Central Catholic’s semifinal win was special in more ways than one.
Led by punt returner Johnny Petrishen, a strong special-teams effort was instrumental in Saturday’s 45-0 victory over Lower Dauphin in the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs. A 68-yard touchdown by Petrishen stood out, but Central had solid field position all afternoon thanks to its punt-return and punt-rush.
After forcing five first-half punts, Central Catholic started drives at Lower Dauphin’s 47-, 21-, 18- and 26-yard lines and another at Central’s 40-yard line. Four of the five short-field situations led to touchdowns.
They weren’t all set up by long returns; a second-quarter scenario saw Lower Dauphin punter Adam Domovitch fumble away the ball while hurrying to beat an oncoming rush.
But Petrishen, a 6-foot-2 junior defensive back, returned three punts for 138 combined yards. His touchdown came with 5:36 in the third quarter when he followed his blockers along the right sideline.
“Coach (Ron) Fuchs, our special teams coach, designs it up,” Petrishen said. “We just have a wall (of blockers) and sometimes I don’t even have to make a move to make someone miss. I just run right up the sideline. That makes my job easy and makes me look good at the same time.”
Petrishen also returned a first-quarter punt 54 yards to the 21-yard line. But he likely covered the most turf minutes later on a daring 16-yarder that reversed direction twice. Despite sprinting side to side, he eventually reached Lower Dauphin’s 18-yard line.
“It seemed like I was running forever,” Petrishen said with a laugh, “and my legs about died on me. I got heck when I got over to the sideline. Some people said I was doing a little bit too much out there. But it was a lot of fun.”
Senior kicker Mitchell MacZura added to a strong special-teams day by making a 28-yard field goal and six extra points. MacZura was more active than Lower Dauphin’s Joe Julius, one of the state’s best kickers. Julius booted the opening kickoff through the end zone for a touchback, but that was his only action.
Central Catholic (15-0) will face Philadelphia’s St. Joseph’s Prep (12-2), the District 12 champion, at 6 p.m. Saturday, in the Class AAAA state final at Hersheypark Stadium.
In Class AAA, District 12’s Archbishop Wood (12-2) plays District 3’s Bishop McDevitt (14-1) at 7 p.m., Friday. In Class AA, South Fayette (15-0) plays District 12′s Imhotep Charter (14-1) at noon, Saturday. In Class A, North Catholic (15-0) plays District 2’s Old Forge (14-1) at 1 p.m. Friday.
– Chris Harlan