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High School Football | Trinity, Steel-High open state playoffs this weekend

The Shamrocks host Philadelphia West Catholic Friday night, while the Rollers host District 5 champ Windber Saturday afternoon. Here's a preview of both games.

YORK, Pa. — While the District 3 playoffs are just winding down in Class 6A, 5A, and 4A and the title is on the line this week in Class 3A, the state playoffs are already underway in the PIAA's two small-school classifications.

Reigning District 3 champs Trinity and Steelton-Highspire will open States with first-round games this week. The Shamrocks, who captured the Class 2A title last week with a rout of Annville-Cleona, host Philadelphia West Catholic on Friday night. Steel-High, which won its third straight Class 1A title earlier this month and defeated Belmont Charter in a sub-regional playoff game last week, will host District 5 champ Windber Saturday afternoon.

Here's a preview of both games:


First Round

Friday, 7 p.m. at Trinity HS

West Catholic (4-7) at Trinity (8-4)

How they got here: Trinity finished third in the Mid-Penn Capital division race in the regular season. The Shamrocks struggled early in the season, as a 40-14 loss to West Perry in their Capital opener dropped their record to 1-3. But Trinity rebounded to win five of its last six regular-season games, with the only loss a 35-28 overtime heartbreaker against Steel-High in Week 9. In the district playoffs, the Shamrocks rolled to a 56-17 victory over Delone Catholic in the semifinals and routed Annville-Cleona 58-27 in last week's title game. It was Trinity's third district title overall and its first since 2010.

West Catholic struggled to a sixth-place finish in the Philadelphia Catholic League's Blue Division, but the Burrs' 4-7 overall record is deceiving. West Catholic gave league champ Bonner Prendergrast everything it could handle before falling 13-12 in its final regular-season game, and proved its playoff worthiness with last week's 57-7 stomping of Bicentennial League champion Bristol in its regional playoff game last week.

Players to Watch: Trinity's multi-faceted offense piled up nearly 600 yards and produced three 100-yard rushers in last week's rout of Annville-Cleona. The Shamrocks got 100-yard games from RBs Messiah Mickens (170), Max Schlager (153) and Christian Joy (113) in the victory over the Little Dutchmen. 

Mickens, who reportedly counts Texas A&M among his college suitors, scored a pair of touchdowns against A-C, as did his backfield mate Schlager. Most of Joy's work came during Mercy Rule time, but he found the end zone once in the game's closing seconds.

QB Caleb Wray completed all six of his pass attempts for 107 yards and a touchdown for the Shamrocks.

Mickens (878), Schlager (775) and Joy (568) are the main cogs of a ground attack that produces 223.5 yards per game for the Shamrocks this season. The trio has also accounted for 32 touchdowns.

Wray has completed 58 of 100 pass attempts for 965 yards and 11 scores in 11 starts.

According to one account of the game, West Catholic had a decided speed advantage in its blowout win over Bristol last week. After battling big schools for most of the regular season, the Burrs broke loose once they faced a team in its weight class. 

Kahir Thompson took a punt return 45 yards to the house to get the Burrs on the scoreboard, while Jaire Green added a 45-yard TD run during a huge night out of the backfield for West Catholic.

QB Kai-EL Durham also hit a pair of TD tosses in the first half as the Burrs built a 38-7 halftime lead.

Notable: Trinity and West Catholic share one common opponent this season. Both lost non-conference matchups with Roman Catholic (8-2). The Cahillites defeated Trinity 41-14 on Sept. 2, and dusted West Catholic 31-0 a week later.

West Catholic had some memorable state playoff clashes with Lancaster Catholic a little over a decade ago. The Burrs defeated Lancaster Catholic 37-14 in the 2008 semifinals before falling to Wilmington in the title game. The Crusaders avenged that loss with a 23-21 victory in the state semifinals one year later on their way to a state title. West Catholic eventually captured a state title of its own in 2010. The Burrs have won eight District 12 titles.


First Round

Windber (11-1) at Steelton-Highspire (10-1)

Saturday, 1 p.m. at Steelton-Highspire HS

How They Got Here: After winning the Mid-Penn Capital division title in the regular-season, Steel-High collected its third straight District 3 Class 1A title with a 62-6 rout of Fairfield on Nov. 4. The Rollers dusted Belmont Charter 46-6 in a sub-regional playoff clash last week for their ninth straight victory last week.

Steel-High's only loss of the season was all the way back on Sept. 2, when the Rollers dropped a 39-18 decision to Pittsburgh-based powerhouse Westinghouse, which won a City League championship and a District 5/8 subregional title and are still alive in the state playoffs.

Windber finished second in the West Pennsylvania Athletic Conference in the regular-season after falling 14-0 to eventual champ Berlin Brothersvalley on Sept. 23. The Ramblers have won seven in a row since then, including a 14-0 triumph over Northern Bedford in the District 5 title game last week. It was the fourth straight shutout victory for Windber, which has pitched seven shutouts this season. The Ramblers have allowed just 49 total points this season and haven't been scored on in more than a month.

Players to Watch: Steel-High has talent and speed all over the place, which makes it hard to key on one player. Take, for example, last week's blowout win over Belmont Charter. The Rollers got their requisite big game from quarterback Alex Erby (247 yards on 7-of-11 passing, four TDs, plus one score on the ground). Durrell Ceaser Jr. had three catches for 122 yards, scored on TD strikes of 91 and 21 yards, and added an interception on defense. And Jaeion Perry grabbed Erby's other two touchdown passes and added a third TD on a fumble recovery in the end zone.

Windber gets it done the old fashioned way -- with a punishing ground game and a stingy defense. The Ramblers' offense basically revolves around one guy -- senior John Shuster, who has a ridiculous 2,613 yards and 37 touchdowns on 198 carries this season. Shuster had 185 yards and two scores on 33 carries in Windber's District 5 title-clinching victory over Northern Bedford. Windber runs an old-school single wing alignment that focuses on Shuster, who is occasionally spelled by junior Colin Marx (36-475, nine TDs) and senior fullback Blake Klosky (53-376, eight TDs).

Defensively, Shuster (4.5) and Dominic Bifano (5.0) lead the Ramblers in sacks, while brothers Ethan and Evan Brady have combined for six interceptions to share the team lead at three apiece. 

Windber has forced 21 turnovers this season (15 interceptions, six fumbles).

Notable: Steel-High is ranked second in the state in Class 1A by Pennlive and first by PA Football News. Windber is unranked by Pennlive, but ranked sixth by the other statewide publication.

This week's winner will face either Northern Lehigh (11-1) or Lackawanna Trail (8-4) in the PIAA quarterfinals on Nov. 25 or 26 at a site and time to be determined.

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