Cougars Leave No Doubt As Harrisburg Races Past Manheim Central For District Crown
Often times when playoff brackets are unveiled, fans will scour the page and look for intriguing later round contests or blockbuster-type championship games. In the case of the 2016 District 3 5A Playoffs, one matchup that caught nearly everyone’s attention was a possible championship game that would pit Harrisburg against Manheim Central. And why not? Arguably two of the hottest teams that District 3 had to offer, both the Cougars and Barons came into the playoffs scorching hot and did not disappoint once in the second season as both took care of business in their initial two playoff games to bring the collision-course matchup to life Friday night in Hersheypark Stadium. In a game that had hype surrounding it since it became official last week, fans certainly got their monies worth as they headed home. Granted, the game may not have lived up to its lofty expectations, but the Harrisburg Cougars certainly did as the team from the capital city soared to a 48-20 victory leaving a highlight reel of big plays behind in their wake to claim District gold.
After both teams exchanged punts on their first possessions, it was the Barons of Manheim Central that began to put their offense in gear first. The cause was aided by a fantastic one-handed grab by MC’s senior tight end Gunnar Royer on a critical 3rd & 8 from the Barons’ 25 yard line. When all was said and done, Royer reception took the Barons down into Harrisburg territory to the Cougar 27. On the next play, Central’s Jay Barreto ran it to the Cougar 15 with the MC offense unit clearly in a newfound groove. Following a personal foul call whistled against the Harrisburg, the Barons cashed in by way of Colin Erb’s 1 yard TD run to put MC on the board first. After another flag against Harrisburg that put the ball tantalizingly close to the goal line, MC decided to go for two, but Harrisburg was wise to the idea as the Cougars sniffed it out to leave the score 6-0 Barons with 5:23 left in the first quarter.
If there was a general overall theme that helped propel Harrisburg to District gold on this night, it was the Cougars ability to strike from anywhere on the field. Never was that on display more than the ensuing Harrisburg drive which lasted all of two plays as Harrisburg junior quarterback Yahmir Wilkerson found one of his favorite targets, Shaquon Anderson-Butts for the 76 yard pass and catch combination to put Harrisburg on top 7-6 just 22 seconds after Manheim Central touchdown.
After the Cougar defense forced a Baron punt, the Cougars set up shop 80 yards away from home. On this drive as well, Harrisburg proved that distance was not a factor as Wilkerson tallied his second TD of the half, this one to senior Joel Davis to now make it a 14-6 Cougar cushion which was the score after the game’s first twelve minutes of action.
Once again, the big play would prove to be MC’s Achilles heel with the next drive being no exception. Harrisburg’s phenomenal junior, Micah Parsons, put one foot in the ground on the toss play and was off to the races from 63 yards out further illustrating why the recruiting services have him listed as a Top 10 prospect in the 2018 class to increase Harrisburg’s lead to 21-6 with just 22 seconds gone by in the second quarter.
It appeared that Manheim Central had things going in the right direction on their next series as Baron senior quarterback Kody Kegarise found junior wideout Jake Novak for the 16 yard pick up to MC 35. That momentum albeit brief, was put to a close when Joel Davis picked off the Baron pass just past midfield and returned it back to the Baron 35 yard line setting the Cougars up in great shape once more.
Facing 3rd & 10 from the 35 yard line, Yahmir Wilkerson got the Harrisburg offense back in gear as his scramble got the Silver and Black to the Baron 19 yard line. From there, Micah Parsons raced in from 19 yards out, or so it appeared until flags were seen behind the play bringing it back to 32 yard line. After the penalty, the Cougar offense appeared to hit a wall, but the remedy for whatever ailed the offense was a 4th & 21 which was converted when Wilkerson found Donnell Henriquez open behind the secondary for the touchdown from 30 yards out to make it a 27-6 Harrisburg lead with 7:03 left in the half.
Needing to answer, the Barons went on a march. It started wit hKegarise finding Jake Novak for the 12 yard pickup out to midfield followed by Kegarise calling his own number on the quarterback draw for 9 yards to get the Barons moving. The second down play was not as successful as the Barons threw it out wide on the bubble screen, but Harrisburg’s Ronald Kent was there to diagnose it perfectly setting up a 3rd & 1. On the third and very manageable, the Barons called on Colin Erb who had delivered for them earlier with a touchdown. Once again, Erb came up big for MC with an 11 yard run to move the sticks down to the Harrisburg 32 yard line. Following Jacque Jackson’s sack for a loss of 5 yards, Kegarise hooked up with Novak across the middle as the junior wideout went up high and made a reception that ended on his back. Although the judges didn’t award points due to not sticking the landing, the referees did acknowledge the first down reception down to the Cougar 14 yard line. Mr. Erb was on the scene again for the Barons after Novak’s reception as his run set MC up in great shape at the Cougar 4 yard line. 4 yards was all that Tyler Flick would need as the sophomore ran it in to stop the Harrisburg onslaught and narrow the Cougar lead to 27-13 with 2:53 left in the half.
After both teams exchanged punts, Harrisburg again found themselves with a long way to go and a short time to get there. After a false start call against the Cougars, Wilkerson found Donnell Henriquez open across the middle for an 8 yard pickup. Harrisburg stuck with that formula on the next play and it paid big dividends as Henriquez caught what appeared to be a rather harmless pass across the middle, but after one juke and some nice downfield blocking, the junior wideout took it back 77 yards to the house to give Harrisburg a commanding 34-13 lead heading into the half.
Harrisburg would get the ball coming out of the break and wasted little time picking up where they left off in the first half. On 3rd & 18 from their own 36, Yahmir Wilkerson took off and used his wheels to pick up the first down across midfield to the Baron 45 yard line. Any possibility for a long, time-consuming drive here? No chance. After Wilkerson galloped for the first down, he went back to the skies to find Shaquon Anderson-Butts for the 45 yard TD to make it 41-13 with 7:57 left in the third.
With time winding down in the third quarter, the Barons began to get a drive together that ultimately culminated with Kody Kegarise’s 43 yard TD run via the draw play on the first play of the fourth quarter to now make the score 41-20 in favor of the Cougars.
Harrisburg would still have time for one last long distance scoring play before the night was out and it came when Wilkerson hooked up with Anderson-Butts yet again, this time from 47 yards out to finish the scoring giving Harrisburg the 48-20 triumph. With their victory, Harrisburg claimed district gold for the first time since 2007 and became the first ever District 3 5A champions in the process.
In a game that had so much fanfare and notoriety going into it, a resounding 28 point margin victory may have caught some by surprise, but not to Harrisburg head coach Calvin Everett who has the upmost belief in his troops. “We knew that if we stopped their quarterback, we’d be fine. Offensively, we’re extremely confident in our guys and I knew that any team was going to have trouble trying to stop our weapons.”
As mentioned, Harrisburg has been flying high since midseason and the Cougar train doesn’t show any signs of stopping anytime soon. With that being said however, coach Everett is keeping focused on the task at hand, even with the possibility of a return trip back to Hershey looming in a few weeks for an even bigger prize. “This group that we have right now is doing a great job,” the head Cougar said afterward. “We set one goal at a time. This is one of the goals that we accomplished and there’s still more to go.”
NEXT UP: Harrisburg moves on from the District 3 bracket after sending Exeter, Governor Mifflin, and now Manheim Central home to advance to the PIAA 5A state semifinals to match wits with Western PA blueblood West Alleghany at a site and time to be determined, but Altoona’s Mansion Park being a likely destination.
Manheim Central closes out a strong 2016 season with an 11-2 record after their Friday night defeat to Harrisburg. The Barons started the year out strong rattling off four straight wins, three of which included scoring totals of 55 points or more, before a Week 5 hiccup at home against rival Cocalico. The Barons came out stronger than ever following their defeat to the Eagles by ripping off seven straight victories, including a dismantling of Cocalico in a rematch last week to the tune of 50-13. With such a storied history, the Barons figure to always be significant players in the District 3 5A playoffs with next year being no exception
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