On Friday night, when Archbishop Wood takes on Harrisburg's Bishop McDevitt for state football honors at the Class AAA level, it will mark Mike Carey's eighth coaching appearance in a state championship.
The way Carey talked Wednesday, before a second-to-last full practice, one would think it was his first trip.
"It's a dream come true," Wood's defensive coordinator and offensive-line coach said. "I really feel blessed. I'm going to try to savor this experience as much as possible. I want to take in the aura, the spectators in Hershey, everything."
As Mike Pettine's righthand man during Central Bucks West's dynasty days, Carey helped guide the Bucks to four Class AAAA titles: in 1991, '97, '98, and '99.
He has also known the deflated feeling that comes with earning a berth in the state final and then coming up short of the ultimate goal.
In 1993, as a C.B. West assistant, the Bucks fell to LaVar Arrington and North Hills, 15-14, in Altoona. "We went up there with a bunch of underclassmen and we had one of the country's top-ranked teams on the ropes," Carey said.
Seven years later, after taking the reigns from Pettine, major anguish came when the squad's bid for a 15-0 season - and the program's 60th consecutive victory - was denied by Erie's Cathedral Prep.
Cathedral Prep, gaining a measure of revenge for a gut-wrenching loss to the Bucks the year before and a 1991 defeat, prevailed, 41-35, in overtime at Hersheypark Stadium. Carey resigned, after only one season as boss, a month later.
"I can still picture our players sprawled on the turf, devastated by what had happened," he said. "It's a real tough thing to stomach. Unfortunately, you're remembered by what you do last. That's just the way it is."
Carey got a chance to exorcise the demons from the 2000 final when he joined Dick Beck's staff, in the same role he now has with the Vikings, at North Penn.
In 2003, the Knights, who Saturday night will take on Central Dauphin for the Class AAAA crown, capped a 15-0 season with a 37-10 thrashing of Pittsburgh Central Catholic.
Carey and Beck played at C.B. West before moving on to the University of Pittsburgh and Temple, respectively. "There's no doubt that Mike Pettine's influence had a huge effect on us," Carey said.
With Carey as coordinator, Wood's first-team defense has been all but impenetrable since a Week 1 loss.
"I'm not ready to anoint this group as the best defense I've ever coached," he said. "There's still one more rung on the ladder. If we win it all, I'll be the first one touting their accomplishments."
Carey said he and Steve Devlin, Wood's fifth-year coach, have developed a solid working relationship.
"It's been really, really great," Carey said. "Steve is letting me doing my thing on defense, and he's added some real nice observations during the year."
Carey stepped away at C.B. West and North Penn to spend more time with wife Bev and the couple's four daughters. He decided to join the Vikings last year because he "missed the interaction with the kids and the competition."
With his children gone from the nest, Carey, who owns four restaurants in Bucks County and is involved in two other businesses, is leaving the door open to taking charge elsewhere.
"I'm energized, feel great about coaching," he said. "If the right situation would arise, it's something I'd entertain."
This season's talent-filled squad has deepened his passion for drawing up Xs and Os.
"It's been a great run," he said. "I think we have a heckuva team. They like each other, work their butts off, and all 50 kids are important. There's just one hurdle left."