The Garnet Valley High football team could very well get a good look at what it's like to face itself tonight, when it meets District 3 champion Lampeter-Strasburg, in the PIAA Class AAA Eastern Finals at Hersheypark Stadium (7 p.m).
The Jaguars (12-1), two-time defending District 1 champions, have come back in successive weeks to reach this point. They've done it with defense, especially in the red zone, and a four-back, multifaceted offense that attacks in many directions.
The Pioneers (12-2) enter the game on their best defensive stretch this season - and they also have a multidimensional offense, using a three-headed running attack, featuring Justin Taylor and Joe Good.
"Quite honestly, the closest team we've seen to Garnet Valley this year is probably ourselves," said Lampeter-Strasburg coach John Manion, whose team has achieved school records for victories in a season, its first district title, plus the first postseason game in school history. "We run three backs, they run three, plus their quarterback. We both play 4-4 styles on defense, so the similarities are scary.
"But I think they will have the size compared to us, but overall, they're built on team play and speed, just like us."
The Jags turned back a very large, aggressive West Scranton team last weekend in the state quarterfinals, winning 27-22, after being down 9-0 before they ran their first offensive play. Manion saw that game, and came away highly impressed by Garnet Valley.
"They didn't give up, and their defense is very capable, they seem to give up some yards, but they won't let you in the end zone without a fight," Manion said. "They have poise, tremendous poise, and we won't try to rattle that poise."
Good scored three times in Lampeter-Strasburg's 35-21 victory over Gettysburg in the Class AAA semifinals, while Taylor has rushed for close to 1,500 yards.
"They have a couple of big-play backs, two very scary backs who can score from anywhere on the field," Garnet Valley coach Mike Ricci said. "Defensively, we'll need to contain those guys. They have a very athletic, very fast and aggressive defense. They are run-oriented, like us. We'll need to be very disciplined. They run a lot of counters and misdirection. My concern is if either of their backs get a step on us, they score from anywhere."
Getting off to a good start also will be important. The Jags were faced with early deficits in successive weeks against Pottsgrove, in the District 1 Class AAA championship game, and last week against West Scranton. It's a situation they would like to avoid tonight.
"We've always responded to adversity calmly, and we've always been able to find some keys that have opened up the game for us," Garnet Valley senior quarterback Eric Van Wyk said. "I think our strongest point is that we're not centered on just one player to carry us. We have a lot of threats on this team. It's the kind of offense that you're confident with anyone carrying the ball. There is trust involved. I believe in everyone around me." *