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High School Football: L-S, Steel-High, and Central York face tough challenges as they look to advance to state finals

Lampeter-Strasburg hosts Jersey Shore in the Class 4A semis Friday, while Steel-High faces Bishop Guilfoyle and Central takes on McDowell on Saturday.
Credit: FOX43

We're down to three Central Pennsylvania teams still alive in the state football playoffs. 

Lampeter-Strasburg, Steelton-Highspire, and Central York all advanced to the PIAA semifinals in their respective classes. And (as you might expect when you get down to the final four teams statewide) all of them face challenging opponents as they look to move on.

L-S will take on Jersey Shore in the Class 4A semifinals Friday night, while Steel-High hosts Bishop Guilfoyle in the Class A semis on Saturday.

Also Saturday afternoon, Central York travels to Altoona for a neutral-site game against Erie McDowell in the Class 6A semifinals.

Here's a look at each matchup:

PIAA CLASS 4A SEMIFINALS

Jersey Shore (9-0) at Lampeter-Strasburg (9-0)

Friday, 7 p.m.

About Jersey Shore: The District 4 champion Bulldogs punched their ticket to the semifinals with a 26-14 victory over District 2 champion Crestwood last week, capturing their ninth straight victory. 

It was the third straight district crown for Jersey Shore, which is the state's top-ranked team in Class 4A, according to Pennsylvania Football News. The Bulldogs, who are located in Lycoming County, compete in the Heartland Conference.

Last week's victory was also one of the closest shaves of the season for Jersey Shore, which has outscored its opponents by an average margin of 34 points per game. 

Jersey Shore's identity appears to revolve around a stingy defense and multi-faceted, up-tempo offense that is capable of posting big numbers. 

The Bulldogs have allowed just 4.9 points per game this season and have posted four shutouts in nine games. The 14 points Crestwood managed to post in last week's state quarterfinals were the most allowed by Jersey Shore all season.

Meanwhile, the Bulldog offense has put up an average of 38.5 points and 426 yards per game. Running back Cam Allison, a 5-7, 165-pound senior, leads a trio of dangerous rushers in the Jersey Shore backfield with 978 yards and seven touchdowns on 178 attempts. Sophomore Brady Jordan (42-315, eight TDs) and senior Owen Anderson (52-469, eight TDs) also bear watching for the Bulldogs.

Senior quarterback Branden Wheary has completed 121 of 210 passes for 1,722 yards and 21 touchdowns for Jersey Shore. His top targets are Cayden Hess (56-763, seven TDs), Anderson (35-600, eight TDs), and Dalton Dungan (21-246, four TDs). 

About L-S: The Pioneers captured their second straight District 3 championship last week with a 20-3 victory over Lancaster-Lebanon League neighbor Elco.

Last year, L-S defeated Berks Catholic 35-21 to capture the district crown before bowing out to Thomas Jefferson 44-2 in the state semifinals. The Jaguars went on to capture their fourth state title after vanquishing the Pioneers.

This year, L-S collected another district trophy and roared back into the state semis by outscoring its nine opponents 412-102. Elco is the only team to stay within 20 points of the Pioneers all season; L-S has won its games by an average margin of 34.4 points.

L-S is ranked second among Class 4A teams statewide by PFN. Thomas Jefferson (8-1) and Oil City (10-0), who are squaring off in the other state semifinal matchup, are ranked third and fifth, respectively. 

The Pioneer offense has generated an average of 376 yards per game, while its defense has yielded 191 yards per game and posted two shutouts.

Quarterback Sean McTaggart has completed 72 of 122 passes for 1,389 yards and 23 touchdowns as pilot of the L-S offense, which spreads the ball around among a handful of playmakers.

Five L-S playoffs have logged at least 25 carries this season. Drew Harris (89-447, five TDs) and McTaggart (78-388, seven TDs) are the mainstays, but Alex Knapp (48-380, six TDs), Owen Fikkert (36-246, four TDs) and Giovanni Malatesta (28-173, TD) have seen plenty of carries as well. 

McTaggart's top targets in the passing game include Austin Stoltzfus (13-414, seven TDs), Ian Herr (15-379, five TDs), Beau Heyser (15-302, five TDs) and Knapp (13-131, three TDs).

L-S is 0-2 all-time in state playoff games. 

PIAA CLASS A SEMIFINALS

Bishop Guilfoyle (7-2) at Steelton-Highspire (8-0)

Saturday, 1 p.m.

About Bishop Guilfoyle: The District 6 champion Marauders cruised into the state semifinals with a 48-13 victory over Homer Center last Friday. It was the seventh straight win for BG, which dropped its first two games of the season (19-10 to Richland and a forfeit loss to Forest Hills after a self-reported violation). 

During its seven-game winning streak, BG has outscored its opponents by an average margin of 32 points per game (the Marauders also picked up a forfeit victory over Bishop McCort during that span). 

BG relies heavily on a punishing ground game to propel its offense. The Marauders average 260 yards per game on the ground. Senior Keegan Myrick is the primary back and leading rusher, with 994 yards and 14 touchdowns on 131 carries. Myrick had four TD runs in last week's victory over Homer Center.

Junior Hayden Garner (56-555, three TDs) and senior Zach McCloskey (33-306, two TDs) are reliable runners for the Marauders as well.

Quarterback Konnor Kiesewetter has completed 59 of 91 pass attempts for 750 yards and 11 touchdowns. Most of his tosses have gone to Garner, who has a team-high 25 catches for 357 yards and seven TDs. Myrick has caught 19 passes for 251 yards and another score.

BG is ranked third in the state by PFN, just one spot behind Steel-High. Jeannette, which faces District 10 champ Reynolds in the other state semifinal game, is ranked No. 1 (Reynolds is ranked fourth).

The Marauders have won five District 6 championships since 2014, including the last two in a row. BG is looking to return to the state championship game after falling in overtime to Farrell in the title game last year. 

Saturday's game is a rematch of the 2016 PIAA Class A semifinal. BG won that matchup, 48-6, on its way to a third straight state championship.

About Steel-High: Last Friday's 39-36 victory over Old Forge will live forever in Roller lore. Trailing by three points with less than two minutes to play, Steel-High drove 92 yards on 10 plays and scored the winning touchdown with a pass from freshman QB Alex Erby to banged-up star wideout Mekhi Flowers in the back of the end zone with no time on the clock.

The Rollers appeared to come up short one play earlier, when Erby threw incomplete as time ran out. But Old Forge was penalized for defensive holding on the play. The penalty gave Steel-High one untimed down, which the Rollers converted into the game-winning TD.

Steel-High actually scored twice in the last three minutes to erase a nine-point deficit.

Shootout victories are becoming commonplace for the Rollers, who survived a 50-43 marathon against Muncy in the first round of States. Steel-High has scored an impressive 415 points in its eight victories, but the Roller defense has been gashed for 215.

But that offense can score with just about anybody. The Rollers have the Mid-Penn Conference's top passer in Erby (134-210-5, 2,157 yards, 30 TDs), its top rusher in Odell Greene (178-1,354, 13 TDs), and its top receiver in Flowers (50-808, 13 TDs).

Flowers, who is expected to announce his college choice soon, is also a threat in the return game; he took a kickoff 85 yards to the house against Old Forge last week. The 6-2, 191-pound junior played last week despite being hobbled by a sore ankle, yet still came up big when he was needed.

Steel-High is trying to get back to the state championship game for the first time since 2008, when the Rollers won the second of their back-to-back state titles.

PIAA CLASS 6A SEMIFINALS

Central York (9-0) vs. Erie McDowell (6-0)

Saturday, 1 p.m. at Altoona HS

About McDowell: To say the Trojans' experience in the state playoffs has been unique would be a massive understatement. McDowell is in the PIAA semifinals despite being out of action since Oct. 30, when the Trojans defeated Cathedral Prep 24-6 in the District 10 championship game.

Since then, McDowell has advanced through two rounds of the state playoffs without playing a down. The Trojans' two playoff opponents, Erie and Pittsburgh Central Catholic, both had to bow out of States when their schools switched to remote learning and cancelled all extra-curricular activities due to COVID-19. So McDowell has won its last two scheduled games by forfeit.

In the four games it actually played on the field, McDowell has been impressive on both sides of the ball. The Trojans have outscored their opponents 129-35, and haven't allowed more than 14 points in a game all season.

Quarterback Chris Juchno holds McDowell's all-time career record for passing touchdowns. This season, the 6-2, 210-pound senior has completed 64 of 94 passes for 743 yards and seven touchdowns for the season. 

Against his last outing against Cathedral Prep, Juchno completed 20 of 26 passes for 182 yards and a touchdown, spreading the ball around to six different receivers. 

The Trojans use a pair of rushers with seniors Taha Ramahi and Justo Rivera, who combined for 125 rushing yards against Cathedral Prep. Ramahi scored twice on the ground for McDowell.

Senior playmaker Rashawn Tate might be Juchno's most-dangerous target. He had a 92-yard kickoff return against Cathedral Prep. 

McDowell is 0-3 in its three previous visits to the state semifinals. 

About Central York: The Panthers became the fourth team in York County history to reach the state semifinals by notching an impressive victory over Delaware Valley last week, pulling away in the second half for 49-27 triumph. 

Central York trailed in the second half for the first time this season, but Judah Tomb put the Panthers ahead for good with an 82-yard punt return that gave his team the momentum for good.

Tomb added two touchdown catches, an interception, another long punt return, and even recovered an onside kick to help carry the Panthers.

Central York is averaging 54.8 points and 416 yards per game on offense this season, while its defense has allowed just 8.1 points and 206 yards per game.

QB Beau Pribula, a Penn State recruit, has completed 114 of 159 passes for 1,675 yards and 32 touchdowns for the Panthers. Tomb, his top target, has hauled in 34 passes for 611 yards and 14 scores, while Parker Hines (24-351, six TDs) and Taylor Wright-Rawls (20-285) are reliable receivers as well.

Central York's top rusher is Isaiah Sturgis, who has gained 633 yards and scored six times on 92 carries. Pribula has added 12 scores on the ground for the Panthers as well. 

With all those gaudy offensive numbers, it's easy to overlook the Central defense, but the Panthers have posted four shutouts and held opponents to under 10 points in six of nine outings so far. Central is allowing just 113 yards per game on the ground, and is plus-seven in turnover differential.