The Hershey Experience (Year 3) – Thoughts, Observations, and Comments
Written by: Phil Myers
I’ve been going to the state championship games in Altoona and now Hershey for many years. This year was probably the most anticipated in the 29 year history. Not only for the excitement of seeing 6 games for the first time, but also because of all the talent that made up the chemistry of the 12 teams. There is a distinct possibility that well over 40 D-1 football players were on the field this past weekend, plus all the other talented D-2 and D-3 individuals.
This old sage had an incredible time renewing old acquaintances, making new ones, and talking with some of the immensely talented players. Some of the games were not as good as expected, but there were several memorable plays. The thrill off attending these games and seeing the excitement of the fans build as the opening kickoff nears is invigorating. I’ll do a short recap of the games and have some quotes maybe not seen before.
Erie Cathedral Prep vs. Imhotep – Erie Prep’s coach Mike Mischler became the tenth coach in PIAA history to produce 3 state championship teams. It wasn’t easy though as his Ramblers trailed 20-9 heading into the fourth quarter. Not only did they trail on the scoreboard, but statistically Imhotep had twice as many yards and held a twelve minute advantage in time of possession. In fact, the orange and black had a measly 137 yards of total offense entering the last quarter.
Dom Covatto’s recovery of a Panther fumble at the Prep 26 very early in the 4th was the event that changed the game. The subsequent Rambler drive only produced 3 points, but a sudden air of confidence emanated from the soon to be victors. A Terry Roberts pick six and a 63 yard TD pass followed giving Prep the championship. After the fumble for the balance of the game, Imhotep only gained ten yards on fourteen plays, while Erie had 100 yards even on 17 plays. Roberts admitted he had backed off before the interception with the thought of baiting them. It worked he stated, “I’m glad I could make a play for the team.” Tyler Oedekoven, who caught the game winning pass from Joe Mischler said, “There was no doubt I was going to score, no one was going to bring me down.”
D-1 prospect, Jerry Roberts (Terry’s cousin) noted, “We kept saying we dedicated the season to Ian Malesiewski, and even though we were down, our team pulled together.” Joe Mischler echoed the same sentiments stating he and Ian are childhood friends. Ian suffered an injury to his vertebrae in a wrestling match last June and is currently confined to a wheelchair.
Bishop Guilfoyle vs. Clairton – In the Single A game BG just, quite frankly, dominated winning 17-0. Coach Justin Wheeler became the 11th to win 3 titles and BG won their 3rd straight PIAA championship. At the same time they put their win streak up to 47. Clairton’s Lamont Wade was disappointed because he said that his team put everything into it. The Marauders played solid, ball control offense behind their big line which demonstrated technically sound blocking allowing Andrew Irwin to run for 116 yards. In the first half, Guilfoyle had the ball 11 more minutes than the Bears, but only led 6-0 at the half on Irwin’s short TD run because Clairton was playing outstanding defense. The Marauders played outstanding ‘D’ too, not missing many tackles, playing good positional defense, and in the process, holding Wade to 71 yards for the game.
In the third quarter Soph. Kolton McGhee (remember that name) kicked his 10th field goal of the year, a 43 yarder with the wind that would have been good from at least 55 yards. He had made a 48 yarder right before but a penalty on Clairton negated it. Evan Chadbourn then scored on a 20 yard scamper, his first TD since last December. Evan had torn his ACL in the summer and against all odds he came back to play in the final 2 games. The doc said he had good tissue and the healing process was advanced. “It feels unbelievable, I’m glad I could come back and contribute,” he stated. Logan McGeary, one of BGs big bodies said, “We were confident. We knew they were going to be quick, but we absolutely wore them down. We knew they were done after Evan scored. He’s been great all year and it was a boost (to get Chadbourn back).”
Archbishop Wood vs. Harrisburg – After the Cougars scored on a 71 yard pass from Yahmir Wilkerson to Shaquon Anderson-Butts in the first 48 seconds of the game, Wood played shutdown ‘D’ limiting Harrisburg to 179 yards and 3 points the rest of the game in winning 37-10. The Vikings are so fundamentally sound in all aspects. Although their O-line was smaller than other years, Wood did a fantastic job blocking for their RBs, especially Raheem Blackshear who netted 236 yards and 3 TDs. Congrats to the line coaches, Cory Kelly and Chris Lampart. “My linemen were opening holes for me. I studied them (Harrisburg) and thought if I could get a step I could get by them,” Blackshear shared. Lineman Anthony Diodato commented that they knew they had to hold their blocks to give space for their running backs. The Vikings averaged over 6 yards a carry in rushing for 392 for the game.
Up only 17-10 at the break, Wood owned the second half scoring 3 TDs and limiting the Cougars to a paltry 58 total yards offensively. Diodato remarked, “We knew they were tough from watching film. #23 (Micah Parsons) was tough not only to block, but to bring down when he ran the ball and no film prepares you for that.” Parsons complimented back when asked about being double teamed by saying, “That’s life. They had some dogs and made some fantastic plays on me. They were just a better team.” Wood coach Steve Devlin now has won 4 PIAA championships. This was the first at the new 5A class.
Steel Valley vs. Southern Columbia – ‘The Run’ will forever be the highlight and talk of this 2A contest. Most in the press box said they had never seen a run like that. Najheir West made ESPN’s Play of the Day with his dazzling and unimaginable 60 yard jaunt in which he broke 8 tackles and eluded 3 more. When asked how he did it he said, “I don’t know man, it just happened.” Mr. West also had one of the top performances ever in a state final by rushing for 288 yards on 12 carries. Five of those runs went for touchdowns!! Steel Valley won their first title by a score of 49-7 playing in their first championship game. The other 2 TDs were scored by Pitt recruit Paris Ford. (The Panthers are getting a good one.)
The Ironmen mercy ruled all 15 opponents this year with the closest game being a 34 point win. Their offense scored over 800 points in averaging 54 points per game. Couple that with Steel Valley’s first team defense only permitting 3 touchdowns all season and you have a recipe for one of the more thoroughly dominating teams ever. “I’ve dreamed of this since I was 7, watching guys like Terrell Pryor play,” Ford related. “We had a great week of practice and came out and executed,” he continued. SV ended up with 522 total yards with 418 of those coming on the ground.
The Southern Columbia Tigers, who are not new to the dance, fell to 7-8 in championship appearances. They also had their 31 game win streak halted. But they are very young with mostly underclassmen starting. Look for them to be making more final appearances in the next few years. Tiger SE/DB Cam Young said, “They just came in and wanted it more than us. They’re an older team and played that way.”
Beaver Falls vs. Middletown – Of all the games, this may have been the ‘surprise’ of the weekend as Beaver Falls came out victorious 30-13 in the Class 3A tilt. Middletown cruised through the season only playing one close game. Meanwhile, Beaver Falls had numerous tight games coming from the murderous Beaver Valley Conference and playing some pretty good teams in the playoffs. Ryan Matsook, the Tigers’ head coach, figured to wear Middletown down by using his size advantage and “playing Beaver Falls football.”
Even though the Tigers led the Blue Raiders 16-13 heading into the 4th quarter, they had controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Derrell Carter’s 53 yard run and Malik Shepherd’s 42 yard pick six provided the winning margin for Beaver Falls. “Everybody in the community has been talking about this group since we were ten,” said Michigan recruit Donovan Jeter. Donovan, by the way, dislocated his shoulder making a tackle in the first half. “He separated his shoulder and they popped it back in at half time,” stated Matsook, “then he told me he was ready to go back in. What more could you ask for?”
Matsook, Shepherd, and Jeter all talked about what it meant for the small community of Beaver Falls to have a championship team. They were proud of the amount of people that travelled to Hershey to support them. However, it was Middletown who by far had the most people attend the finals of all 12 teams. There couldn’t have been many left in ‘Dodge’ so to speak. And really it was a good game with BF not pulling it out till the last stanza. If the Blue Raiders had found a way to block Jeter and his friends Matt Gundy and Raquan Crowder on the ‘D’ line plus not turned the ball over 6 times they may have won. But such is football and the Tigers won their first ever state title in their first appearance.
St. Joes Prep vs. Pittsburgh Central Catholic – This was supposed to be the gem of the weekend with college talent filling the rosters of both teams. The Hawks and the Vikings were also highly ranked in the eastern United States polls with St. Joes being rated in the top 20 in the country. But alas, St. Joes was simply too much for the Vikes, claiming the 6A contest 42-7. The Hawks were led by University of Georgia recruit D’Andre Swift’s 140 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns plus Terrance Greene’s 94 yard kickoff return. “They’re very athletic and that created a lot of problems for us,” PCC coach Terry Totten was quoted as saying.
Coach Gabe Infante of the winning Hawk squad did not use Swift much at the beginning as he was ‘saving’ him to use as the game progressed and as PCC was getting tired. He attributes winning the trenches against a huge Viking line to the fact they have some big guys themselves that they see in practice every day. This was St. Joes and Infante’s third championship in four years making him the 12th coach with at least three titles.
Micah Parsons made one of the other big plays of the weekend by chasing down a Wood runner on a reverse. “Not many high school kids could make a play like that,” one of the people in the press box said. By an overwhelming majority the fans felt the PIAA moving to six classes was a success. Even many critics were cautiously optimistic in admitting it turned out well. If you have never been to the championships, you should put it on your list of things to do. Hersheypark is right there and is open. Plenty of antique places and great restaurants are nearby. There is free parking and game tickets are only 8 bucks. You can’t beat it with Chocolate World right next door.
We met a man whom we’ll call ‘J’ who has made it to 71 high school football games this year in different states and will probably hit close to 80 when he takes in the Texas State Championships this weekend!! Now there’s a true high school football fan and he says there is nothing like being there. Texas and Indiana are his favorite places for title games because they “do it right.”
We met some D-5 people at the Parkside Hotel who love going to Hershey and watching the talent and different teams from all over the state. We also met some D-12 officials who had some big games over the years and were telling some amusing stories. I must thank my cousin, who was gracious enough to let me crash a couple nights. We burnt some late night oil catching up on things. Must also thank Billy, who made this all possible and introduced me to Coach Franklin and Coach Smith. This old whipper-snapper can’t wait till next year!
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