The Fighting Irish are healthy and anxiously awaiting Friday night's District 3-A semifinal showdown with Steelton-Highspire.
The York Catholic High School football team has known its District 3-A semifinal opponent for nearly two weeks.
Now — finally — the Fighting Irish know they’re just days away from finally stepping on the field across from Steel-High, with a shot to make it back to their third consecutive Class A title game.
While the other three classes in District 3 got their playoffs started last Friday night, Class A had the week off, a product of only having a four-team field. That presented an interesting wrinkle for the four programs that qualified for the Class A playoffs. They prepared all week, but did not have a game on Friday night, while the rest of the playoffs commenced.
York Catholic, which enters the playoffs as the No. 3 seed in Class A with a 5-5 record, is used to it. This is the third straight year the Fighting Irish have made the district playoffs, so they know how to approach the two-week layoff leading up to Friday’s game against the Rollers, and they use it to their advantage.
“Sometimes when you’re banged up with injuries, it gives you that extra time to heal and that kind of helps us this year,” York Catholic head coach Eric Depew said. “We had a couple guys dealing with some things that have been lingering all season and now had that extra week to kind of relax and get better.”
While that’s certainly an advantage to the extra week off, there’s also a downside.
“Technically, the downside could be, if things are really rolling for you, to have that week off could slow you down a little bit,” Depew added.
In the case of the Fighting Irish, they’re hoping it’s more of the former than the latter. York Catholic did battle some nagging injuries throughout the season, including an ankle injury to Jakkar Kinard, the York-Adams League rushing champion. At the same time, the team is hoping the layoff doesn’t disrupt the team’s winning ways. York Catholic enters the postseason after winning of four of its last five games. That followed a 1-4 start.
So, while last week was a light workload designated to get healthy — the team only practiced Tuesday through Thursday — this week is back to normal for the Fighting Irish.
York Catholic was back at it preparing for Steel-High on Monday and practiced every day leading up to Friday’s game. Much like the Fighting Irish, the Rollers began the year extremely slow, winning once in their first six games. But, the team finished strong, going 4-0 down the stretch to finish 5-5 and earn the No. 2 seed in the Class A tournament.
In addition, Steel-High's record may not reflect the quality of the team. A number of its early-season losses came against high-quality opponents and much larger schools. When the first District 3 power ratings came out after Week 6 of the season, the Rollers were the third-rated team in Class A, despite owning a 1-5 record because of their strength of schedule. Depew knows not to judge a team by its record, especially one such as Steel-High.
“They’re going to be a tough football team,” Depew said. “They got some athletes that can cause a lot of issues. I think they’re similar to last year’s team. ...They have a lot of weapons, they’re athletic, they’re physical and we’re just going to have to bring our best game.”
York Catholic is the only program to make it to the District 3-A final game the last two seasons and is in the running to make it a third straight. It would certainly be a nice way to send out the senior class, especially if this Friday’s game could be the first step in finally breaking through and winning a district crown.
Despite everything that’s at stake at this point in the season, Depew said his team hasn’t shown any signs of potentially cracking under the heavy weight of pressure.
“We seem excited. We seem loose,” he said. “Sometimes it’s hard to get a judge on what’s going on, but I think they’re definitely excited and definitely ready. They know what’s at stake and the opportunity they have. The senior class has an opportunity to get through this game and be in the finals three years in a row. (That) would be a nice little way to end your senior year.”
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow on Twitter @P_Strohecker