No. 5 Central Catholic ‘returns’ to title game with win over Woodland Hills
Central Catholic’s offense didn’t reach the end zone until the fourth quarter Friday night. But by then, the team’s defense and special teams already had crossed the goal line twice.
And that was enough.
Central Catholic’s Ron George returned the opening kickoff 75 yards for a touchdown and Ronnie Jones took an interception 87 yards for another to defeat Woodland Hills, 24-6, in a WPIAL Class AAAA semifinal at Fox Chapel.
Central’s offense had just 45 yards at halftime and led 17-0.
“That early lead kind of put (the responsibility) on us,” Central Catholic defensive coordinator Dave Fleming said. “We pride ourselves on, if we have a lead, we can close the door no matter what stage of the game.”
Woodland Hills’ offense never reached the end zone.
The win carries No. 5 seed Central Catholic (11-1) to the WPIAL finals for the third consecutive season. The Vikings were champions in 2013 and runner-up last year.
And for the third year in a row, No. 1 seed Woodland Hills (11-1) watched Central Catholic end its season. The Wolverines lost 28-0 to Central in the quarterfinals last season. In that win, Central Catholic had a punt return touchdown and two defensive scores.
“The last three times we played Central, special teams hurt us,” Woodland Hills coach George Novak said.
Central Catholic needed only 11 seconds to reach the end zone Friday. Woodland Hills kicked short to keep the ball away from Central returners Damar Hamlin and Jones. Lined up just ahead of them, George fielded the short kick and sprinted to the end zone.
“In hindsight, we should have kicked it on the ground,” Novak said. “But we didn’t think he would be there. We thought somebody else would be there. He snuck up and got it.”
George isn’t typically on Central Catholic’s kick return team but was added Friday just to counter Woodland Hills’ pooch kicks, he said. The kick return touchdown was his first and showed his sprinter’s speed.
“They do that a lot,” George said. “They did that last year too. We watched a lot of that film, so we were really expecting that.”
At 11:49, Central Catholic led 7-0. The Central lead reached 17-0 in the second quarter after a 35-yard field goal by Jake Rocchi and an 87-yard interception return by Jones. The interception was the first thrown this season by Woodland Hills.
“I told (the team) big plays were going to make the difference,” Novak said. “We didn’t make them and they did.”
Central Catholic’s Vinny Emanuele added an 8-yard touchdown run with 3:41 left in the fourth, but the Vikings offense had done little until then.
Jones, who had 144 rushing yards last week, had 28 yards on 12 carries. Sophomore quarterback Troy Fisher rushed for 21 yards on 11 carries and threw for only 36 yards.
Emanuele led the Vikings with 54 yards on five carries — all in the fourth quarter.
“It was a tremendous effort by our defense,” Central Catholic coach Terry Totten said. “The offense was having a few problems but they finally got one in there, and the special teams showed up good. But I credit our defense for really swarming.”
Woodland Hills had more total yards than Central Catholic: 250-156. Wolverines senior Miles Sanders rushed for 111 yards on 19 carries, with 36 yards on a well-blocked fake punt.
Jo-El Shaw added 68 on 18 carries.
But Woodland Hills turned the ball over three times inside Central Catholic territory with a fumble, an interception and a failed fourth-down conversion. The Wolverines’ only points were scored by its defense. With 5:21 left in the fourth, Dayna Wilson-Adams returned a fumble 18 yards for a touchdown.
The Wolverines drove deep into Central Catholic territory on its first two possessions after halftime but didn’t score on either. The first — a 13-play drive — ended with a missed 29-yard field goal. The second drive stopped when Central linebacker David Adams sacked Daron Cooper on fourth down at the 22.
With 3 minutes left, Hamlin sealed Woodland Hills’ fate with an interception at midfield.
“They’ve got a great defense,” Novak said. “Nine Division 1 guys on defense. At times we moved the ball, but we couldn’t get into the end zone.”
Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review sports reporter. You can contact Paul by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .