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Ship to square off with Berks Catholic for district title

When Cody Gustafson was just a youngster, his dad, Kevin, took him to see Manheim Central's football team play for a district championship at Hersheypark Stadium.

Only in his dreams did Cody imagine that one day, he'd been competing for that same title on that same field.

But now, Cody's dreams have come true.

On Friday, Shippensburg will play in its first-ever District 3 Class 4A football championship. The Greyhounds take on the No. 1-seeded Berks Catholic Saints in a 1 p.m. kickoff.

"This is a great opportunity," said Gustafson, who will have Kevin by his side Friday as Ship's offensive coordinator. "I've never played there before, so this is like a childhood dream come true for a lot of us."

Senior lineman Kyle Yost said, "It means basically the world to us. This is really a dream come true for a lot of us, and I feel like this game means more than just a game for us, our community and our coaching staff."

But the dream may not be over just yet: The winner of Friday's game advances to the PIAA semifinals.

"We're really playing for our community right now," Gustafson said. "These guys have been saying since the end of last season that we'd be in the district championship, and that's been our belief. It's 'Why not us?' We're a small-town team, but this is when we're going to prove ourselves."

It's not going to be an easy task, though. Berks Catholic boasts the same 11-1 record as the No. 2-seeded Greyhounds, and if anyone can match Ship's prolific offense, it might be the Saints.

Berks Catholic runs a true wing-T, and a very successful one, at that.

Totaling nearly 5,000 yards of offense this season, the Saints have gained 3,648 of those on the ground.

"They remind me of old Greencastle teams when they had the (Denton and Denver) Cordells and (Tyler) Szaflarski," Shippensburg coach Eric Foust said. "They have a whole lot of good athletes, and they run hard."

Berks has a pair of running backs closing in on 1,000 yards. Marcus Wilson sits at 901 on the season, while Brandon George is right behind with 899 yards. Graham Glueck has totaled 569 yards. One of Berks' top athletes, Cooper Lutz, suffered an ankle injury which caused him to miss seven weeks of the season, but he has still rushed for 369 yards, and the Saints have three other backs with 100 rushing yards or more.

"They do run the ball a lot, and they just go right at your face," Yost said. "We just need to come out tough and play hard against them, and I think the odds will be in our favor."

Historically a run-heavy team, Shippensburg has emerged as a very well-balanced offense this season. Quarterback Carter Van Scyoc has thrown for 2,301 yards, and the Hounds have combined for 1,987 yards on the ground.

Running back Adam Houser hit his stride midseason, and leads the team with 1,174 rushing yards.

"We really had our passing game going early in the year, and our running game wasn't quite there," Gustafson said. "But our line really stepped up halfway through the year. That's a big reason why Adam has had his success, but he's just a heck of a running back, and he was able to balance things out."

Shippensburg's biggest challenge this week will be handling Berks' aggressive defense. The Saints have allowed an average of just 15.6 points against, and have totaled 40 sacks. Ryan Glanski leads the charge with 8.5 sacks.

"They run a 6-2 defense, and they have pressure coming from a lot of areas," Foust said. "We have to find a way to block enough of them to give us time to get the ball out. We believe if we can get the ball out on them, we can be successful."

Greyhounds-Saints at a glance

Game data: Shippensburg Greyhounds vs. Berks Catholic Saints ... Friday, 1 p.m. at Hersheypark Stadium ... District 3 Class 4A Championship.

Media: Follow @liziarbogast, @MattBernardini7 and @LindseySquints for updates from the game ... Webcast available on ... Radio broadcast on WIOO (1480 AM, 93.9 FM). 

Teams: Both teams are 11-1, with Ship as the No. 2 seed and Berks No. 1 ... The Greyhounds are coming off a last-second victory against Bishop McDevitt, while Berks Catholic has had two easy victories in districts.

Implications: The winner will advance to the state semifinals and will face the winner of a quarterfinal between District 10 champion Erie Cathedral Prep and District 7 champ Thomas Jefferson. 

Series: The teams have never met.

P.O. pick: Ship by 3.