The 2017 high school football season in Central Pennsylvania is down to a Final Four.
Manheim Township captured its first-ever District 3 championship Saturday with a 24-21 victory over Cumberland Valley in the Class 6A title game in Hersheypark Stadium. The Blue Streaks join Manheim Central, which scored a 30-29 come-from-behind triumph over Governor Mifflin in the 5A championship Friday night, in the PIAA semifinals.
Also advancing in the state playoffs were Middletown, a 35-0 winner over Scranton Prep in the Class 3A quarterfinals on Friday, and Steelton-Highspire, which blasted Williams Valley 41-6 in the Class 1A quarterfinals.
One other Central PA team, Bishop McDevitt, saw its season come to an end with a 45-24 loss to powerful Berks Catholic in the 4A quarterfinals.
Here’s a quick glance at this weekend’s state semifinal matchups:
Manheim Township (13-1) vs. Pine-Richland (14-0)
Saturday, 1 p.m. in Altoona
Pine-Richland, the District 7 champion out of the WPIAL, got to the semifinals by rolling over Pittsburgh Central Catholic (42-7) and State College (49-21) in the state playoffs. None of the Rams’ 14 opponents have managed to hold them to less than 41 points this season. That’s due in large part to quarterback Phil Jurkovic, a Notre Dame recruit who has passed for more than 3,200 yards and 33 touchdowns this season. Oh, and he’s added 908 yards on the ground, too, for good measure.
Long-time local high school football fans might remember Pine-Richland from 2003, when they faced Manheim Central in the PIAA Class 3A championship game — arguably the best game in state-playoff history. Played in near-blizzard conditions, the game ended when Manheim Central blocked a Pine-Richland PAT kick in double-overtime to escape with a 39-38 victory and the title.
Pine-Richland is the first team to win a WPIAL championship in four different classifications, but the Rams are still chasing their first state title. They’ve been runner-ups twice after falling 49-41 to St. Joseph’s Prep in the 2014 Class 4A title game.
Manheim Township has never been this far in the postseason before. The Blue Streaks captured their first district title with their 10th straight victory on Saturday. Luke Emge threw for a pair of first-half touchdowns as Township built a 14-7 halftime lead, while Grayson Sallade’s 10-yard TD run in the second half gave the Streaks a two-score lead with 6:50 left. CV added a late touchdown to cut the margin to three points, but that’s as close as the Eagles would get.
Sallade finished with 149 yards on 38 carries for the Streaks. He has 1,313 yards and 17 scores this season.
Saturday’s winner will face either St. Joseph’s Prep (12-0) or Coatesville (13-1), who are squaring off in the other 6A semifinal, in the championship game on Saturday, Dec. 9.
Manheim Central (13-0) vs. Gateway (13-1)
Friday, 7 p.m. in Altoona
The Barons captured their record 17th district championship by staging a fourth-quarter rally, taking the lead for good on a 33-yard touchdown pass from Evan Simon to Vinny Lester with 3:51 remaining. Governor Mifflin, which rallied from a pair of two-touchdown deficits, grabbed a 29-23 lead with 4:47 left when Kam Wolfe hit Michael Franks on a 47-yard TD strike, but all that did was set up the final heroics for the Barons, who executed a 71-yard scoring drive on their next possession and held on from there.
Central is trying to book its third trip to the state finals. The Barons defeated Pine-Richland in 2003 (see above), fell to Thomas Jefferson a year later and lost to Selinsgrove in 2009.
The Barons will have their hands full with Gateway, which avenged its only loss of the season by defeating Penn Trafford 21-16 in its state playoff opener and knocked off Hollidaysburg 49-30 in the quarterfinals. The Gators have a standout quarterback in Brady Walker, who has just under 3,600 passing yards and 38 touchdowns this season.
The Central-Gateway winner will advance to the state finals, where they will face the winner of the other semifinal matchup between Archbishop Wood (10-2) and Unionville (13-1).
Middletown (13-0) vs. Conwell-Egan (8-6)
Saturday, 1 p.m. at West Chester-Rustin
If you judge solely by record, Conwell-Egan is one of the more unlikely state semifinalists. The Eagles finished the regular season with a 4-6 record, but rallied to knock off New Hope Solebury (42-14) and Lansdale Catholic (44-20) to capture the Philadelphia Catholic League championship before defeating unbeaten District 11 champ Palisades 34-17 in Friday’s state quarterfinal.
Up next for the Eagles is Middletown, which ran roughshod over its District 3 competition and blanked Scranton Prep 35-0 in Friday’s quarterfinals to book a second straight trip to the state semis. It was the second straight playoff shutout for the Blue Raiders, who haven’t allowed more than 10 points in eight straight games.
Middletown’s defense will be tested this week, as Conwell-Egan has a great ground game powered by junior Patrick Garwo, who has 1,838 yards and 24 touchdowns on 225 attempts. Garwo exploded for 274 yards and three touchdowns in Friday’s victory over Palisades.
The Blue Raiders also like to ground and pound opponents, but they’ve got two stellar backs to share the load. Brady Fox, the school’s all-time leading rusher, has 1,402 yards and 26 touchdowns for Middletown, while Jose Lopez has 1,749 yards and 25 scores. Lopez sat out Middletown’s victory over Scranton Prep with an injury, but will reportedly be back in the lineup Saturday.
Steelton-Highspire (11-2) vs. Homer Center (12-1)
Friday, 7 p.m. at Hollidaysburg HS
Homer Center stunned heavily favored Bishop Guilfoyle 20-14 in the District 6 championship game, ending the three-time defending state champion’s 59-game winning streak. It was Guilfoyle’s first loss since falling in the 2013 district championship game. The Wildcats’ defense made a final stand in the game’s closing seconds, as Nick Schmidt swatted away a pass in the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the Homer Center 5-yard line. Jesse Lee and Mike McCracken were the offensive stars for Homer Center, as Lee rushed for 130 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries and McCracken added 112 yards and a score on 20 attempts.
Steel-High added another blowout to its playoff run, hammering the previously unbeaten District 11 champs. The Rollers have allowed 13 points in their last two playoff games, and have outscored opponents 147-55 in the postseason overall. Malachi Young was the catalyst against Williams Valley, passing for 119 yards and two touchdowns. Dupre Andrews added 92 yards and two scores on the ground for the Rollers, who are in the state semifinals for the second straight year.
Friday’s winner will take on either Jeanette (13-1) or Farrell (11-2) in the state championship game on Thursday, Dec. 7.