KINTNERSVILLE, Pa. - After West Catholic's 19-14 victory over North Schuylkill yesterday, Burrs coach Brian Fluck didn't keep his players around long. The wind was blowing into everyone's face and the snow stung a little more without a helmet on.
Some of the Burrs threw snowballs at teammates, and a portion of the huddle was already edging away from their coach before Fluck let them go. And then the entire West Catholic football team began a mad dash to the bus.
The Burrs survived the wind, the snow, and the undefeated Spartans in a PIAA Class AA state quarterfinal at Palisades High School.
West Catholic (11-2), winners of nine in a row, will face Lancaster Catholic in the Class AA semifinals at a time and site to be determined. It's a rematch of the state semifinal from last season, a 37-14 West Catholic victory.
The Burrs' only two losses are to the two other District 12 teams still alive in the postseason - La Salle and Archbishop Wood. The goal of returning to Hershey for the state championship is still alive, mostly because the Burrs didn't let the snow completely ruin their day.
"It was freezing," Burrs quarterback Jarred Evans said. "But I liked it. It was fun."
It was fun because North Schuylkill (13-1) basically handed West Catholic 13 points. The Spartans turned the ball over three times, and two turnovers led directly to West Catholic touchdowns.
On the first play of the second quarter, West Catholic's Kevin Malone intercepted a tipped screen pass thrown by North Schuylkill's Tom Ferrari and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown, giving the Burrs the lead for the first time, 13-7.
And just before the end of the first half, Ferrari's pitch to Scott Houser was fumbled and recovered by Burrs lineman John Ruppert. On the next play, West Catholic fullback Brian Mosby ran 20 yards untouched to the end zone for a 19-7 halftime lead.
That was the final score of the day for West Catholic, but thanks to an opportunistic defense and a little help from the defense-friendly weather conditions, it was all the Burrs needed.
"That's the major difference in this type of game," Fluck said. "Whoever has the most turnovers usually loses the game. They had a couple turnovers - the one right before the half, that helped us out a lot."
West Catholic turned the ball over just once, an Evans interception on the first drive of the second half. North Schuylkill scored on the ensuing drive with a 2-yard touchdown run by Ed Pavalko, allowing the Spartans to narrow the West Catholic lead to 19-14. But those were the last points the Burrs allowed.
In the fourth quarter, the defense withstood many North Schuylkill chances. After converting a fourth down, North Schuylkill faced another early in the final quarter. On fourth and 12, Ferrari threw a prayer toward the end zone and a West Catholic defensive back grabbed the Spartans receiver. It was a needless pass interference penalty because the ball was underthrown and probably uncatchable.
But even given a new set of downs, North Schuylkill couldn't solve the Burrs' defense. West Catholic forced a fourth and 22 and this time didn't commit pass interference on a long desperation toss with 8:47 left in the game.
On the next Spartans drive, West Catholic linebacker Dante Dickens stuffed tailback Cody Flail for a 3-yard loss on third down. Then, on fourth down, junior defensive end Jim Lynch forced an incomplete pass with pressure on the quarterback.
"When there's conditions like this, the defense came up big in this game," Evans said. "They worked their asses off. They did their thing and I'm proud of them."
The final West Catholic stand came after a punt that resulted in a 16-yard loss after it was partially blocked. On the Burrs' 28-yard line and needing a touchdown to win with 1:29 left, Ferrari threw four straight incompletions.
Fluck watched his players sprint to the bus for warmth after his brief postgame speech. The coach was in no hurry. He stayed on the field, shook a few more hands, and spoke with an assistant coach.
West Catholic had survived the elements.
"The team came together," Fluck said. "In this type of weather, anything can happen. Sometimes, we're not built for this weather. But we stepped it up."
West Catholic 7 12 0 0 - 19
North Schuylkill 7 0 7 0 - 14
NS: Flail 8 run (Hutnick kick)
WC: Kent 76 pass from Evans (Carroll kick)
WC: Malone 41 interception return (Kick missed)
WC: Mosby 20 run (Pass failed)
NS: Pavalko 2 run (Hutnick kick)