Wildcats hope bye week doesn’t kill momentum
HOMER CITY — When two teams elected not to participate in the District 6-A playoffs with 4-5 records, Homer-Center received an unexpected first-round bye as a No. 5 seed.
Great news for the Wildcats, right?
While the Wildcats got a week off to rest their players, they also missed out on what would likely be their only chance to play in front of their home crowd in the postseason. Also, the Wildcats ended the regular season on a seven-game winning streak, and the Wildcats are hoping that having a week off will not kill their momentum for the playoffs.
“I think the momentum we had is something we would’ve preferred to play the first weekend, but it didn’t work out that way,” said Homer-Center head coach Greg Page. “We’re trying to take it as a positive. We had some workouts last week, and we also had a couple days off. I think it helped some guys refresh a little bit. I heard some guys say Monday that it was good to get some time off. Some guys were sick and banged up.”
The Wildcats are hoping to be rested and not rusty when they take on No. 4 seed Bishop Carroll at 7 p.m. tomorrow night at Saint Francis University, where the Huskies play their home games.
In order to prepare for the college field, Page had his Wildcats practice a few times at Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s George P. Miller Stadium this week.
“We’re assuming it’s the same kind of turf,” said Page, whose team played only on grass surfaces this year. “We just wanted to get a pretty good feel for that a couple of nights.”
When the Wildcats take the turf tomorrow night, they’ll be looking to stop a prolific Bishop Carroll ground game that led the Huskies to a 7-2 record in the rugged Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference.
The Huskies, who also had a first-round bye, averaged 304 rushing yards per game this season, led by tailback Ryan Woo, who tallied a total of 1,325 yards on the ground.
Woo is averaging 8 yards per carry and was held under 100 yards just once, in Week 2 against Westmont Hilltop.
“I think their running game has to be our main concern,” Page said. “(Woo) is not very big, but he’s fast. He’s very quick. We’re impressed on how he changes direction so easily. It starts with their guys up front, but he’s very smooth.”
The Wildcats will also look to get their own ground game going, which is led in the backfield by senior Jeremy Smith, who has rushed for 1,186 yards while establishing himself as one of the top backs in the Heritage Conference.
But, even a great back like Smith can’t do it without the help of a skilled offensive line.
“Our kids up front have the mentality that despite what fronts we may see, and the size we may see, we have to get people off the ball and create seams,” Page said. “I think our kids are going to be up for the challenge.”
While the running game may be the Wildcats’ focus, they have shown that they can produce big plays through the air as quarterback Zak Harvey is averaging nearly 20 yards per completion.
The winner of Saturday’s game will take on either United or top-seed Penns Manor in the semifinals. If the Wildcats are able to beat their former Appalachian Conference foe tomorrow, it will mark Homer-Center’s first trip to the semifinals since winning the district title in 1994.
“When you can play a game like this in the playoffs on turn in a nice facility, I think that just adds to the memories and the excitement of the whole thing,” Page said. “It would be nice to get a win and make a little run.”