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High School Football: Harrisburg will take on mighty St. Joseph's Prep in PIAA Class 6A state final

The Hawks are in the title game for the seventh straight season and are seeking their fifth championship. They beat Harrisburg in the 2018 final.

YORK, Pa. — Harrisburg's opponent in Saturday night's PIAA Class 6A championship game needs no introduction. 

St. Joseph's Prep is the final obstacle between the Cougars and a first-ever state championship. 

But the Hawks are certainly a formidable obstacle.

St. Joseph's, which won its sixth straight District 12 title this season, are making their seventh straight appearance in the state finals. The Hawks are seeking their fourth Class 6A title and their sixth overall.

One of those 6A crowns came at Harrisburg's expense; the Hawks beat the Cougars 40-20 in the 2018 title game.

This year, St. Joseph's Prep has been on a mission to lift the PIAA trophy again after the Hawks fell 35-17 to Mount Lebanon in last year's final. 

Harrisburg will certainly have its hands full on Saturday, but the Cougars have no shortage of weapons themselves. They are riding a six-game winning streak into the finals, including a 27-7 rout of previously unbeaten State College in last weekend's semis.

Here's a look at Saturday's matchup.

Harrisburg (11-2) vs. St. Joseph's Prep (13-1)

Saturday, 7 p.m. at Chapman Field, Cumberland Valley High School

TV: The Pennsylvania Cable Network will have live coverage of all six PIAA championship games.

ABOUT ST. JOSEPH'S PREP: The Hawks come into the game ranked 25th in the USA Today Super 25 national high school football rankings. They've won 11 straight games since falling to Florida powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinus (ranked No. 7 by USA Today) in their season opener -- a game that was featured on ESPN.

Last week, St. Joseph's rolled to a dominating win over previously unbeaten District 1 champ Garnet Valley 48-7, scoring touchdowns on their first seven possessions while limiting the Jags to 35 total yards in the first half.

Led by linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr. -- Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Commanders fans will remember his dad -- the St. Joseph's defense is swarming with playmakers. Trotter, a West Virginia recruit, led a unit that forced seven negative-yard plays in the first half against Garnet Valley.

Meanwhile, the Hawk offense is powered by an enormous line that blasts open lanes for their playmakers, which includes junior QB Samaj Jones, junior wideout David Washington, junior RB Erik Sanchez, and super sophomore dual threat Isaiah West -- all of whom have played prominent roles in the Hawks' blistering playoff run.

Jones ran for a touchdown and threw for three more against Garnet Valley, and racked up four touchdowns and 309 total yards in the Hawks' 52-21 rout of District 11 champ Parkland in the state quarterfinals.

Washington, who already has a crowded list of scholarship offers from FBS and Division I programs, caught four passes for 62 yards and a score against Parkland and a 55-yard TD catch against Garnet Valley. 

Sanchez and West have five combined touchdowns in their last two games.

The line is anchored by massive tackles Joseph McMahon (6-7, 280) and Kevin Towns (6-4, 300), guards George Reinhard (6-4, 275) and Lakeem Steele (6-2, 285) and center Julian Cervantes (the runt of the litter at a mere 6-0, 275). 

St. Joseph's program has an impressive alumni list that includes current NFL players Jon Runyan Jr. (Packers), D'Andre Swift (Lions), and former quarterback Rich Gannon (Vikings, Raiders, Commanders, and Chiefs). 

The Hawks won the inaugural Class 6A state title in 2016, fell to Pine-Richland in the 2017 final, and reeled off three straight crowns in 2018, 2019 and 2020 (beating Central PA finalists Harrisburg, Central Dauphin and Central York) before falling to Mount Lebanon last year.

St. Joseph's also won Class 5A titles in 2013 and 2014.

ABOUT HARRISBURG: The Cougars' postseason revenge tour continued with last weekend's 27-7 triumph over State College, which avenged a 20-6 loss to the Little Lions in the regular season. 

One week earlier, Harrisburg knocked off Manheim Township 44-6 in the quarterfinals, avenging the Cougars' only other regular-season loss, a 24-20 defeat in Week 2. 

The Cougars' victory over State College was powered by Temple recruit Kyle Williams Jr., who racked up 263 rushing yards and scored four touchdowns. Harrisburg needed Williams to step up, because leading rusher Makhai Hopkins missed the game with a leg injury.

Harrisburg trailed 7-0 at halftime, but took control of the game with a 20-point outburst in the third quarter powered by Williams, who scored three of his four touchdowns.

The Cougars needed every bit of Williams' output, because their passing game was hindered by the windy, blustery conditions. QB Shawn Lee completed all five of his pass attempts, but managed just 26 yards (he added 52 rushing yards on 12 carries). 

It was the sixth straight win for Harrisburg, which is back in the state final for the first time since 2018 -- the year the Cougars fell to St. Joseph's.

If Hopkins, who leads the team with 848 yards and 11 touchdowns, can't go on Saturday, the Cougars may have to turn to Williams again. Normally more of a threat as a wideout and kick returner, Williams proved to be a capable workhorse against State College, boosting his rushing total to 773 yards. He leads the team with 522 yards and six touchdowns on 41 catches.

Lee, a sophomore, has completed 112 of 158 passes for 1,442 yards and 15 touchdowns despite missing three games this season. 

This is Harrisburg's third trip to the state finals. The Cougars have never won a title.

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