Linemen Kamal Harrison, Arick Lochetto, and Omar Speights are among the current Imhotep Charter players who remember feeling empty inside as they departed HersheyPark Stadium last year.
The Panthers were on their way to claiming a second consecutive state football championship when Erie's Cathedral Prep mustered a fourth-quarter rally, scored 18 unanswered points in just four minutes, and claimed top Class 4A honors with a 27-20 victory.
Imhotep (12-1) will get a shot at redemption when it clashes with District 10's Cathedral Prep (13-0) in the final for the third straight year at 7 p.m. Thursday. The Panthers blasted the Ramblers, 40-3, to capture the 2015 Class 3A title.
Cathedral Prep, which has reached Hershey for the fourth time in the last six seasons, has outscored foes by 623-154.
"I think we're going in as the underdog," said Nick Lincoln, Imhotep's first-year coach. "But we've faced some adversity, which might give us an advantage."
Last Friday, hours before they dealt District 11's Bethlehem Catholic a 34-14 semifinal defeat, the Panthers learned that do-everything senior captain and Penn State recruit Isheem Young was charged with robbing a South Philadelphia Wawa.
Lincoln has tried his best to keep his players from being distracted by the all the talk surrounding Young's arrest.
"The good thing is, making it back to the final is something the kids have been working toward all year," he said. "It's like the third round of a heavyweight fight. They know what's at stake."
Cathedral Prep is ignited on offense by 6-foot, 185-pound quarterback Joe Mischler, running backs Billy Lucas and Matthew Lupo, and receivers Tyler Oedekoven and Terry Roberts.
Mischler, an Ohio University recruit and the son of Ramblers coach Mike Mischler, has completed 153 of 240 passes for 3,057 yards and 37 touchdowns. "He's very talented, is an accurate thrower on the run," Lincoln said.
Lucas turned 14 carries into 268 yards and five scores in last Saturday's 42-24 semifinal win over District 3's Berks Catholic. For the season, the junior has rushed 116 times for 1,009 yards and 19 TDs.
"He's pretty fast, runs hard through the hole," Lincoln said. "They try to get him the ball in different ways."
Oedekoven and Roberts have combined to make 87 catches for 2,237 yards and 24 scores.
Without Young, Imhotep could use another stellar effort from junior two-way back Tykee Smith. He rushed for 235 yards and five touchdowns against Bethlehem Catholic.
"Like I said before, the kids have to take a next-man-up approach, rally around each other, and play as hard as possible," Lincoln said.
Imhotep Charter (12-1) vs. Cathedral Prep (13-0)
Thursday, 7 p.m., at HersheyPark Stadium.
Dangerous. Imhotep has speedy ballcarriers in Tykee Smith, Carl Jones, Khadarius Sampson, and Saint McLeod.
Successful boss. Mike Mischler has compiled a 171-39 record (.814 winning percentage) in 16 seasons with the Ramblers.
Aerial attack. Imhotep QB Jalen Sutton-Christian's main targets are Yusuf Terry, Melvin Chappell, and Anthony Gordon.
Stalwart. Cathedral Prep's Matt Bauer, a 6-3, 220-pound senior linebacker, has committed to Notre Dame.
Up front. The Panthers' offensive line is anchored by center Marlon Westcott (6-2, 300), left guard Arick Lochetto (5-11, 250), and left tackle Michael Statham (6-6, 300).
PSU recruit. Ramblers senior two-way lineman Fredrick "Juice" Scruggs (6-4, 270) is bound for Penn State.