It’s really hard to win football games at any level. Well, maybe with the one exception being if you wear a Central Valley jersey on Friday nights — and Saturday afternoons at Heinz Field.
When it looked like North Catholic might challenge Central Valley with a first quarter kick return touchdown to level the score, the Warriors buckled down and completely overwhelmed the Trojans en route to a 52-15 win at Heinz Field Saturday afternoon.
With the win over North Catholic, Central Valley stretched its win streak to 25 games, secured a third straight WPIAL Class 3-A championship and sent a message to PIAA Class 3-A football. The Warriors are the team to beat once again.
Central Valley senior Landon Alexander ran for 200 yards, junior Jayvin Thompson catch everything thrown his way (two touchdown passes and four interceptions) and the Warriors led 45-7… at the halftime break.
For reference, Thompson’s 127 interception return yards almost double North Catholic’s 72 yards of offense in the first half.
Stop me if you’ve heard it before, but a methodical Central Valley drive to open the contest resulted with a 7-0 lead, capped off by junior Antwon Johnson diving into the end zone from a yard out. But North Catholic wasn’t going to quit.
North Catholic senior Liam Straub caught the ensuing kickoff just off his goal line and raced all the way back through the Central Valley defense for a 98-yard answering touchdown.
At 7-7, Central Valley didn’t waste much time of its own either. After a quick gain to move the stick on first down, Johnson found a slanting Jayvin Thompson, who exploded off the route and raced down the field untouched for a 59-yard answering strike of his own.
And on the next North Catholic play, a bobbled handoff was blown up by Central Valley senior Sean FitzSimmons, who pounced on the ball just inside the NC 30-yard line. The Warriors converted a key fourth down with a Landon Alexander run, and a jump pass from senior Matt Merritt to fellow senior jack Bible resulted in a Tim Tebow-esqe touchdown to extend the lead to two touchdowns early in the second quarter.
With North Catholic needing an answer, NC senior Joey Prentice stepped back in the pocket and fired a ball down the field, but Thompson wasn’t satisfied with a long touchdown catch earlier. Thompson jumped the route, corralled the ball and raced back into the end zone. However, a holding call negated the return.
Alexander wasted no time in getting Central Valley back into the end zone, bouncing a stopped run back to the other side of the field and rumbling into the end zone from 50 yards out to make it a three touchdown lead early in the second quarter.
Another brilliant special teams play, a fake punt converted across midfield, gave North Catholic a lifeline, but another Prentice pass caught by Thompson — who really wanted to keep catching the ball — ended the Trojans’ drive.
And on a day in which things just seemed to be going Central Valley’s way, a Merritt pass tipped by North Catholic fell into Alexander’s arms and he did the rest in dashing 23 yards to the end zone to make it a four touchdown lead.
It didn’t take Central Valley long to impose its will again, with Alexander ripping off a 70-yard run to flip the field and a beautiful RPO play setting up a Johnson touchdown pass to Thompson from 15 yards out.
As North Catholic finally put together a drive that looked like it might result in points, Thompson once again jumped a route and picked Prentice off — continuing a game of catching anything thrown his way, regardless of what side of the ball he was on.
While Central Valley wasn’t able to score another touchdown to end the half, a lengthy field goal from junior Serafino DeSantis sailed through the uprights to end the half with a 45-7 lead.
Central Valley opened the second half with another methodical drive, capped by a short walk-in touchdown from junior Bret FitzSimmons to push the lead to 52-7 midway through the third quarter.
With a running clock in the second half, Central Valley held the ball for the majority of the 24 minutes, just salting the game away with a steady dose of bruising runs.
North Catholic sophomore Luke Baker was able to find the end zone with under a minute remaining, showing the fight NC displayed all game. However, Central Valley was just too much.
Central Valley’s quest for a second consecutive state title continues with a PIAA Class 3-A semifinal game against the winner of District 10 champ Grove City and District 6 champ Martinsburg Central next weekend.