The Fighting Irish are looking to end a 32-year District 3-A title drought and avenge last year's championship game loss to the Lions.
The York Catholic football team isn't thinking about revenge.
Nor does it think that it's a mere coincidence that it'll take on Camp Hill for the second straight year in Friday's District 3-A football championship game. Instead, the players and coaches expected this rematch to happen all along. They believe the two best teams in Class A are squaring off for the district title at Hersheypark Stadium for the second consecutive year.
"I don't think it's a coincidence," Fighting Irish senior Joe Bauhof said. "I think we're the two best teams in the district. But, Coach (Eric Depew) never talks about revenge. That's not what's on our minds. It's just another game and we're just trying to do whatever it takes to come out on top."
2014 result: Last year, the two teams faced each other in the same game, in the same stadium, with the same stakes on the line, and provided a thrilling shootout. The two sides traded touchdowns through the first three quarters, going into the final 12 minutes deadlocked at 42-42. But, it was Camp Hill which broke it open in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Fighting Irish 21-7 in the final frame and capturing the 63-49 victory and the Class A title.
York Catholic didn't forget that game and the Irish knew that if they made it back to the championship game this year, the Lions would likely be the team on the other side of field.
"We left a bad taste in our mouths, losing to them at the end of a special season," senior Luke Brennan said. "That's been our talk ever since that game, is we want to get back in this game and that they'd be here too, most likely, so we're looking for it to be a nice rematch."
High-flying attack: While it's two different seasons, last year's match-up should give the Fighting Irish an idea of how Camp Hill likes to play. The 63 points it put up in the championship game wasn't an anomaly last year and the Lions' high-flying offense hasn't dipped too much this year, either.
In 2015, Camp Hill scored 448 points in its 11 games, an average of 40.7 per game. In the first three games of the year, the Lions hit 56 points every time, thanks in large part to two of the best skill-position players, not just in the state, but the entire country.
The quarterback-tight end combination of Michael Shuster and Zack Kuntz is one of the most lethal in the state. Shuster, who's a preferred walk-on recruit at the University of Michigan for next season, has thrown for 2,302 yards and 30 touchdowns, while also adding a running element to his game, carrying the ball 89 times for 659 yards. It's little secret that his favorite target is Kuntz, a 6-foot, 7-inch tight end, who is the top-rated tight end in the country for the class of 2018. He's linked up with Shuster 42 times this year for 725 yards and 11 touchdowns. Despite being just a sophomore, York Catholic knows what Kuntz is capable of. After all, the Irish saw him reel in 191 yards and two touchdowns on eight receptions in last year's championship game as just a freshman.
So, it's no surprise that the Fighting Irish's main focus heading into the game is on the defensive side of the ball, trying to, not only hold Shuster and Kuntz at bay, but the entire Camp Hill offense.
"In the playoffs, defense is probably one of your biggest focuses," Depew said. "They have a lot of the same kids back and we know what kind of capability they have. They can score points. Again, we just have to stress blocking, tackling, getting to the football, not allowing big plays. If we can do that, it should be an exciting game."
For York Catholic, however, this game holds a lot more meaning than just being named the 2015 District 3-A champions and earning a bid into the PIAA Class A Tournament. This is the third straight year the Fighting Irish have made it to the District 3-A title game, coming up short both previous times.
Ending a drought: As a program, York Catholic is just 1-5 all-time in District 3 title games, with its only victory coming all the way back in 1982. And for the senior class, finally breaking through and winning a district championship would be a the perfect way to cap off its legacy.
"Well, like they say, the third time's the charm," Brennan said. "So, obviously, we feel good about it. I think it would just mean the world. We haven't won a district championship, here at York Catholic, since 1982. ...So, I think it would mean a whole lot to the seniors, of course, to go out on that high note. But, it would mean a whole lot to everybody on the team and the entire school, as well, because, as I said, it hasn't been done in over 30 years."
Friday's championship game is scheduled to kick off at 1 p.m. at Hersheypark Stadium.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org