By Michel Boytim
1-seeded Penn Cambria and third-seeded Central will meet Saturday in the District 6 Class 3A Championship at Mansion Park for the second year in a row, but this game is very different from last season. .
A year ago, it was the Scarlet Dragons who were seeded. Central had outplayed the Panthers in the regular season game and did it again in the Finals.
But that loss fueled a Penn Cambria team that enters Saturday’s game as favorites and already boast a 42-28 win over the Watercress Dragons earlier this season.
“That was one of our main goals heading into the season,” Penn Cambria coach Nick Felus said. “We wanted to win a District 6 Championship. Kudos to our team, staff, community and administration for their support, but throughout the year our kids have done a great job putting themselves together. in position week after week to have the opportunity to play for a championship, which is special. ”
Central, the two-time defending District 6 3A champions, will stand in the way of the Panthers.
“We are a much better team since the last time we played them,” Center senior quarterback Jeff Hoenstine said. “We are going to have to be ready to go and put in a lot of work and preparation this week. We will be ready to go.
Hoenstine tied the state record for career touchdown passes last week against Tyrone and will look to break the mark against the Panthers.
“Every team has improved throughout the season, but when you talk about some of the best programs like Central, they’re going to do what they do,” said Felis. “There’s a reason they’re successful and have done some really good things the last two years. They’re not going to change too much in what they do and their approach. They keep getting better as the year goes by.
Although the Panthers did what they had to do to win Game 1, Central probably didn’t play their best game – missing a few opportunities both offensively and defensively – but they didn’t lose a game. from.
“We have to play better” Center coach Dave Baker said. “We had penalties that hurt us in this game. We committed them. Sometimes we didn’t tackle behind their backs. We’ll have to do a better job on these things to stop them, because they’re very good.
Penn Cambria has excelled in close games this year, winning close games against Central (the Panthers scored a late touchdown to extend the lead), Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic and Bedford.
“We have a very resilient group of players who are battle tested,” said Felis. “Some of these seniors have been involved for four years in some of the games they have had the opportunity to play. Nothing replaces experience. Having the opportunity to play in some games where we had the lead, had to come back or do it in the fourth quarter obviously helps you in a game like this.
The rivalry between the teams is slowly building. The schools also met last year on the court for a men’s district basketball title.
“It’s a great team” said middle junior Hunter Smith. “We have to come prepared. We know they’re going to fight a battle, but we plan to fight one too. We have a lot of respect for each other. They’ve been great the last two years with (senior QB) Garrett (Harrold) and the whole team around him. It’s going to be a great battle. »
Felus credits his improved offensive line and ability to be better pass blockers as a difference this year in addition to some new point guards to accompany Harrold and 1,000-yard rusher Zach Grove.
“I think Vinny Chirdon has worked extremely hard this offseason and has really become one of the best pass catchers and road runners in the area,” said Felis. “He’s shown he can make big plays in situations for us, and so has Luke Shuagis. He’s shown he’s a good road runner and has made big plays.