In the PIAA Class AAAA state quarterfinals the last two football seasons, La Salle fought past a rugged Easton squad that showcased a smash-mouth style of offense.
This time, in a matchup slated for 1 p.m. Saturday at Hank Banko Field in Bethlehem, the Explorers (11-1) are pitted against a Nazareth team that thrives with a no-huddle, pass-happy approach.
La Salle coach Drew Gordon compared the Blue Eagles' scheme to the ones used by nonleague foe Bergen Catholic (N.J.) and Catholic League rival Roman Catholic.
"They like to spread you out, and they're real good at it," he said.
For the District 11 champions, Dan Harding, a 6-foot-4, 205-pound senior, has completed 229 of 337 passes for 3,448 yards and 31 touchdowns, with eight interceptions.
Said Gordon: "He's not a runner, but he throws well on the run and he can move around in the pocket."
Nazareth's top receivers are twins Adam (75 catches for 1,135 yards, 8 TDs) and Andrew Bridgeforth (55 for 956, 8), Alex Tonnies (37 for 590, 6), and Dan Shepherd (36 for 449, 8).
Keeping defenses honest, freshman Jordan Gray has rushed 244 times for 1,529 yards and 20 TDs. "He plays like he's a senior," Gordon said.
Nazareth's 4-3 defense is headed by linemen Aaron Bradley (64 tackles) and Dave Wilke (63), linebacker Shepherd (75), and backs Adam Bridgeforth (51), Andrew Bridgeforth, and Tonnies.
In Saturday's 28-14 triumph over Easton, Harding threw for 260 yards and three TDs, and Gray netted 148 yards.
The Blue Eagles (12-1) are guided by Rob Melosky, who has compiled a 30-16 record in four seasons.
Harding will test a La Salle secondary that includes cornerbacks Dad Poquie and Chris Rocco, and safeties Sean Coleman and Jimmy Herron.
The Explorers' size advantage and playoff savvy will be the difference in a tight contest.
Pick: La Salle, 27-23.
Last week: 11-0. Overall: 108-34.
Friday, at 7 p.m. at Northeast, Pottsgrove (11-2) and Archbishop Wood (11-2) will square off in a Class AAA quarterfinal for the second time in three years. Wood eked out a 30-28 win in 2009.
Pottsgrove's spread-option offense is sparked by QB Tory Hudgins (193 carries for 1,449 yards, 27 TDs), fullback Robby Curtin, and halfbacks Danny Michaels and Marquis Barefield.
Saturday, in claiming their second district title with a 42-13 win over Pioneer Athletic Conference rival Phoenixville, the Falcons piled up 542 rushing yards on 50 attempts.
Wood has not skipped a beat since losing to Pittsburgh Central Catholic, 20-17, in the season opener. Since then, the Vikings have outscored opponents by a combined 519-68.
Wood's catalysts are lefthanded QB Joey Monaghan, tailback Desmon Peoples, fullback Brandon Peoples, tight end Colin Thompson, and receivers Nate Smith and Kyle Adkins.
Keep an eye on the battle in the trenches. Pottsgrove's Madison O'Connor, a 6-6, 330-pound right tackle, likely will butt helmets with Wood tackle Frank Taylor (6-4, 295) and end Jonathan Vicari (6-0, 220).
It has been a nice run by the Falcons, but it ends here.
Pick: Wood, 42-14.
Saturday at noon at Southern, District 11's Pen Argyl (13-0) will face West Catholic (9-3) in a Class AA quarterfinal.
In a single-wing set, Pen Argyl's Dylan Evans has carried 284 times for 1,948 yards and 28 TDs (30 overall). For his career, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound senior has netted 4,283 rushing yards, 246 shy of the school record.
Other threats for the Green Knights, who have outscored foes by 499-89, are RB Mikey Racciato (951 yards rushing, 17 total TDs) and QB Conor Gum (1,042 yards passing, 14 TDs).
Slaying undefeated opponents in states is nothing new for West. En route to last year's crown, the Burrs knocked off three unbeatens by a combined score of 126-35.
Look for the District 12 champs to gradually take the fight out of Evans and company.
Pick: West, 26-14.
Contact staff writer Rick O'Brien at 610-313-8019, email@example.com,
or @ozoneinq on Twitter.
Read his blog, "The O'Zone,"