder receivers were successful in exploiting Homer-Center’s secondary for much of Friday night’s District 6 Class 1A championship game on Friday night at Mansion Park.
However, when it mattered most, the Wildcats — the last team to defeat Guilfoyle before the streak started — came up with the play they needed. Senior Nick Schmidt batted down a pass at the H-C 1 on fourth-and-4 with just over a minute to play to preserve a 20-14 upset of the three-time defending district and PIAA champions, stopping the state’s second-longest win streak ever at 59 games.
“It’s disappointing right now,” BG senior Josh Yasulitis said, appearing to fight back tears. “Looking back, we’re going to be 59-1 in our career, and I believe this team played our hearts out.”
It was Yasulitis’ 3-yard touchdown run with 8:06 that tied the game at 14 before Homer answered on Mike McCracken’s scoot around the right side from 7 yards out about 6 minutes later to give the Wildcats the lead again for keeps. Both McCracken and Jesse Lee rushed for more than 100 yards in the win, which made both teams 12-1.
“It’s going to take a while (to get over this),” Guilfoyle senior wideout Tyler Berkheimer said.
“It’s amazing to feel sad when these seniors walk off the field with a 59-1 record,” Marauders coach Justin Wheeler said. “I know it hurts right now, and I know it doesn’t seem real, but I told the guys we have nothing to be ashamed of.”
After stopping Homer-Center on a two-point try following the go-ahead touchdown, Guilfoyle took over with great field position at its own 37 and moved to the Wildcats 30 on passes of 6 yards to Berkheimer, 21 to Yasulitis and 6 to Dan Potopa. However, a third-down incompletion brought the game down to one last play, and it was the Wildcats who made it when Schmidt knocked down Conrad’s deep throw across the field with 1:01 left.
“I knew a play had to be made,” Schmidt said. “I actually tried to intercept it. Once the ball hit the ground, I can’t even explain how it felt.”
It took a pair of kneel-downs to run out the rest of the clock.
“We had a combo route. We had a slant on the outside and tried to get a short underneath route to Michael Berish. Their strong safety made a nice play and stopped that,” Wheeler said. “It was actually (Conrad’s) fourth read on that. They made plays they needed to make.”
It was a sour way to end a terrific game for Conrad, who went 14-for-21 for 190 yards, a contribution made all the more vital because Homer-Center effectively bottled up a Guilfoyle run game that had been so potent in the second half of the season, holding the Marauders to 74 yards on the ground.
“Their DBs were playing way off, and they gave up the short routes, and we were able to hit them,” Conrad said. “We thought we had better athletes.”
However, Homer-Center was able to match Guilfoyle’s considerable size in the trenches and wound up rushing for 177 more yards than the Marauders. In addition to McCracken, quarterback Ben Schmidt and fullback Jesse Lee reached the end zone on short runs for Homer-Center.
“That’s our bread and butter. That’s what we do. That’s what we did all season. It just worked,” said Lee, who ran for a game-high 130 yards.
The Wildcats will play District 3 champion Steelton-Highspire in the next round. Homer-Center ran 61 plays to BG’s 47, putting together scoring drives of 15 plays, 10 plays — helped by a roughing the punter penalty — and 12 plays.
“I knew they were going to have success. Kids like Jesse Lee and McCracken run so hard. We knew they were going to have some drives. We just had to limit their scores,” Wheeler said. “We knew third down was going to be big, and they just kept making those third and fourth down conversions.”
On the deciding drive, Homer-Center converted a pair of third downs. They also moved the chains on fourth and 1 at their down 45.
Wildcats coach Greg Page rolled the dice following McCracken’s touchdown by going for two after Schmidt had made his first two point-after kicks. Lee, though, was stuffed, opening the door for Guilfoyle to win it on a TD and an extra point, and the Marauders kicker, Kolton McGhee, has committed to West Virginia, but the Wildcats held
“It almost came back to bite me. I just thought as good of a push and as physical as we were being, if we go up 22-14, the worst that can happen is we go to overtime,” Page said. “The key is no turnovers, and our penalties were minimal (two). That’s the kind of game you have to play to beat these guys.”
The game was 7-7 through three quarters before Homer-Center was able to take advantage of a positional tug of war to take a seven-point lead with 10:51 left when Ben Schmidt beat Berish to the pylon on a 4-yard bootleg that capped a 51-yard drive, helped by the roughing the punter.
Guilfoyle answered by going 65 yards on nine plays, Conrad passes of 8 yards to Berkheimer, 14 yards to Potopa and 23 yards to Berish setting up Yasulitis’ 3-yard scoring plunge, the Marauders’ only rushing first down of the game.
“At that point, anything could happen,” Yasulitis said. “It just happened to not go our way this time.”
The Marauders struck first, going 83 yards on 16 plays, leading to Berish’s 8-yard run on a toss to the right. Guilfoyle had five first downs on the drive, all via the pass, the biggest being Conrad’s 26-yard hook-up with Berkheimer on a fourth-and-11 play that gave BG a first down at the Wildcat 6.
Homer-Center, though, answered right back. Stopped on downs at the Guilfoyle 17 after a lengthy first drive, the Wildcats marched 80 yards on 15 plays — all but one snap and 5 yards coming on the ground — to even the score on Jesse Lee’s 6-yard run.
Homer outrushed Guilfoyle 149-46 in the first half, with both Lee and McCracken getting to the 70-yard mark.
Conrad completed 7-of-10 throws for 95 yards in the first half, but Guilfoyle’s last two possessions of the first half ended in turnovers. The Wildcats’ Matt Miles outfought Berish for an interception on a deep pass on BG’s second time with the ball. Then, Berish found a seam at midfield and seemed headed for a big gainer but had the ball punched out from behind, and Lee pounced on it.
Incredibly, it was just the second time the Marauders hadn’t led at halftime during their 59-game winning streak, which started the first game of 2014 after they were upset by Homer-Center in the 2013 D6-1A final.
Sixteen Marauder seniors played their final games in purple and gold, including starters Conrad, Yasulitis, Berkheimer, Berish, Nick Leamer, Daniel Ramsey, Max Sankey, Luke Wills, Charles Patterson, Dominic Georgiana and John Fanelli. Over the last three seasons, that group tripled the number of state championships brought home by all previous District 6 teams combined.
“It’s very emotional,” Conrad said. “There was a really close bond between everyone and a winning environment. We were brothers out there.”
It finished just three wins shy of a fourth.
“I thought we had a good chance to win. It just didn’t happen the way we wanted it to at the end,” Berkheimer said.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Homer-Center 0 7 0 13 — 20
Bishop Guilfoyle 7 0 0 7 — 14
BG–Berish 8 run (McGhee kick), 1:29.
HC–Lee 6 run (B. Schmidt kick), 6:20.
HC–B. Schmidt 4 run (B. Schmidt kick), 10:51.
BG–Yasulitis 3 run (McGhee kick), 8:06.
HC–McCracken 7 run (run failed), 2:23.
RUSHING: Homer-Center–Lee 27-130, McCracken 20-111, B. Schmidt 5-14, TEAM 2-(-4). Bishop Guilfoyle–Yasulitis 15-30, Berish 8-38, M. Conrad 1-4, Fanelli 1-2.
PASSING: Homer-Center–B. Schmidt 4-7-0-28. Bishop Guilfoyle–M. Conrad 14-21-1-190, Yasulitis 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING: Homer-Center–Alcon 1-5, Mogle 1-12, Miles 1-4, Hill 1-7. Bishop Guilfoyle–Potopa 4-44, Yasulitis 3-48, Berish 3-41, Berkheimer 4-57.
INTERCEPTIONS: Homer-Center–Miles. Bishop Guilfoyle–none.
TEAM STATISTICS HC BG
First downs 13 12
Rushes-yards 54-251 25-74
Passing (comp.-att.-int.) 4-7-0 14-22-1
Yards passing 28 190
Total yards 279 264
Fumbles-lost 1-0 1-1
Penalties-yards 2-20 4-47
Punts-avg. 2-37.0 2-38.0