Offensive line powers York Catholic's postseason run
York Catholic won the second District 3 football championship in program history Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016. The Irish defeated Newport, 55-21, in the D3 Class 2A title game. Jim Seip, GameTimePA.com
The tendency is to look at all those yards York Catholic has piled up on the ground in recent weeks and keep the spotlight on running back Jakkar Kinard and quarterback Dan Yokemick. After all, those are the guys scoring touchdowns and making plays.
Look a little closer, however, and one of the overlooked aspects of York Catholic's running game has been its play at the line of scrimmage, specifically its offensive line.
"Everything is won in the trenches," York Catholic coach Eric Depew said.
The Irish offensive line is not one of those units that has been together for years, this is a unit cobbled together in the offseason. Depew credits assistant Dave Gardner, whose tenure with the Irish program even predates Depew. Gardner found the right mix of players to make a championship team.
They'll look to continue that postseason run Friday night against Dunmore in the first round of the PIAA Class 2A football tournament. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Harman-Geist Memorial Field in Hazleton.
The Irish wanted to move Liam Landis to the offensive line, but they also didn't want to lose his playmaking ability on defense. That meant, the junior would need to become a two-way player.
But it wasn't without some reservations.
"As big as he is, we were concerned," Depew said about his bruising offensive tackle.
Coaches didn't worry if Landis (6-5, 330 pounds) could be a difference-maker, they knew he could make plays. They worried if he could handle a workload stretched across a 10- or 12-week season and still be effective on both sides of the ball.
Coaches didn't know if Adam Bittner would return for his senior year the same kid they remembered. He missed all of his junior year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, suffered at the Irish team camp. Depew knows how it goes, sometimes an injury doesn't heal perfectly. Sometimes a teenager becomes frustrated or scared. Sometimes players just decide it would better to quit or not work as hard.
But that wasn't Bittner.
"I was so excited and happy for him ... to handle that and push through," Depew said.
Even a novice football fan will notice Matt Knauer. Just with his sheer size. At 6-4, 275 pounds, he makes a fearsome combo with Landis. They are the type of players defenders take note of in pregame warmups.
They are also the type of players who could develop into college lineman because they have the frame to put on added weight and muscle at the next level.
Guard Michael McKim and tight end Ryan Sewell have been solid building blocks. A line just doesn't materialize in one year. It needs players that know what to do in the tough games, when the team is trailing.
McKim is one of those veterans, one of those team leaders.
Sewell might be better on the defensive side of the ball, compiling about 100 tackles from the linebacker spot. But that hasn't stopped him from pulling in big passes and sealing the edge on running plays.
The new kid
Don't forget about the youngster. While the rest of the Irish offensive line is either in their junior or senior years, the man in the middle is the new guy.
Only a sophomore, Harris Kohl has made the grade at center.
"I've said it before, we're only going to go as far as our line takes us," Depew said.
This week, the line has taken them to the state playoffs.
York Catholic's starting O line
TE Ryan Sewell, 6-0, 175
OT Matt Knauer, 6-4, 275
OG Michael McKim, 6-3, 225
C Harris Kohl, 5-10, 210
OG Liam Landis, 6-5, 330
OT Adam Bittner, 5-11, 240
By the numbers
Last four games
Jakkar Kinard's recent production
30-281, 9.4 ypc
20-264, 13.2 ypc
25-313, 12.5 ypc
29-239, 8.2 ypc
If you go
Who: York Catholic (10-1) vs. Dunmore (12-0)
What: PIAA Class 2A tournament, round of 16
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Harman-Geist Memorial Field in Hazleton