When Lancaster Catholic kicker Geoffrey Arentz sailed an extra point wide and left with West Catholic down by two points late in the fourth quarter, a hot Burrs offense had 56 seconds and two time-outs to reach field-goal range.
But West Catholic came up short yesterday on a failed hook-and-lateral play on fourth down and fell to District 3 champion Lancaster Catholic, 23-21, in the PIAA Class AA state semifinal at Coatesville High. The Burrs were facing a fourth and 15 from their own 48-yard line on their last offensive play.
"It's sad," said West Catholic coach Brian Fluck, who is now 96-47 in 11 seasons with the Burrs. "That's the first time we lost in this type of playoff format [before the championship game], and we thought we had a shot to get there again and enjoy Hershey next week. But we just didn't come to it."
West Catholic finished 12-3. Lancaster Catholic (14-1) will play Greensburg Central Catholic for the Class AA title at HersheyPark Stadium on Saturday.
The Burrs found out that a four-point lead was not enough against the state's all-time leader in passing yardage and passing touchdowns. Lancaster Catholic senior quarterback Kyle Smith engineered a 12-play, 72-yard drive and hit wide receiver Kevin Cotchen for the 9-yard game-winning touchdown with 1 minute, 1 second to play.
After trailing by 10-7 at halftime, West Catholic took its first lead with 1 minute, 56 seconds remaining in the third quarter, when senior quarterback Jarred Evans capped a 10-minute, 17-play, 71-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown run.
Lancaster Catholic, with strong fan support in the stands, regained the lead, 17-14, on running back Jordan Stewart's 2-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter. But a 49-yard touchdown dash by Burrs tailback Brandon Hollomon (15 carries, 87 yards, 1 TD) put West back on top, 21-17, with 7:31 remaining in the fourth.
Lancaster Catholic's Smith, however, wasn't quite finished. He was 9 for 13 passing for 165 yards and the winning score, and rushed four times for 32 yards and a TD. Smith both won the game and set the state single-season record for touchdown passes (50) with his toss to Cotchen on the left side of the end zone.
"That last drive they had, I give them major props on that," said West Catholic defensive end Jim Lynch, who also caught four passes for 41 yards and a touchdown. "I have no words for that. It was a good drive. They deserved it."
Smith's career passing statistics, both state records, are now 8,510 yards and 118 touchdowns.
With the victory, Lancaster Catholic gained revenge for West Catholic's 37-14 defeat of the Crusaders in last year's semifinals at Northeast High School.
West Catholic advanced to the semifinal this year by shutting out District 2 champion Dunmore, 13-0, in the first round, and beating District 11 titlist North Schuylkill, 19-14, in the quarterfinals.
"Ever since last year we said we were going to end up playing these boys again," said Stewart, Lancaster Catholic's running back, who gained 64 yards on 13 carries and scored. "We wanted to prepare, we wanted to practice, and we came out here and came out with the win, baby. This is all we wanted right here."
Evans, West's senior transfer quarterback from Holy Cross in Flushing, N.Y., completed 11 of 16 passes for 130 yards and a TD, and rushed six times for 11 yards and another score. But the Burrs fell short of the state title game, which they lost in a heartbreaker to Wilmington Area, 35-34, in double overtime last season.
"Even though I wasn't down here last year to see the states and how they lost by a yard, I felt their pain, you know, I felt their pain," Evans said, "and I just started crying, really."
Lancaster Catholic scored first on a 20-yard Smith scramble, and West's offense started slowly with two three-and-outs.
But after holding the Crusaders to a 22-yard Arentz field goal with 6:49 remaining in the first half, the Burrs' defense, led by senior defensive tackle Jake Zuzek, became the catalyst for a Burrs comeback.
Lynch blocked a 39-yard Lancaster Catholic field-goal attempt to hold the Crusaders' lead at 10-0. Meanwhile, on offense, he caught a 13-yard pass from Evans for West's first first down of the game.
Five plays after the Burrs' biggest gain of the half - a 40-yard bomb from Evans to wideout Quran Kent on third and 17 from West's 40-yard line - Lynch caught a 10-yard touchdown pass to narrow Lancaster Catholic's lead to 10-7 with 31 seconds remaining in the half.
West carried the three-point deficit into the break when Lynch dropped Smith to end the half as Lancaster Catholic looked for a desperation heave.
Lancaster Catholic 7 3 0 13 - 23
West Catholic 0 7 7 7 - 21
LC: Kyle Smith 20 run (Geoffrey Arentz kick)
LC: FG Arentz 22
WC: Jim Lynch 10 pass from Jarred Evans (Tim Carroll kick)
WC: Evans 5 run (Carroll kick)
LC: Jordan Stewart 2 run (Arentz kick)
WC: Brandon Hollomon 49 run (Carroll kick)