HERSHEY—HERSHEY, Pa. - Holding a five-pound Hershey's chocolate bar firmly in his left hand, Lancaster Catholic junior Roman Clay outlined the Crusaders' set of goals for the season.
"We wanted to win our non-league games; win our section; win Districts; win the state championship," Clay said.
The purple and gold have a message to headquarters: Houston - err, Lancaster - mission accomplished.
Lancaster Catholic (16-0) got another 150+-yard rushing effort on the ground from Clay and a stout defensive performance which limited Akron recruit Steve Franco to just an 8-of-23 day passing in a 17-7 victory over District 6 champion Tyrone (14-2) in the PIAA Class AA championship game Saturday afternoon from a chilly Hersheypark Stadium.
The victory gave Lancaster Catholic its second PIAA football championship in three seasons and allowed the purple and gold to become Lancaster County's first two-time state football champion. District 3 also remained undefeated in small school state championship games (4-0 in A; 3-0 in AA). District 6, meanwhile, fell to 1-6 all-time in PIAA championship games; the region has been outscored in its title game appearances by an average of 13 points.
Additionally, Lancaster Catholic joined the 2008 Steelton-Highspire team as the only other District 3 school to post a 16-0 season.
"This is the last check mark," said Lancaster Catholic head coach Bruce Harbach, who celebrated his 105th career victory. "It's absolutely mission accomplished.
"It means so much for the kids and so much for the program," Harbach continued. "It's especially important for the seniors who have played their last game for us and will never wear the purple and gold again. We wanted them to go out in style with that championship and we got it for them."
Seniors like Northwestern-bound lineman Adam DePietro. Like running back/linebacker Brandon Hollister. Like receiver/defensive back Charles Sweigert. And others, too.
A week after celebrating its second victory over perennial WPIAL powerhouse Aliquippa, the mood was much more somber on the Tyrone sideline. The Golden Eagles, who were making their third PIAA championship appearance and first since 1999, took home state silver for a second time.
"I don't know if it's the finality of the season that's upsetting - I think it's the fact that we lost that's more upsetting," said Golden Eagle head coach John Franco. "We made too many mistakes in the first half."
Those mistakes could have - and possibly should have - put the game out of reach for the Golden Eagles. But despite a botched snap of a punt (a 10-yard loss), two interceptions and a lost fumble, the Golden Eagles only found themselves down 7-0 at intermission.
Lancaster Catholic put the lone dent in the scoreboard over the first 24 minutes when it gained possession of the ball following the botched punt snap at Tyrone's 35. Eight plays and 4:11 later, Clay crashed in from two yards out and Lancaster Catholic held a 7-0 lead. Satchel Ziffer extended the Crusader lead to 10-0 with a 20-yard field goal in the third quarter.
Between Clay's touchdown and halftime, however, the game slogged to a turnover fest. Five straight possessions between both the Crusaders and Eagles ended in a turnover. LC threw a pair of interceptions and Tyrone threw a pair of interceptions and lost a fumble. One of the Lancaster Catholic interceptions came after it drove inside the Tyrone 10-yard line.
"Our kids pressed a little," Harbach said.
Clay admitted much the same.
"We pressed a little and we got close to scoring on a couple of occasions," Clay said. "But we didn't hang our heads because we've been in tight games before."
Harbach said Tyrone's defensive front seven worried him a bit with their ability to stuff the run.
"But we thought that we could ultimately wear them down with our size advantage," Harbach said.