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High School Football: Steel-High, Central York go for state gold; here's a look at their matchups

The Rollers face Jeannette Friday at 11 a.m., while the Panthers take on nationally-ranked powerhouse St. Joseph's Prep on Saturday at 8 p.m.
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HERSHEY, Pa. — Steelton-Highspire and Central York are the last two Central Pennsylvania high school football teams standing in the 2020 season.

The Rollers and the Panthers will both vie for state titles this weekend in the PIAA championships at Hersheypark Stadium.

Steel-High, which won Class A state titles in 2007 and 2008, are back in the title game for the first time in 12 years. The Rollers will face Jeannette in the Class A final Friday morning.

Central York is the first York County team to make it to the state's gold-medal game. The Panthers will have their hands full in the Class 6A championship game Saturday night, when they face two-time defending state champion and nationally ranked powerhouse St. Joseph's.

Here's a look at both matchups.

PIAA CLASS 1A CHAMPIONSHIP

Steelton-Highspire (9-0) vs. Jeanette (10-1)

Friday, 11 a.m. at Hersheypark Stadium

TV Coverage/Live Stream: PCN

ABOUT JEANNTTE: The Jayhawks roll into the championship game on a 10-game winning streak. Their only loss is a 34-27 setback to Clairton in the season opener. Jeannette has since avenged that defeat, hammering the Bears 46-14 in the WPIAL championship game, which also served as the state quarterfinals.

That victory, which many in the western half of the state categorized as a shocker, earned Jeannette its 10th WPIAL title. Clairton had been victorious in its last 10 WPIAL finals appearances before being upended by the Jayhawks, who went on to rout Reynolds 48-12 in the state semifinals last week.

Jeannette is in the state championship game for the third time in program history. The Jayhawks won a Class 2A title in 2007, when future Ohio State star Terelle Pryor was their starting quarterback. They also won a Class 1A crown in 2017.

The Jayhawks are one of the state's most-storied programs. Jeannette's overall record of 766-319-40 ranks fourth among all teams in Pennsylvania high school football history.

Jeannette dressed only 24 players in last week's semifinal victory over Reynolds due to a combination injuries and COVID-19 concerns. Among those missing were freshman quarterback Brad Birch, senior wide receiver/linebacker Toby Cline and sophomore defensive back Noah Sanders. 

Birch was sidelined with an ankle injury in the third quarter of Jeannette's victory over Clairton, and it's unclear whether he will be back in action this week. The same goes for Cline and Sanders.

Birch has completed 108 of 184 passes for 1,676 yards and 28 touchdowns this season. 

If Birch can't go on Friday, senior Roberto Smith Jr. will take his spot. Smith, who normally starts at running back, is Jeannette's leading rusher. He has 717 yards and 20 touchdowns on 100 attempts for the season.

Smith led the Jayhawks with 277 passing yards and a touchdown while adding 20 yards and another three scores on the ground against Reynolds last week. Most of his throws went to James Sanders (Noah's brother), who hauled in three catches for 191 yards and a score.

Brett Birch, a junior and Brad's older brother, had three catches for 86 yards last week. He also added a pair of interceptions from his defensive back spot. Brett Birch is Jeannette's leading receiver, with 40 catches for 575 yards and 10 scores.

Meanwhile, Jeannette's defense and special teams have excelled in the playoffs. The Jayhawks forced six turnovers in their victory over Clairton, and followed that up with three takeaways against Reynolds, including a 36-yard TD return on a fumble recovery.

Jeannette added TD returns on a blocked punt and a strip-sack in their victory over Clairton.

ABOUT STEEL-HIGH: The Rollers have shown a flair for the dramatic in their state playoff run. In each of their last two games, they've had to come from behind to win in the game's closing seconds.

In their 39-33 quarterfinal victory over Old Forge, the Rollers won the game on a TD pass from Alex Erby to Mekhi Flowers in the back of the end zone with no time left. The play was set up by a defensive holding penalty on Old Forge in the end zone on the previous snap, giving Steel-High one last untimed down that they took advantage of.

It was a similar scenario in last week's 16-14 semifinal victory over Bishop Guilfoyle. Trailing by a point, Steel-High drove the ball to the Marauder 25 with 52 seconds left, but their drive appeared to be over when Erby's fourth-down pass over the middle fell incomplete.

But Guilfoyle was flagged for defensive holding on the play, giving Steel-High new life at the Marauder 12. The Rollers booted a 29-yard field goal with 45 seconds to go, then watched nervously as Guilfoyle drove into their territory in the game's waning seconds, only to miss a 36-yard field goal with 15 seconds remaining. 

It was the ninth straight victory for the undefeated Rollers, who now get the chance to earn their first state championship since they captured back-to-back titles in 2007 and 2008.

Like Jeannette, Steel-High has one of the state's most-successful programs. The Rollers are Pennsylvania's fifth-most winningest team, with an overall program record of 763-439-55. 

Erby, a freshman, has completed 143 of 225 passes for 2,318 yards and 31 touchdowns this season. He's been intercepted seven times.

Odell Greene is the Rollers' top rusher, with 1,463 yards and 13 touchdowns on 199 carries. 

Flowers, the Rollers' top receiver, is a threat to score whenever he touches the ball -- whether it's in the passing game, as a rusher, or as a kick returner. He scored both Steel-High touchdowns in the semifinals, one on a four-yard run, and the other on an 86-yard strike from Erby. He's caught 57 passes for 950 yards and 14 touchdowns this season.

PIAA CLASS 6A CHAMPIONSHIP

Central York (10-0) vs. St. Joseph's Prep (5-0)

Saturday, 8 p.m. at Hersheypark Stadium

TV Coverage/Live Stream: PCN

ABOUT ST. JOSEPH'S PREP: The Hawks should require no introduction for Pennsylvania high school football fans. Their resume is sterling. They've won three of the last four Class 6A state titles since the PIAA moved to six classes, including the last two in a row. Last year, the Hawks knocked off Central Dauphin 35-13 in the title game.

If you factor in the time when the PIAA had just four classifications, St. Joe's has reached the state final in seven of the last eight years, capturing six titles over that span. They've reached the state championship game in five straight seasons.

This year, Hawks are ranked third in the nation by both USA Today and MaxPreps. They have major college prospects up and down their roster, some of whom are the scions of NFL legends.

Their quarterback, senior Kyle McCord, is an Ohio State recruit who threw for six touchdowns in the first half of last week's 51-43 semifinal victory over Souderton. McCord is a three-year starter for St. Joseph's. 

With his output against Souderton, McCord tied an unofficial Philadelphia city record with 84 career TD passes, and needs just 302 yards in the state title game to eclipse the Philly mark of 6,837 career yards set by former La Salle star Brett Gordon, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

McCord's top target is wideout Marvin Harrison Jr., whose father famously was the No. 1 target for future NFL Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning with the Indianapolis Colts. The younger Harrison has 2,551 receiving yards in his career, which is also believed to be a Philly record, according to the Inquirer. 

Harrison's 34 career TD receptions are two short of the city record, the Inquirer says. He is set to join McCord at Ohio State next fall. 

The Hawk defense is anchored by senior linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr.; Philadelphia Eagles fans will remember his father, a standout linebacker under former coach Andy Reid. 

Trotter, a Clemson recruit, is joined on defense by his younger brother Josiah, a sophomore linebacker -- just like his older brother and famous dad.

St. Joseph's has Mercy Ruled all five of its opponents this season. Last week against Souderton, the Hawks built a 44-7 lead at halftime to trigger the running clock, then boosted the margin to 51-7 when Malik Cooper returned a kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown to open the second half.

Souderton put up 36 points against the Hawks' reserves, but never got within striking distance of the starters.

ABOUT CENTRAL YORK: No matter what the outcome of Saturday's game is, this has been an unforgettable year for the Panthers, who can already claim to have put together the most successful season in York County history. 

Central York has already captured a York-Adams Division I title and its first-ever District 3 Class 6A football championship, and is now the first York County team ever to reach the state championship game. 

The Panthers have done it with an offense that is averaging 416 yards and 54.8 points per game, a defense that yields 8.2 points and 206.4 yards per game, and a special teams unit that comes through with big plays when called upon. 

Running the show on offense is junior quarterback Beau Pribula, who has thrived in the new offense brought in by Gerry Yonchiuk, who first installed his Air Raid No Huddle attack during his time at Lebanon. This year, Pribula has thrown for 1,980 yards and 35 touchdowns and added 14 scores on the ground.

In last week's 37-21 semifinal victory over McDowell, Pribula rushed for 106 yards and two TDs and added 305 yards and a score through the air as the Panthers overcame an early 14-0 deficit to subdue the Trojans.

Judah Tomb, Pribula's top target, had 10 catches for 182 yards and a touchdown against McDowell, boosting his season numbers to 44 catches, 793 yards and 15 scores. Tomb is a dangerous weapon on special teams as well; his 82-yard punt return helped lift Central York over Delaware Valley in the quarterfinals.

Isaiah Sturgis, who had a touchdown run against McDowell, is the Panthers' leading rusher with 691 yards and seven touchdowns on 104 carries.

Central York's defense has gotten dented a little more in the playoffs as the level of competition increased, but the Panthers have still held six of 10 opponents to under double-digits and earned four shutouts this season.