Pen Argyl stuns Catty in finals
When Catasauqua took the field last Saturday night at Alumni Field against Pen Argyl in the PIAA District 11 Class 2A championship game, it has been exactly 371 days - over one year - since they lost their last football game.
That game was a wild 33-32, double-overtime loss to Tamaqua in an opening round Eastern Conference playoff game in the same field. Since then, they started a 12-game winning streak that began with a victory over Northampton last Thanksgiving morning that snapped an eight-game losing streak against their neighbors.
With raucous supporting crowds on both sides of Alumni Field and a postseason buzz in the air that electrified the atmosphere surrounding the stadium, it appeared Catasauqua positioned themselves to promptly defeat the defending Class 2A champions and make the school's first trip to the state playoffs since 1992.
Instead, the thump in the night heard around Catasauqua and beyond signified one of the greatest runs in the Roughies' football history in a stunning 26-20 defeat in a game that could clearly have been a game of two different halves.
Riding a late-season surge that thrusted them back in the spotlight, Pen Argyl appeared to be the team riding an emotional high, beginning with their opening drive.
The Green Knights immediately began a first-half of dominance on the offensive line as they went 50 yards in 10 plays - all on the ground - on their opening possession to take a 7-0 lead behind their three-pronged running attack of Michael DePaolo, Mike Racciato, and Nick Oyer.
On the other hand, Catasauqua (11-1) had to punt on its first two possessions. But Catty rallied back to tie the game when Devin Flores' pressure hurried Oyer to make a throw that sailed out of the reach of his intended receiver and into the hands of Paryss Marshall, who sprinted up and across the field on his way to a 32-yard return to tie the game at 7-7.
From there, however, Pen Argyl regained its dominance in the opening half as they registered two more scores to take a 20-7 halftime lead, a two-quarter stint in which they had 39 offensive plays to Catty's 12.
"They (Pen Argyl) came out and punched us in the mouth in the first half," said Roughies' head coach Tom Falzone. "We just took a beating from those guys. We needed to regroup and stayed with most of the same things we usually run."
After halftime, the Roughies became the awakening giant as they began to find ways to silence Pen Argyl's running game, and they clearly gained the game's momentum.
Catty battled back to tie the game at 20-20 on Ra'Von Burton's plowing 9-yard run into the end zone with 5:14 left in the game. They had a chance to finally take the lead, but two Pen Argyl players broke through the line and blocked Joe Harakal's extra point attempt.
Pen Argyl came back to take the lead for good on the ensuing drive when they marched down to the Catty 30 where DePaolo took a handoff, tossed the ball back to Oyer, who threw downfield and found Racciato around three Roughie defenders. Racciato tipped the ball and then brought it down into the end zone to take a 26-20 lead with two minutes left.
Yet, the magic still appeared to be on Catty's side as they drove down to the Pen Argyl 16, mainly due to Burton's 44-yard gallop.
On the 16, quarterback Zack Bradley bobbled the snap while in a shotgun and then lofted a pass down the sideline into the end zone for Parker. At the last moment, Racciato stepped in front and wrestled the ball away to preserve the victory.
It was not only an emotional locker room for the eight Catty seniors who will play their final game on Thanksgiving morning, but also a reminder for the remaining Roughies who received their second-place medals.
Also it was a night in which the Roughies appeared a bit out of sync for the first time all season. Catty's Eric Matz tore some ligaments in his elbow during the week, limiting his time on offense to just punting and not being a force in the backfield.
"We shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times," said Bradley, a junior, who uncharacteristically had his first two-interception game of the season while throwing for 100 yards. "We came back in the second half, but luck didn't appear to be on our side. I really had trouble dealing with it, and I really didn't sleep all night. It happens, but you don't want it to happen in a game like that one."
Catty also discovered how difficult it can be beating a team twice, especially a returning district champion, in one season. Pen Argyl's last loss was a 48-21 defeat to the Roughies on the same field Oct. 13.
"Our coaches told us that this would be different this time around, but I guess we underestimated it," added Burton, also a junior, who rushed for a game-high 115 yards. "Maybe we were a little too high on our horse, but we can't dwell on this game. We have a great team and accomplished a lot this year.
"They did have our number in the first half, but we dug deep. We can't fault any one player for this game. We win and lose as a team. Now we just have to get back to the white board and make ourselves better for the Thanksgiving Day game.
"We swept through the (Colonial League), but we still have some unfinished business to get back to the playoffs. We can take the first step to that with a win over Northampton."
A win can possibly also begin a longer winning streak than 371 days.