Prior to the season even starting, there was already going to be one new champion crowned in Hershey this year. Defending Class AA champion Lancaster Catholic moved up to Class AAA this year, guaranteeing that the Crusaders would not repeat, at least at that level.
This weekend brought another change. Not only did Lancaster Catholic officially bow out of the playoffs with a 27-7 loss to Bishop McDevitt, but defending Class AAAA champion Central Dauphin will not repeat as champion. The Rams fell to Harrisburg 27-21 in the District 3 semifinals.
Central Dauphin had lived dangerously all year, losing to Bishop McDevitt and coming back to win several close games in the final minutes or in overtime. The hole was just too big for the Rams this weekend. Harrisburg roared out to a 27-0 halftime lead, and it appeared Central Dauphin was cooked. But Brandon LaVia, Drew Scales, and Zayd Issah had one last rally.
LaVia tossed touchdowns to each player, and Issah had a 40-yard touchdown run, to pull Central Dauphin within a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. But a late pass fell incomplete, and Harrisburg held on. It was almost a repeat of the regular season contest, which Harrisburg lost 24-21 in overtime.
"This was a heavyweight fight. I knew they weren't going to go away. I knew they would come back punching," Harrisburg coach Calvin Everett told the Harrisburg Patriot-News. "And they hammered us a few times. Luckily, we didn't go to our knees and stay down. We got back up. I knew they were going to hit us."
Not only did the loss end a turbulent season for Central Dauphin, but it also marked the continuation of a streak that's now over a decade long. No Class AAAA state champion has repeat as champion since Central Bucks West capped the 90s with three straight titles. Meanwhile, Lancaster Catholic's move to Class AAA guaranteed that Class AA's streak of never having a repeat champion will also continue.
The games are supposed to get tougher as the season progresses, but for some teams, the playoffs have brought out the best in their offenses. Aliquippa's dominance of Washington and West Allegheny's romp over West Mifflin have already been documented on PaPreps, but the two WPIAL schools were far from alone in running wild this weekend.
Erie McDowell doesn't have a pretty record, but the Trojans were busy fighting off the best of Ohio much of the year. Now that they're in the playoffs, the Class AAAA Trojans have wielded their option offense like a battering ram. Against State College, McDowell backs James Conner and Khyre Drayer pounded out 301 yards between the two of them in a 42-0 romp.
"That was one of the best physical efforts we've had since I've been here. Both sides of the ball, we were as physical as we've been all season," McDowell coach Mark Soboleski told the Erie Times-News.
Conner, a Pitt commit originally recruited for defense but opening eyes for his running ability, picked up 213 yards on 20 carries. Drayer added another 88 yards, and the duo scored four McDowell touchdowns.
In the opposite corner of the state, Coatesville was busy putting an unexpected whipping on Neshaminy. The Red Raiders stacked up 515 yards against Neshaminy, winning a 63-28 rout that caught everyone by surprise.
Coatesville rattled off 514 total yards in the game, 313 of which came courtesy of a masterful performance by quarterback Emmett Hunt. Hunt completed 12-of-13 passes, tossing four touchdowns. Hunt connected with receiver Chris Jones on five of those passes for 156 yards.
"We knew he was really good," Neshaminy defensive back Steve Olenski told the Bucks County Courier Times. "I can't say we were surprised by that. We knew from watching them on film that the kid had a cannon (for an arm). He can really sling it. We prepared for it. I don't know what happened."
Running back Daquan Worley chipped in another 182 yards and three touchdowns in the effort for Coatesville, which erased a 216 yard, 4-touchdown performance from Neshaminy RB Nate Hall.
Several other teams launched punishing ground attacks at their opponents this weekend. West York overwhelmed Susquehanna Township 31-7 with a group that racked up 353 yards on the ground, including three backs with over 80 yards. Parkland hammered out 402 yards on the ground in its 49-41 shootout against Delaware Valley, including 226 yards and three touchdowns from Jared Elder.
Wyomissing also ran wild, as it had two 100-yard performances - including 119 yards and three touchdowns from Alex Anzalone - in a 44-0 rout of Bermudian Springs. In all, Wyomissing had 411 rushing yards in the blowout.
Part of what's made Cathedral Prep so dangerous this year is the dual-threat of quarterback Damion Terry in the backfield. Terry's torched most defenses with his arm, slinging it all over the field for 2,867 yards and 43 touchdowns. But the Michigan State commit can also run, picking up nine more scores on the ground.
But even he can't compete at times with what teammate Delton Williams does. Williams, also a Michigan State commit, has been one of Terry's top receiving threats all year. He's also Prep's leading rusher and a force in the secondary. Friday night, he gave General McLane a taste of what he can do in all three phases of the game.
Williams scored on a running play, a fumble return, and a punt return in propelling Prep to a 48-14 win. It was part of a game that featured three touchdowns without the Prep offense touching the ball. Williams' two returns were augmented by a kick return from Jake DeHart.
NEWS AND NOTES
- Bristol running back Donte Simmons carried a heavy load in a 20-0 upset of undefeated Williams Valley. Simmons carried 40 times for 218 yards and scored all three touchdowns for Bristol. The win was Bristol's first ever victory in a state playoff game.
- Special teams made the difference for Interboro in a 14-12 win over West Chester Henderson. Henderson had a distinct advantage in total yards, but missed an extra point attempt early in the game and couldn't connect on a two-point conversion later. Interboro also pinned Henderson deep into their own territory with several punts, flipping field position in their favor.
- Pen Argyl running back Mike DePaolo ran for 219 yards and scored three touchdowns in a 21-7 win over Wyoming. DePaolo carried 32 times in place of injured running back Mike Racciato, who was limited for much of the second half.
- Allentown Central Catholic running back Colin McDermott has taken well to the spotlight, and another star performance kept his team alive in the playoffs for one more week. McDermott, now the focal point of the ACC offense, ran for 260 yards and scored three touchdowns as the Vikings beat Abington Heights 23-0.
- Bishop McDevitt quarterback Alec Werner completed 18-of-23 passes for 327 yards and two touchdowns in McDevitt's 27-7 win over Lancaster Catholic. In the process, receiver Brian Lemelle caught nine passes for 121 yards, giving him 251 receptions for his career. Lemelle is now the state's all-time leading receiver, as the effort pushed him past Kevin Gulyas for the all-time mark. Lemelle was already the state's record holder in receiving yards.
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