The Hershey Experience (Year 4, 2017) – Thoughts, Observations, Comments & Photos
Well, another year is in the books. We can’t say we saw any great state championship games, but we did see some great teams and players. Some of those warriors may be playing professional football one day and many will definitely be playing some college ball, including at least a couple dozen at the FBS level. We’ll do a short synopsis of each game and follow that up a couple of comments.Jeannette vs. Homer-Center (Single A) – The Wildcats actually led 6-3 at the end of the first quarter, but after that it was the Robert ‘Poogie’ Kennedy show. Kennedy ran for two scores and threw for two more in leading the Jayhawks to a 42-12 triumph. Yes, the Jayhawk defense played very well with an adjustment or two after Homer-Center’s first drive, but it was Kennedy who thrilled with his running (114 yards) and passing (143 yards on 5 completions). He even caught a pass for 46 yards. Losing coach Greg Page acknowledged an observation made in the press box that, “There were times when he was at quarterback we had guys watching him and you can’t do that.” On those occasions when the d-backs kept their eyes on Kennedy thinking he might run, his receivers got separation for touchdowns or long gains. Jeannette is now 5th all-time in PA with 736 wins!
One other interesting note is that Junior Seth Howard of Jeannette, who plays QB when Kennedy plays RB or WR and plays WR or RB when Kennedy is at QB, had not played football since 8th grade. He didn’t join the team until the third week, but gave the Jayhawks’ offense more flexibility and was a big contributor. He ran for 54 yards and scored a touchdown, threw for 64 yards, and caught a pass for 44 yards in Hershey. “I definitely see the dog in Seth that I see in me. Ever since we were kids, he always made big plays in big games,” stated Kennedy.
Erie Cathedral Prep vs. Imhotep (4A) – It was Prep versus Tep III as someone put it. This was the third straight year these two met with Tep winning in 2015 and Prep winning last year. The boys from Erie came on strong after getting off to a sluggish start and scored 24 consecutive points over the middle two quarters after Imhotep had taken a 13-7 lead half way through the second quarter. From there the Ramblers cruised to a 38-28 victory over the Panthers. The key to the game may have been the daring on-sides kick by Cathedral Prep’s Anthony Lupo that was recovered by Skyler Neely to begin the second half. The Ramblers only led 17-13 at the time, so the Panthers would’ve had a chance to take the lead.
Lucas admitted, “Sometimes we just play better in the second half.” That, sports fans usually comes from coaching. Prep’s coach, Mike Mischler, is 110-15 since coming back nine years ago. He has been the man in charge in all four of the Ramblers’ state titles and has guided them to 28 straight wins including back to back championships. His son, Joe, set District 10 career records for quarterbacks in yardage (7,719) and touchdowns (98).Wilmington vs. Southern Columbia (Double A) – Even though these two were undefeated, SCA was far better on this day in all facets of the game as they overwhelmed the ‘Hounds 48-0. The scary thing is that most of the Tigers’ marquee players are underclassmen. Coach Jim Roth won his 8th state title in 16 appearances. He also won his 412th game which is good enough for third place in the state of Pennsylvania behind George Curry (455) and Jack Henzes (435).
Two things happened that had a big impact on the game. On Wilmington’s opening drive, Robert Pontius hit Colton Marett with a pass and it looked like Marett might score when Julian Fleming caught him from behind and forced a fumble recovered by SCA at their 25. Secondly, Roth decided to punt from the Greyhounds’ 38 late in the first half with his team only up 17-0. The Tigers downed the punt at the one-yard line, called their three time-outs, got the ball back and scored when Gaige Garcia pulled in a Stone Hollenbach pass and while fighting off would be tacklers, willed his way into the end zone with a few ticks left on the clock.
So. Columbia senior place kicker, Elijah Hoffman, fell 5 points short of a national kicking record in a single season with his 143 (106 PATs and 13 FGs). But that is good enough for a new PA record. Fleming made an unbelievable block on Garcia’s 57-yard TD jaunt. Lining up on the wide side of the field, he angled all the way across the field and near the 20 made the last block to enable Garcia to score. “You can’t teach someone to do that,” Coach Roth said proudly. Finally, Tiger offensive lineman, Oak Six, was standing beside a pile of players when the pigskin squirted out of the pile and into his hands. Six then plummeted forward for another yard.
Gateway vs. Archbishop Wood (5A) – Wood is like a machine. The Gators had no answer to simple running plays off tackle by Nasir Peoples. The blocking by the Vikings was mostly to perfection. Wood scored 42 points in the first half and led by the biggest margin ever in a PA championship game at the break (42-0) en route to their 49-14 pasting of Gateway. Peoples, a Viginia Tech commit, was exciting to watch as he ran for 266 yards and 4 TDs. Big 6’6” 240 lb. Kyle Pitts, the Florida Gator recruit, did Gator chomps when he scored a touchdown and on his 2 interceptions.
The Vikings have now been in seven title games, winning five including the last two. They have appeared in six of the last seven, losing only to Cathedral Prep in 2012. Coach Devlin of Archbishop Wood said, “Connor Bishop is one of the best linemen in PA. Connor, Tommy Walsh, and Albert Glasgow are tough as nails.” This was Gateway’s first ever state final appearance. Brady Walker of Gateway is PA’s all-time leading passer for a single season with an amazing 4,621 yards. He threw for 46 TDs with 23 of them going to WR Courtney Jackson.
Quaker Valley vs. Middletown – Once again the 3A contest was disappointing as the Blue Raiders couldn’t match up with a District 7 squad. (They lost to Beaver Falls in last year’s championship tilt.) After Middletown’s Tre’ Leach tied the game with a nice 55-yard punt return half way through the 2nd quarter, Quaker Valley took control scoring three times in 3:43 to put the game out of reach by half time. The final nail was Andrew Seymour’s 40-yard pick six on a screen pass with 1:04 left in the half. In addition, the QV defense took on one of the better AAA offenses in the state and held them in check most of the game. “They were quicker than any defense we’ve played,” stated Blue Raider RB Brady Fox.
QB Ricky Guss threw for 104 yards and two scores, plus he ran for 97 more and a TD. Guss also audibled when he saw no one covering Ethan Moore, throwing an easy TD pass. “You’re a magician,” stated his coach, Jerry Veshio. RB Jordan Taylor had a couple of touchdown runs and accounted for 147 yards on the ground. Moore snagged 5 passes for 98 yards and two TDs. But, it was Coach Veshio who needs to be applauded. He came out of the announcer’s booth at home games to coach for one year when the previous coach quit just days before the season began. “Who’s going to write my movie script,” he joked. Veshio said he knew they were a special group of kids, but he never thought they would do this when he took the reins at the beginning of the year. No one had the Quakers on their radar when the season began and the preseason polls came out. Isn’t it exciting to see teams like Quaker Valley come out of nowhere and make, not only a serious run, but win it all?
Pine-Richland vs. St. Joes Prep (6A) – This was the game everyone wanted to see. It pitted two of the nation’s best teams in P-R (#24) and St. Joes (#8). It was a close game for a half with St. Joes probably being slightly better in the first two quarters. But, the Rams’ late score to go up 14-7 at the intermission propelled their confidence into the second half where they took control and won the big one, their first, by a score of 41-21.Phil Jurkovec, Notre Dame’s future quarterback, led the way with 4 rushing TDs and passing for another. He finished the night with 200 yards passing and 88 rushing. During the year, one opposing coach said he’d been coaching for many years and Jurkovec wasn’t only the best high school quarterback he ever saw, but he was the best high school player he ever saw. As one reporter put it, it’s the Phil the Thrill show. “Just being able to win on this field with the guys I’ve grown up with and worked so hard with is something I can’t really describe”, said Jurkovec.
Jordan Crawford had 245 all-purpose yards for the Rams. For the Hawks, RB Kolbe Burrell had 158 yards on only 13 totes plus a score. QB Marquez McCray threw for 121 yards and a TD. Coach Eric Kasperowicz of Pine-Richland won PIAA gold with North Hills back in the 90s. He too was a quarterback. He says Pine-Richland is possibly the best team ever from the WPIAL. He went on to say, “One thing is for sure, I know we have the best quarterback in the country, hands down!”
Let’s ponder the point Kasperowicz makes, that if P-R is the best team to come out of D-7, then with that offense and a pretty darn good defense, are they the best of all-time? What about the C.B. West teams of the late 90s or Central Catholic’s 2004 and 2007 teams or fill in one of many other undefeated teams in the upper classifications? Good conversation starter indeed.
Has there been a band as good as Pine-Richland’s the past few years? This old codger’s all-time favorite is still Bethlehem Liberty’s with the bagpipes, but the Ram Band was stupendous! Also, Homer-Center’s ‘Phantom of the Opera’ presentation was great with their 50 members. Jeannette had 50 members too and played brilliantly. It’s nice to see small schools that have large bands like that. We thoroughly enjoyed Southern Columbia’s band’s tribute to the rock group Chicago and Quaker Valley’s movie theme medley.
— WPAFootball (@WPAFootball) December 10, 2017
It was good to renew old acquaintances and we ran into ‘J’ who has chalked up over 160 high school games in various states the past two years. Texas and Indiana are his two favorite venues for state championships. We bumped into the D-5 people at the Parkside and exchanged some stories. Many thanks to my cousin who took me out to breakfast at the Country Table. The biggest and best pancakes around, plus the bakery is to die for! Much to do and see in and around the Hershey area. If you stayed home this year, plan on coming to Hershey next year. Look us up. It’s always good to hear from fans and listen to their stories and learn from their insights. Be safe and have a good winter everyone!
PHOTOS BY OUR MATT TOPPER
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