Central Catholic Football shows EPC strength, mauls Meadville in PIAA Quarterfinals

The Allentown Central Catholic football team is battle hardened. And that allowed the Vikings to overwhelmingly dominate on Friday night.

Central Catholic showed its Eastern Pennsylvania Conference ancestry by defeating Meadville 50-7 in the quarterfinals of PIAA Class 4A at Bald Eagle Area High School.

The win propels the Vikings (9-5) into the state semifinals where they face undefeated WPIAL champion Aliquippa. It is the first time since 2012 that the program has reached the PIAA semifinals.

“It’s great,” senior quarterback Tamlin Ferguson said. “All the guys up front played really well; the receivers played well; the running backs ran hard; our defense dropped only 7. I’m really proud of these guys…Naquon (Godfrey), Mitch (Cowen), Braheem (Battles), Nick (Basilage), Fynn (McDonald) they all do such a great job on offense.”

The start of the game went exactly according to plan for Meadville. The Bulldogs used 15 carries from the Wing-T to finish fourth and twelfth at the Central Catholic 14-yard line. Then Meadville attempted his first pass of the game — a touchdown from senior Gavin Longstreth to classmate Khalon Simmons.

Central didn’t let Meadville’s momentum last long. Senior Griffin Patridge returned the subsequent push-off to the Vikings’ 47. The District 11 champion used a quick charge and completed a 1 minute 58 second drive with a 1 yard score from Caiden Shaffer.

“We repeated it this week, and I think we’ve settled into that,” Ferguson said of the quick approach. “It was just about getting the ball and finishing. It was something we thought we could take advantage of; I thought we did a good job with that tonight.”

“They move a lot on the defensive line and different guys are pushing,” Vikings coach Tim McGorry added of Meadville. “We thought that by accelerating they would make a little bit more vanilla and less pressure.”

Meadville went three and out on his second possession. Central took over again at 47, needing just four games to reach the end zone when Shaffer demolished a 30-yard touchdown.

Shaffer later made a game-changing play on defense as Meadville attempted to tie the contest late in the second quarter. The Vikings senior fired Simmons for a 22-yard loss in fourth and seventh, giving Central possession in midfield with 39 seconds remaining in the first half.

Ferguson then threw the ball to sophomore Jareel Calhoun, who was in singles coverage. Calhoun matched the pass and drove into the end zone for a 50-yard TD.

Meadville tried to get tricky with a reverse on the subsequent kickoff but fumbled. Senior Ethan Hosak jumped the ball at the Bulldogs’ 20.

Shaffer converted turnover to points with a 20-yard touchdown with 4 seconds left in the second quarter. Junior kicker Luke Myers’ PAT made it 28:7 at the break.

It took the Vikings six games and 1 minute and 48 seconds to rush for 65 yards in the opening second-half series. Shaffer snapped a straight shot for a 2-yard score (his fourth and final TD of the night) to take the lead to 35-7.

Ferguson completed 16 of 22 passes for 202 yards and a TD. He also struggled for a 3-yard touchdown to increase the Vikings’ lead to 41-7 early in the fourth quarter.

Ferguson started as a junior at QB for Central but lost a close battle for the position before this season. He eventually won the job back, and now he will be below center in the state semifinals.

“It was a big test. It was a huge learning curve for me. It was just perseverance – keep working hard, keep your head down and grind in practice every day,” said the lead signal caller. “I’m really proud of these guys; We did a great job.”

“Tamlin was productive a year ago … He just fell behind on offense in terms of reps,” McGorry explained, noting that Ferguson is a dual-sport athlete who also plays baseball. “You could see it week 3, week 4 when he started getting all these reps in him, he started getting along.

“There is no child in the world who could have dealt with this situation better. He was a great teammate; He was great in the quarterback room… His opportunity came and he was fantastic.

All of the QB’s deals went to either Calhoun or Patridge. Calhoun had 10 receptions for 124 yards. Patridge, who forced a safe to enact the mercy rule in the fourth quarter, made six catches for 78 yards.

“They’re big receivers,” Ferguson said. “They go up and get the ball. They find holes in defense. I thought they did a really good job tonight.”

Shaffer ended the match for 104 yards on 11 carries. Junior Nathan Schultz added 137 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries, all of which came in the second half.

“We want to be physical. We want to run football,” McGorry said. “…We felt pretty good when we came in that we were going to be able to direct the football. The guys up front did a great job.”

The Vikings ended up with 452 yards total attack.

Meadville finished the season 12-2. The District 10 champion outscored his opponents in his wins, 620-81. But the Bulldogs were no match for Central, who regularly competes in the EPC against talented Class 6A competition.

“We think it’s the toughest conference in Pennsylvania,” Ferguson said. “You go through a schedule like that and it’s agony. It’s testing you for the playoffs, which is good. I think it helps us in that sense.”

“If you don’t show up, you’ll be embarrassed. The quality of our league is incredible,” agreed McGorry. “I also think – and it came into play a little bit last week (a 38-31 win over previously unbeaten Jersey Shore) – every week you have the marker in hand and you make an adjustment at half-time because the coaching is in our conference is so good. We are used to such games. They certainly prepare us for this; no question.”

The level of competition will rise several notches next week against Aliquippa (12-0), the defending PIAA Class 4A champion who won his record 19th WPIAL title with a 34-7 score against Central Valley on Friday night.

Central Catholic won its 14th District 11 title this fall — more than any other program.

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Kyle Craig can be reached at [email protected].