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December 6, 2013

Weekend Watch: PIAA Semifinals

Each week, PaPreps will highlight some of the more intriguing match-ups of the weekend, from interesting locations to milestone moments to premium contenders going at it, we'll try and grab the best potential games of the weekend.

Later Friday night and again on Saturday, we'll post scores from around the state as they come across the Associated Press wire.

Week 15 PIAA Semifinals
Class A: Old Forge vs. Steelton-Highspire at Hazleton
Buzz: Like most teams at this stage, this is a match-up between two squads that score in bunches and don't give up much in return. Both teams are mostly ground-oriented, and this might be mostly about which team is more prepared thanks to their schedule. While Steel-High's only loss came via a forfeit, District 3's relatively light with competition. Old Forge's path, which included a revenge-game against Dunmore and a win over Southern Columbia, has them more battle-tested. We'll see if it pays off. One side note: Not only would Old Forge be making its first trip to the state finals, but a District 2 team hasn't won the Class A title since Dunmore in 1989.
Class A: Clarion vs. North Catholic at DuBois
Buzz: This one will be a clash in styles. Clarion's aggressive offense, featuring 2,000-plus yard passer John Katis and 1,000 yard rushers Damien Slike and Ian Corbett will try to match points with North Catholic's quadruple-head backfield and the occasionally dangerous throw from P.J. Fulmore. Neither team has lost this season. Neither team has made it to the state finals in school history. This one might be about which team handles the pressure the best rather than which team has the most potent players.
Class AA: Berks Catholic vs. Imhotep Charter at Governor Mifflin High
Buzz: Imhotep is back in the semifinal for the second year in a row, facing a District 3 team from Berks County. Last year, Imhotep didn't have an answer for the power-running game of Wyomissing. Will they have a solution to Berks Catholic's own impressive running game? There's little denying Imhotep's speed and potency on offense, but with fewer passes thrown by Berks Catholic, Imhotep's defense might be less capable of creating its usual turnovers and have to dig deep in the trenches to stop the run. Neither team has been to the PIAA finals.
Class AA: Hickory vs. South Fayette at Slippery Rock University
Buzz: Two excellent quarterbacks will go head-to-head, and this game may be less about them and more about which defense can stop the other. Brett Brumbaugh is launching an assault on the WPIAL passing records, while Matt Voytik has led Hickory with both his arm and his legs. South Fayette's the favorite. The seniors on the Lions' roster made it to the state finals in 2010, and the WPIAL posed more of a difficult challenge than District 10 did for Hickory. But Hickory has nothing to lose as the underdog, and with their talent, that's a pretty dangerous scenario.
Class AAA: Archbishop Wood vs. Berwick at J. Birney Crum Stadium
Buzz: This is familiar territory for Archbishop Wood, which has now been to all six semifinals since the Philadelphia Catholic League joined the PIAA in 2008. Wood's made three state title trips out of those semifinals and will be eying a fourth. The Vikings are a known commodity, a run-heavy team that might be the most physical team in any class. George Curry's second stint at Berwick has seen the Bulldogs open up and be a major dual-threat under quarterback C.J. Curry. Berwick used to rule the roost in AAA. Will the Curry combo bring a District 2 team back to the AAA final for the first time since Berwick's last title in 1997?
Class AAA: Bishop McDevitt vs. Cathedral Prep at Clearfield
Buzz: These two teams met here last year, so even though some of the personnel has changed, they'll be very familiar with each other. Prep won 38-3 last year en route to a state title. Prep had a tougher schedule last year and last week's 28-0 shutdown of West Allegheny was probably their best test. McDevitt's been through the ringer out of District 3, though the most potent offense they faced - Cedar Cliff - handed them their only loss. Prep will bring a similar attack along with a defense out to prove that it's among the best in the state. If McDevitt's defense is up to the task, Prep's own defenders will be hard pressed to shut down McDevitt's balanced yet potent attack.
Class AAAA: St. Joseph's Prep vs. Neshaminy at Northeast High
Buzz: The old adage is that defense wins championships. St. Joseph's Prep might try to buck that trend. The Hawks give up the most points per game of any finalist in any class at 20.4 points per game. Against a devastating ground game like Neshaminy's, that might not be the best recipe. SJP handled the potent running attack of Archbishop Wood, but struggled in a loss to Samir Bullock and Archbishop Ryan. So which defense shows up against the Skins? Meanwhile, Neshaminy's lack of balance on offense could end up being an Achilles heel. If SJP's multiple weapons help the Hawks get out to an early lead, the Redskins aren't exactly built for a comeback. Talk about a chess match.
Class AAAA: Pittsburgh Central Catholic vs. Lower Dauphin at Altoona High
Buzz: Lower Dauphin is the Cinderella story of Quad-A. The Falcons were expected to be talented but were far from the favorite to win District 3 and potentially be a state title contender. But thanks to a stifling defense (roughly 8 points per game), the Falcons are one step away from a date in Hershey. They shut down Cedar Cliff's potent passing attack, but perhaps the best analogue is their 25-14 loss to Bishop McDevitt. That's the type of running attack that Lower Dauphin will face, and if the Falcons can shut down Central Catholic's ridiculously talented duo of Luigi Lista-Brinz and Riley Redman, it'll put all the pressure on QB J.J. Cosentino. The focal point really is the Lower Dauphin defense, because Central Catholic's had very few issues with teams that are as run-heavy as Lower Dauphin. The longer the score stays in the teens or lower, the better it is for Lower Dauphin.

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