Cardinal O'Hara won its first Catholic League championship this season since 2004 and completed its first undefeated PCL regular season since 1985.
The Lions (10-0, 6-0) beat West Catholic on Oct. 28 to clinch the Blue division title and then beat Bonner-Prendergast Nov. 5 in the Class 4A finale.
On Saturday at 5 p.m. at the Benjamin Johnston Supersite in Germantown, O'Hara faces its stiffest test this season in the 4A District 12 championship - also a first-round PIAA state playoff game - against Imhotep, a team that hasn't played a game decided by one score since it beat Archbishop Wood, 20-14, in the 3A district title game last season.
Since 2013, the Panthers, the defending PIAA 3A champs, have played in just five games decided by one score or less, amassing a 49-5 record during that span. This season, Imhotep has only allowed 27 total points.
The moral of the story for the Lions: stick around early and make something happen late.
Quarterback Tommy O'Hara, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound senior, is among the offensive leaders for the Lions, who enter the game averaging 27.6 points per game. O'Hara was also voted the Blue division's most valuable player by league coaches.
On the ground, the Lions like to run behind Des Holmes, a 6-foot-6, 320-pound offensive lineman and Penn State recruit who was also a first-team all-Catholic selection this season. Senior center Ryan Harlow, a 6-foot, 210-pounder was also a first-team selection.
Junior wide receiver Justin Santilla is likely the Lions most proficient playmaker. Santilla, a 5-foot-10, 170-pound junior, owns 11 receiving touchdowns and another score from an interception return. He is the Lions' final offensive first-team selection.
Defensively, Senior lineman Stephon Brown, junior linebacker Jamir Redd and senior defensive Jack Gibson are the Lions' first-teamers.
Keys for the Lions: Keep the score close early, hang around late, force turnovers and keep Imhotep's defense off balance by establishing early success running the ball.
State Class 2A first round: West Catholic vs. Schuylkill Haven, Saturday, 1 p.m., at Northern Lehigh High
West Catholic has dominated its last two opponents, 123-15, since losing to O'Hara in the PCL playoffs.
Last week, the Burrs (7-5, 4-2) bounced Valley Forge Military Academy, 58-7, and manhandled Strawberry Mansion, 65-8, before that.
District 11 No. 1 seed Schuylkill Haven (11-1) could provide a more competitive challenge. The Hurricanes have averaged 41.5 points per game this season while allowing just 8.7 points per contest. For the Hurricanes, offensive success comes almost exclusively from the running game.
Senior quarterback Danny Lozada, a 5-foot-9, 165-pounder has thrown just 41 passes this season, according to MaxPreps. He has, however, rushed 116 times for 1,027 yards (85.6 yards per game) and 14 touchdowns. Mike Kalyan, a 5-foot-9, 215-pound senior, owns 1,012 yards and 18 ground tallies. Preston Gehring, a 5-foot-7, 145-pound senior (681 yards and 11 touchdowns) and freshman back, Kobe Brish, a 5-foot-9, 180-pounder (738 yards, nine touchdowns), are the other rushers of note.
Defensively for the Burrs, Calvin Pressley and Supreme Kemp earned first-team All-Catholic honors. Jacir Savoy, a sophomore, is a defensive playmaker in the secondary who leads the team with two interceptions.
Keys for the Burrs: Limit turnovers and penalties on both sides of the ball. Both have been costly problems at various times this season. Find running room for dangerous wide receivers Amadou Barry, a first-team selection who led the team with 11 receiving touchdowns and Ahmad Kent, who has seven.
State Class 3A first round: Conwell-Egan vs. Del-Val, Saturday, 1 p.m., at the Benjamin Johnston Supersite in Germantown
This Class 3A subregional final is actually a rematch of the 3A District 12 championship game. Despite not having its top two rushers on the season, Conwell-Egan (8-3, 4-2) surprised Del-Val, 14-12.
This weekend, the Eagles could have their full complement of rushers back. Sophomore Patrick Garwo, the team's leading rusher with 689 yards, has missed the last two games because of an injury. Kyree Bronson, a senior, missed the Del-Val game because of a one-game suspension after he was ejected from C-E's previous game. He rushed for 96 yards in a 42-18 win against KIPP DuBois last week.
Both backs are first-team all-Catholic selections.
Defensively, Keanan Baines, Danny Bentley and Kendall Jones are the other first-teamers for the Eagles.
Baines, is a 6-foot-3, 300-pound defensive end who ended Del-Val's chances with a strip-sack-fumble on the Warriors' final offensive play. Bentley is a linebacker who also rushed for 71 yards against Del-Val. Jones is also the Eagles starting quarterback and has thrown for 630 yards and seven touchdowns and rushed for 306 yards and two more scores.
Keys for the Eagles: Establish success on the ground early and limit Del-Val's big plays on offense.
State Class 5A first round: Archbishop Wood vs. Simon Gratz, Saturday, 1 p.m., at Northeast
This game also serves as the 5A District 12 title game.
Since losing, 43-24, to St. Joseph's Prep earlier this season, Archbishop Wood has steamrolled its competition. On Saturday, it will face the defending Public League champion, Simon Gratz.
The Vikings have averaged 35.2 points per game since the Sept. 16 loss to the Hawks and have only allowed 10 points per contest. Senior running backs Raheem "Speedy" Blackshear (678) and Shawn Thompson (751) have combined for 1,429 rushing yards this season. Both were first-team All-Catholic selections, and both also have 10 rushing touchdowns apiece.
Wood sophomore quarterback Jack Colyar has thrown for 1,357 yards and 13 touchdowns, while 6-foot-3, 200-pound senior wide out Mark Webb, a Georgia commit, owns four touchdown catches.
Defensively, senior lineman Anthony Diodato, junior linebacker Matt Palmer and junior defensive back Nasir Peoples were also first-team selections (Diodato was also selected first- team as an offensive lineman).
Keys for the Vikings: Utilize the ground game to set up the passing game on offense as Wood has done all season. On defense, the Vikings will also need to key on Gratz quarterback Amir Gillis, who is responsible for the bulk of the Bulldogs running and passing yardage.
State Class 6A first round: Northeast vs. St. Joseph's Prep, Saturday, 5p.m., at Northeast
This is also the District 12 6A title game.
St. Joseph's Prep might just be the best team in the state, if not one of the nation's best. After La Salle knocked them off last season, the Hawks have embarked upon a journey toward a third PIAA championship in four seasons.
On Saturday, Northeast, the 6A Public League champion presents a unique challenge because the Vikings' offense relies heavily on the run. The Prep (10-0, 6-0) recently relinquished 163 yards and two scores to La Salle's Syaire Madden, who was named the Catholic League Red division's most valuable player by league coaches.
Northeast's single-wing attack is run by seniors Amir Paulk and Keith Moore, and junior Dan Scott, the team's leading rusher.
Running the ball, however, is the Hawks' specialty. Georgia-bound D'Andre Swift, is one of the nation's top talents. Despite not playing at all in two games, missing most of a win against Archbishop Wood and not carrying the ball at all in two other contests, Swift owns 745 yards, 14 ground tallies and five receiving scores.
Mack Grey and Jackson Evans, both seniors, are both first-team offensive linemen for the Prep. Swift and senior wide out Terrance Greene, and junior quarterback Marquez McCray are the other first-team offensive players for the Prep.
Seniors James Johnson and Richard Carr, a linebacker and defensive back, respectively, along with junior lineman Ryan Bryce are the Hawks' first-team defensive players.
Keys for the Hawks: Dominate both lines of scrimmage and continue to spread the offense around, as has been the Hawks' offensive custom for the last few years.