Nov. 19—Coach Sam Shutty appreciates the opportunity his Northern Cambria football team will have on Saturday night.
After all, it's been 19 years since the Colts previously appeared in a district championship game.
"You come this far, knowing that you never really got past that hurdle as a team in history, that makes you want it even more," said Shutty, whose second-seeded Colts will meet the top-seeded Penns Manor Comets in an all-Heritage Conference title game.
Kickoff is 7 p.m. at Mansion Park Stadium in Altoona.
"The coaches and the players have that mindset," Shutty said of a Colts program seeking its first district title in football.
"They're pushing. They've been working hard all week to get that opportunity."
Northern Cambria (9-3) scored 34 second-half points to beat rival and third-seeded Cambria Heights 41-0 in Saturday's semifinal at Duffy Daugherty Stadium.
Penns Manor (11-1) defeated fifth-seeded Portage 21-7 in another Heritage semifinal on Saturday.
"Penns Manor's defense is very fast," Shutty said of the Heritage champs. "Minus the (35-0 Appalachian Bowl loss in the) Berlin game, I don't think they've allowed many points (166).
"They're a very stingy defense. They create a lot of turnovers. They have a lot of athletes, which presents a lot of matchup problems for us."
Northern Cambria has used a balanced offense to win five of its past six games, with the lone setback a 27-21, last-minute loss at Portage in Week 9.
Senior quarterback Owen Bougher became the school's single-season passing leader on Saturday against the Highlanders. Bougher has completed 137 of 228 passes for 2,071 yards, 19 touchdowns and four interceptions.
Senior Peyton Myers leads the area with 1,066 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns on 59 catches. Sophomore Tyler Dumm has 33 receptions for 616 yards and nine touchdowns.
"It goes back to just getting Owen comfortable with certain plays and finding ways to allow him to execute the plays," Shutty said. "We're not putting him in a situation where he has a billion decisions to make and scramble all over the field.
"Ty Dumm is starting to come into his own as a receiver, as well as Xander Dolansky (25 catches-361 yards) to go along with Peyton."
Senior Colton Paronish has a team-high 714 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 85 carries. Junior Jack Sheredy has 663 yards and six TDs on 100 rushes.
"We got some guys injured, and we had a little dip in the midseason," Shutty said. "We had a loss to Penns Manor (40-14 in Week 6). Slowly but surely, we started getting some keys guys back. We started picking up some momentum.
"We put some wrinkles in on both sides of the ball. The kids started to have fun. Everything started to click. It's one of those things where we evolved into a team."
Penns Manor is led by senior quarterback Max Hill, who has completed 36 of 83 passes for 562 yards and eight touchdowns, while rushing for 1,543 yards and 27 TDs.
Senior Ashton Courvina has 723 rushing yards and six touchdowns, and junior Justin Marshall gained 706 yards with six scores.
Northern Cambria is 8-11 in the District 6 playoffs since 2003, when the Colts finished as District 5-6 Class 1A runner-up to Bishop Carroll Catholic (a 49-14 loss). Northern Cambria had beaten Windber and Blairsville to reach the final that season.
The Colts advanced to the District 6 semifinals in 2012, 2016 and 2018, losing to Bishop McCort Catholic (45-6), Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic (55-6) and United (36-28), respectively.
"It really is big," Shutty said of reaching the championship game. "Not taking anything away from any other program, but when you had the Bishops in there in their primes, it was tough. You're going to face a juggernaut every time you go into the playoffs."
Shutty referred to a stretch where Bishop Carroll Catholic (seven), Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic (six) and Bishop McCort Catholic (two) combined to win 15 of 24 District 6 Class 1A titles from 1998 through 2021.
"The competition is great," Shutty said. "Every playoff game, you're playing someone who has equal talent as you and you have to play your 'A' game, but there is a chance for you to walk away with a championship.
"You have eight teams going in and you don't know who is going to walk out with a title."
Mike Mastovich is a sports reporter and columnist for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 814-532-5083. Follow him on Twitter @Masty81.