Despite its impressive play in three playoff games, including emphatic victories in the last two outings, Garnet Valley retains its underdog tag going into Friday's PIAA Class 6A state quarterfinal against North Penn.
And that's fine with the upstart Jaguars.
"It always helps to be the underdog," longtime Garnet Valley coach Mike Ricci said. "It's a role we've grown to like."
Looking to prove the skeptics wrong again, the Jaguars will clash with the Knights (13-0) at 7 p.m. at Crawford Stadium in Lansdale.
In a contest that also determines the District 1 champion, the survivor will advance to face either District 12's St. Joseph's Prep or District 11's Parkland in a state semifinal next weekend.
Garnet Valley last captured a district crown, at the Class 3A level, in 2007; North Penn claimed six 4A district crowns from 2002 to 2011 and reached the final in two of the last three seasons.
"They're spectacular every year," Ricci said. "They're big. They're strong, and they're well-coached."
With its triple-option offense, the Jaguars racked up an astounding 425 rushing yards on 63 attempts in last week's 44-27 defeat of previously undefeated Perkiomen Valley.
The spark plugs in the run-happy scheme are quarterback Nick Juliano and running backs Matt Lassik (34 carries for 235 yards and four touchdowns vs. Perkiomen Valley), Jacob Buttermore, and Danny Guy.
The Jaguars, who have won seven straight since a 34-28 overtime loss to Central League rival Haverford High, have attempted only five passes in their last two outings.
North Penn features a balanced attack with standout quarterback Reece Udinski at the controls and halfback Nick Dillon, fresh off a four-TD performance in a 42-25 win over Coatesville, as the go-to rusher.
Udinski has completed 182 of 304 passes for 3,367 yards and 32 scores. "He's outstanding," Ricci said. "He's a real talented player."
Udinski's primary targets are Ricky Johns (47 catches for 1,005 yards, seven TDs), Justis Henley (41 for 763, seven) and Jake Hubler (33 for 738, five).
Against the undefeated Knights, who average 41 points per game, Garnet Valley needs a stellar defensive effort to prevail.
Its leaders on that side of the ball are end Chad Hrivniak, tackles Rob Monachello and Joe Thomas, linebacker Dom Bertone, and cornerback Denny Nealon. Hrivniak (13) and Monachello (11) have combined for 24 sacks.
North Penn's swarming defense is anchored by tackles Owen Verespy and Zach Lavalla, end Nick Vasger, linebackers Johns and Owen Thomas, and backs Henley and Huber.
Garnet Valley (11-2) at North Penn (13-0), Friday, 7 p.m.
The Knights' run stuffers answer the challenge, and Udinski fires at least two TD passes.
Pick: North Penn, 38-21.
Academy Park (12-1) at Springfield-Delco (12-1), Friday, 7 p.m.
The speedy Knights must keep a close eye on red-hot Cougars receiver Joe Kennedy.
Pick: Springfield, 20-14.
Imhotep (11-0) vs. North Pocono (10-3), Friday, 7 p.m. at Northern Lehigh.
The Trojans' Matt Craig has run for 1,434 yards and 26 TDs. He totaled 188 yards and two scores last week vs. Scranton.
Pick: Imhotep, 38-6.
Archbishop Wood (8-2-1) vs. Whitehall (9-4), Friday, 7 p.m. at Northampton.
Zephyrs senior QB Zach Gilbert's primary target is explosive junior wideout Dezmond Boykin.
Pick: Wood, 49-21.
Parkland (10-3) vs. St. Joseph's Prep (13-0), Saturday, 1 p.m. at Northeast.
The Trojans don't have the same offensive weapons they did in last year's drive to the 4A state final.
Pick: St. Joe's, 35-13.
Del-Val Charter (8-4) vs. Notre Dame-Green Pond (11-2), Saturday, 1 p.m. at Bethlehem Liberty.
The Crusaders have a solid one-two punch in QB Cole DeFranco (2,693 passing yards, 24 TDs) and halfback Mitch Daniel (991 rushing yards, 18 TDs).
Notre Dame, 26-12.