What the various district and opening games of the state playoffs are lacking in predictability, they're more than making up for it with last-minute excitement.
Fifteen games were decided by seven points or loss, meaning just over a quarter of all 58 playoff games in the state bracket were decided by a a single score. Here's how some of the best of those close calls went down.
Comfortably ahead 28-7 with the clock winding down to the final minutes of the third quarter, Pennridge appeared to be in control.
But then the ground-and-pound Pennsbury offense found its quick strike capability and turned a potential snoozer into pure drama. Pennsbury scored three touchdowns in just under 11 minutes, but a missed extra point by Mikhail Kniaziewicz proved to be the difference.
Though Pennsbury's three scores came on the ground, the Falcons' late chance came in large part due to finding a quarterback. Known for running the ball, Pennsbury turned to sophomore QB Breon Clark to throw for 102 yards and help keep Pennridge off balance. Clark even had a chance to be the hero at the end, as Pennsbury recovered the onside kick, but Pennridge's defense sacked him and snuffed out the last gasp.
Pennsbury might not have been able to cap their valiant comeback with the final score necessary. Interboro did.
Down 21-8 with less than five minutes left in the fourth quarter, Interboro quarterback Nick Rentos tossed a 65-yard touchdown to Mark Everton to make it 21-15 with just over four minutes left in the game. After an exchange of turnovers, Interboro forced an Academy Park punt deep in their own zone. The punt snap went awry, and though Academy Park recovered, it put Interboro in excellent field position.
Running back Warren Allen plunged in from 1-yard out with just 1:24 to go, and the Bucs tacked on the go-ahead extra point to take a 22-21 lead. Rejuvenated, the Interboro defense shut down Academy Park's hopes to stave off the comeback, intercepting a pass for the final play.
"That was a Buc win,'" Interboro coach Steve Lennox told the Delco Times. "That was a Buc win.' And I saw a lot of my alumni here, and they were all yelling the same thing at me: 'A Buc win.'"
Interboro will play fellow upset-minded West Chester Henderson, a 31-28 winner over top seeded Pottsgrove, in the District 1 Class AAA final.
CENTRAL VALLEY-WEST MIFFLIN
The decision is a tough one. You're the head coach and your team has just scored in overtime. The extra point ties the game, but a two-point conversion gives you the win and sends you to the championship.
What do you do? Mark Lyons has been there. In a crucial league battle early in the year, he went for the two-point conversion to get Central Valley a win. They didn't convert and took the loss. Friday night, West Mifflin showed Central Valley how to convert.
After Robert Foster scored his third touchdown of the game to give Central Valley a 35-28 lead in overtime, West Mifflin got a 10-yard score from Derrick Fulmore. West Mifflin lined up to kick the PAT and send it into a second overtime, but Central Valley was whistled for offsides. Given a second chance with the ball even closer, West Mifflin turned to Fulmore again, and he plunged in from a couple yards out for the win.
Foster, a four-star wide receiver prospect, finished with 259 total yards, including 160 yards rushing, in his final game.
CHANGING OF THE GUARD?
It's only fitting that a little bit of West Catholic flavor exists in Imhotep Charter's success this year. After all, Imhotep hired former West Catholic offensive coordinator Albie Crosby as head coach in the offseason. But even though Imhotep is playing in the weaker Philadelphia Public League, they've borrowed more than just West Catholic's style.
They're now borrowing West Catholic's results. Crosby coached Imhotep to a 40-8 victory over his old squad in the District 12 Class AA final, marking the first time since the Philadelphia Catholic League became part of the PIAA that West Catholic will not be the district's representative in the state playoffs.
Former West Catholic running back David Williams, a four-star recruit, played a major role in his old school's demise. Williams, who transferred to Imhotep in March, carried 23 times for 199 yards. He also scored two touchdowns, including a back-breaking 64-yard run in the fourth quarter that essentially sealed it for Imhotep.
Thanks to a strong running game, a 12-0 record, and an off week before their next playoff game, Imhotep will be a strong favorite to emerge as the east's representative in the PIAA Class AA title game. And with Crosby at the helm, it's possible that Imhotep - not West Catholic - will be the new top dog in District 12.
CINDERELLA WEARS BLACK
Harrisburg was 1-9 in 2011 and the athletics program appeared destined for the chopping block. Now the Cougars are 10-2 and a legitimate contender for the District 3 Class AAAA title.
Facing extreme budget cuts, Harrisburg had to rely on a last minute save from a private organization to keep sports at the high school. Since then, the Cougars have been dominant on the football field. Their only losses have been to state title contenders Bishop McDevitt and Central Dauphin, and those two losses were by a combined four points.
Thanks to stud running back Robert Martin - who ran for 360 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries in a 47-28 win over Cumberland Valley in this weekend's district quarterfinal - and some health, Harrisburg has become a balanced and dangerous team. Not only is Martin dangerous out of the backfield, but quarterback Kyle Cook has been efficient in the pocket. Cook, a senior, has thrown for 1,348 yards, 16 touchdowns, and just six interceptions in 12 games.
In their black-clad jerseys, the Cougars are no longer a District 3 doormat. They just might end up as champions.
Archbishop Wood sophomore Jarrett McClenton didn't need 20 carries to make a dent in Wood's 49-28 win over Bok Tech. He didn't even need 10. McClenton carried three times for 142 yards, scored on a 56-yard touchdown, and took a 92-yard kickoff return to the house...Neshaminy RB Nate Hall carried 36 times for 276 yards and scored the Redskins only two touchdowns in a 14-7 win over Central Bucks South...Cathedral Prep QB Damion Terry completed 17-of-24 passes for 331 yards and three touchdowns in a 54-12 win over Warren...Slippery Rock RB Frank Conlon carried 15 times for 284 yards and two touchdowns in a 46-42 loss to General McLane.
North Allegheny quarterback Mack Leftwich had a field day against Seneca Valley's defense. The Stephen F. Austin commit completed 18-of-23 passes for 360 yards, ran 17 times for 79 yards, threw for five touchdowns, and ran for two more in a 47-17 win...University Prep QB Akil Young was 24-of-37 for 351 yards and five touchdowns in a 36-22 upset of previously unbeaten Clearfield...Port Allegany QB Matt Bodamer was 15-of-23 for 320 yards and two touchdowns and ran 15 times for 140 yards in a 48-7 win over Elk County Catholic. Receiver Tyce Millercaught eight passes for 205 yards...Washington RB Shai McKenzie ran for 293 yards and four touchdowns as Washington beat South Fayette 26-14.
Williams Valley defeated Tri-Valley 48-0 to capture the District 11 Class A title. It is their first 12-0 season and first trip to the state playoffs...Clairton won easily over Neshannock, making the Bears' WPIAL Class A title game against Sto-Rox the scene for their shot at breaking Central Bucks West's 59-game winning streak record.
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