Despite losing electrifying multipurpose standout Desmon Peoples to injury, Archbishop Wood is still standing.
Wood's Vikings are in the Class AAA Eastern final for the third straight year. This time, it's Allentown Central Catholic, also the Vikings, that stands between the Catholic League champions and a Week 16 date with the West's survivor at HersheyPark Stadium.
As was the case last year, when Wood ran into District 4's Selinsgrove and fell by 28-0, it's a huge speed bump.
Central Catholic of District 11 enters Friday's state semifinal, set for 7 p.m. at Frank Banko Field in Bethlehem, with a 14-0 record. The Vikings have outscored foes by a combined score of 586-196.
"They're very good," Wood coach Steve Devlin said. "They're well-coached, disciplined, explosive on offense, and they get after you on defense."
The catalyst for a Central Catholic offense averaging 42 points a game is junior quarterback Brendon Nosovitch. The 6-foot-3, 190-pounder, a Division I recruit, has connected on 154 of 263 passes for 2,457 yards and 37 touchdowns. He has also rushed 170 times for 1,417 yards and 20 touchdowns.
"He's quick, has a strong arm, is poised in the pocket," Devlin said. "He's the whole package. We're going to be tested in a big way."
Nosovitch's favorite target is wideout Kevin Gulyas, a 6-1, 180-pound junior. He has 64 catches for 1,070 yards and 17 TDs.
In defending Allentown Central Catholic's spread attack, Wood cornerbacks Michael Downs and Anthony Roakes, strong safety Kyle Adkins, and free safety Joey Monaghan will also have to keep a close eye on wideouts Jack Sandherr (25 catches for 379 yards, 5 touchdowns) and Jalen Snyder-Scipio (20 for 267, 3) and tight end Shane McNeely (20 for 311, 6).
Central Catholic's go-to runner is sophomore tailback Colin McDermott, who has carried 225 times for 1,651 yards and 16 TDs. He rushed for 279 yards and three scores in a 55-20 quarterfinal rout of District 9's Clearfield.
Central Catholic's 3-3 stack defense, yielding an average of 14 points per game, is headed by a solid linebacking corps that includes McNeely (66 tackles), Ted Airoldi (60), G.B. Harkins (55), Sandherr (38), and McDermott (17).
Wood (13-0) will counter with a stout offensive line that sparked a 24-14 quarterfinal win over District 1 champ Strath Haven. Junior tailback Brandon Peoples, filling in for his cousin Desmon, rushed for a career-high 234 yards against Strath Haven.
"There's not a whole lot of drop-off there," Allentown Central Catholic coach Harold Fairclough said. "He runs hard, is very physical, and he's tough to bring down. He's a complete back."
We think Wood's defense needs another year of seasoning to be able to handle Nosovitch and company.
Pick: Allentown Central Catholic, 27-17.
Like Wood, West Catholic is in position to reach the state final for the second time in three years. The Burrs (11-2) take on District 4's Lewisburg (14-0) in a Class AA semifinal 1 p.m. Saturday at HersheyPark Stadium.
This is new territory for the Green Dragons, who have won by a combined score of 460-178. With a wing-T scheme, they are averaging 266 rushing yards per game.
Lewisburg has a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in junior Merle Moscarello (178 carries for 1,423 yards, 9 TDs) and senior Nate Brown (181 for 1,314, 26). Junior QB Camden Cassels has hit on 76 of 136 throws for 1,153 yards.
In a 31-21 quarterfinal win over District 3's Trinity, the Green Dragons forced four turnovers, totaled 283 yards on offense, and recorded 11 first downs.
It's been a great run for Lewisburg, but we think the Cinderella ride is over. As they proved in last week's 55-14 rout of Northern Lehigh, the Burrs know how to stuff the run.
Pick: West, 34-14.