YORK, Pa. — The path it took to get there wasn't always the easiest, but defending PIAA Class 1A champion Steelton-Highspire is back in the state playoffs after defeating Delone Catholic in last week's District 3 title game.
The Rollers' reward is a three-hour bus ride to Towanda High School in Bradford County, where the Rollers will face District 4 champion Canton -- a team making its first trip to States in more than 30 years.
The game will pit Steel-High's high-flying offense against the Warriors' stifling defense. Something will have to give.
Let's take a closer look at the matchup.
Steelton-Highspire (8-2) vs. Canton (12-0)
Saturday, 3 p.m. at Towanda HS, Bradford County
ABOUT STEEL-HIGH: The Rollers earned a chance to defend their state championship with a 42-20 triumph over Delone Catholic in last week's District 3 title game. The win snapped a two-game losing streak for Steel-High, which dropped its final two regular-season games against Big Spring (49-14) and Boiling Springs (29-28).
The Rollers looked shaky early against Delone, as the Squires converted a fumble on Steel-High's first possession into a 7-0 lead just two minutes into the game.
But the defending champs recovered. Alex Erby threw the first of his four touchdown passes on Steel-High's next possession, finding Tyrone Moore for a 28-yard score. And Daivin Pryor, whose fumble set up Delone's first TD, recovered to post 126 rushing yards, 21 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
Erby finished with just six completions for 75 yards, but four of those throws accounted for touchdowns.
The victory gave Steel-High its 15th district title. Now the Rollers will try to earn their fourth state crown.
They'll do it with an offense that has generated a ton of yardage and an average of 47 points per game this season. Erby is closing in on 3,000 passing yards -- he's completed 141 of 185 attempts for 2,882 yards and 37 scores this season.
His top targets are Moore (57-1,1050, 13 TDs), Rell Ceasr Jr. (42-655, 13 TDs), and Jaieon Perry (20-435, seven TDs).
In addition to its state title last year, Steel-High won back-to-back titles in 2007 and 2008.
ABOUT CANTON: The Warriors earned a berth in the state playoffs by defeating Muncy 45-7 in the District 4 championship game last week in Towanda. It was the Warriors' first district title since 1990, and it came at the expense of their playoff nemesis.
Before last week, Muncy had defeated Canton in three straight title-game meetings, all by a combined total of 11 points. Last year, after rallying to defeat Canton in the championship game, Muncy went on to face Steel-High in the state quarterfinals and lost, 50-43.
The Warriors finally tasted sweet revenge last week, dominating Muncy from the start. Their starters scored on all six possessions, exploding for 32 first-half points on their way to a blowout victory.
Weston Bellows scored a pair of touchdowns and racked up 197 total yards for Canton, while Riley Parker rushed for a game-high 97 yards and two scores.
It was Canton's eighth Mercy Rule victory of the season. The Warriors have won four games by shutout and held eight opponents to a single score.
There are 11 players on Canton's defense with at least one interception, and 10 have collected at least one sack. The Warriors have also scored three defensive touchdowns this year.
On offense, Canton has at least four players with 400 rushing yards and average 286 yards on the ground per game. Dual-threat QB Cooper Kitchen has more than 1,000 total yards and 18 touchdowns this season.
Bellows is the team's rushing leader and its top receiver, and has scored two touchdowns on kick returns. He's also one of the team's top tacklers on defense and has one interception from his strong safety spot in the secondary.
Canton's last trip to States came 31 years ago, after the Warriors won the District 4 title. They lost to eventual state champion Marian Catholic 34-17 in the semifinals.