York Catholic ready for title rematch
York Catholic running back Jakkar Kinard remembers Nov. 22, 2014 very well.
The Irish, led by Jakkar’s older brother, Hakeem, were battling Camp Hill in the District 3 Class A championship in what turned out to be an instant classic. The game, which set the record for most points in a District 3 playoff game (112), eventually slipped away from the Irish late when the Lions scored three times in less than two minutes to seal a 63-49 win.
It has been a little more than a year since that heartbreaking defeat, and the Lions (10-1, 6-1 Mid Penn Capital) and Irish are back in the same spot, preparing for a Friday afternoon showdown in Hersheypark Stadium with the district title on the line. This time, it’s Jakkar Kinard leading the Irish in place of his brother who graduated after last season.
“The most important thing that stuck with me was seeing all of the seniors cry and knowing that we came up short,” Kinard said. “It was the worst feeling in the world losing. My brother and some of my closest friends lost a piece of them that day, and it was crazy thinking about how those kids will never play a snap of high school football ever again.”
Kinard and his teammates haven’t forgotten how that loss felt. The Irish want to erase the memory of last year, and they’ve looked forward to a chance at some revenge.
“I remember all the emotion and disappointment after the game, and that's something that I don't ever want to feel again,” York Catholic senior Luke Brennan said. “My own fumble in the fourth quarter is something that has eaten me up for the past 12 months so I'm itching for redemption. … I think it goes from being just a rematch to being a revenge game when we remember that bitter taste they left in our mouths. We really felt like they took away a championship that we had worked so hard for right out of our grasp.”
“None of us want to experience a loss like that again,” Kinard added. “So yes revenge is definitely something on our minds. The gold was in front of us two years in a row, and now we get to play the team that took that away from us. We're stoked. The third time is a charm.”
Friday will mark the third chance at gold for this group and another chance to end a 33-year drought. This will be the third straight title appearance and seventh overall for the Irish. But the last time York Catholic was victorious in one of those appearances? 1982.
“We definitely want to get that off our backs,” York Catholic head coach Eric Depew said with a laugh. “I don’t want to be the team that gets there but never wins. This is something we set out to accomplish before the season started.”
The team on the other sideline will look very familiar. Michael Shuster, who threw for 451 yards and four touchdowns in last season’s meeting, will be under center with 6-foot-8 sophomore Zack Kuntz and sure-handed Logan Vallati at receiver. Bill Williams will be back as well after torching York Catholic for 202 yards and six total touchdowns last season.
The Irish know they will need to bring their A-game on defense if they want to beat Camp Hill, Brennan said.
“I don't think it's any secret that they have a lot of weapons on offense,” Brennan said. “So, we absolutely need to respect that talent if we want to be able to stop it. But none of us are scared of their big names. Truthfully, I think that gets our guys more excited to have this opportunity to play against big names and beat them.”
If there is a weakness in the Camp Hill armor, it’s the defense. The Lions scored plenty of points this season, but they also had a tendency to give up a lot. Six of the last seven opponents Camp Hill faced scored at least 20 points. The Lions lost one of those matchups — 25-22 to Middletown — and won two others by just eight points combined.
“We remember a very high-powered offense with a great quarterback who sees the field incredibly well,” York Catholic senior Joe Bauhof said of the Lions. “But they are nowhere near as strong on defense, which is what we want to take advantage of.”
The Irish (6-5, 5-2 YAIAA Division III), who have won five of their last six games, have an arsenal of weapons to attack that Lions’ defense.
Kinard led the YAIAA with 1,121 rushing yards in the regular season. Dan Yokemick threw for 1,098 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first season under center, and he has a talented group of receivers led by Bauhof and Brennan. Bauhof caught two fourth-quarter touchdowns to cap the Irish’s dramatic comeback win against Steelton-Highspire in last week’s semifinals.
“It's going to come down to heart in the end, though,” Bauhof said. “These are two teams who've been here before, and we both want it bad. It's all going to be about who wants it more.”
District 3 Class A title game
Who: York Catholic Fighting Irish (6-5) vs. Camp Hill Lions (10-1)
When: 1 p.m. Friday
Where: Hersheypark Stadium
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