Late Game Heroics Lift Manheim Central
Late Game Heroics Lift Manheim Central To State Semifinals As Barons Capture 17th District Title, Upend Governor Mifflin In Instant Classic
They weren’t supposed to be here. No, Black Friday night at Hersheypark Stadium was originally supposed to serve as just another speedbump for the Harrisburg Cougars to overcome on their way towards a possible return trip back to the “Concrete Palace” in their quest to hoist the PIAA 5A state championship trophy. And then last Saturday happened.
Playing behind an always punishing ground game in conditions that more closely resembled that of coastal Scotland rather than Central Pennsylvania, the Governor Mifflin Mustangs were able to keep a lid on the weekly highlight show known as the Harrisburg offense to nab an almost unthinkable upset victory in the capital city that registered on the Pennsylvania high schoolfootball Richter scale as the Mustangs prevailed by a nearly two touchdown margin.
Although Harrisburg was the odds on favorite to walk away with the District 3 5A title this year, and deservedly so based up the numbers they dropping on their opposition this season, the Mustangs from Mifflin have quietly put together one of the better resumes across all of District 3. Their nonconference slate alone serves as a Who’s Who in terms of 5A & 6A playoff teams in 2017.
After getting past West York with relative ease in Week 0, Mifflin was able to topple their arch-nemesis in crosstown rival Wilson the following week with a 21-14 victory that really felt like it would catapult the Mustangs the rest of the reason. And for the most part, that was indeed the case.
After falling short to Cocalico following the memorable Wilson win, the Mustangs responded with a blitz of Manheim Township to the tune of 49-14, while Mifflin went on to roll through Section 1 of Berks play this year winning by a total margin of 260-38, setting up an opening round home game against York. With their victory over the school from the white rose city, a game in which the Mustangs seemingly won on cruise control by a 49 point margin, the stage was set for last week’s shocker at Harrisburg.
Heading into this weekend, Mifflin had gone up against a 5A semifinalist, prevailed over two 6A semifinalists, and oh yeah, just so happened to beat arguably the very best team in the entire state of Pennsylvania on their home field last week. Needless to say, all those experiences would be put to the test against the District 3 juggernaut known as Manheim Central.
Manheim Central and playoff football. In many ways it seems like you can’t have one without the other. And 2017 is no different. Although the wins on Manheim Central’s resume heading into Thanksgiving weekend may not have appeared nearly as gaudy when compared to Mifflin’s, the Barons have handled their business in dominating fashion, seemingly making this feel like just another year in this football-crazy treasure of a town.
You want domination? Try this on for size. In the much ballyhooed and highly-regarded division known as Lancaster Lebanon League Section 2, not only were the Barons able to make it through that grueling stretch unscathed, they outscored their fellow Section 2 foes by a combined score of 292-74 this season, including 70 and 79 point outbursts in amongst that remarkable stretch.
If nothing else, it’s been pretty apparent that this Manheim Central team had been on a mission all year. Perhaps since this weekend last year to be exact. Last year on Thanksgiving weekend, the Barons headed north with Hershey as their destination only to return home humbled by a Harrisburg outfitthat was in the midst of becoming state runner-up. Regardless of who the foe would be awaiting them at the end of the bracket, the Barons had used that game as a catalyst in the offseason and ultimately made good on their season-long quest for redemption by making it back to Hersheypark for 2017 District 3 5A championship on Friday night.
But simply making it to the final round was not the end-all, be-all goal for the Barons this year, much in the same vain that defeating Harrisburg was not meant to serve as the summit of Mifflin’s season either. With a bid to the Pennsylvania final four up for grabs, the task was simple for both the Barons and Mustangs. Play your brand of football for 48 minutes for the right to load the buses and head westward next week.
Although Mifflin would get the ball first on this night, it would be Manheim Central who would make the first imprint on the game. After forcing a punt on Mifflin’s first possession, Manheim Central got the ball at their own 38 yard line eager to strike. After successful passes through the air from sensational sophomore quarterback Evan Simon to Vinny Lester and Jake Novak to open up the Mifflin defense, Gio Lester was there to attack on the ground as the senior running back found nothing but green on the outside as the senior running back raced 39 yards to the house as the Barons drew first blood, going in front 7-0 with 5:55 left in the opening quarter.
The initial hole grew even deeper for Governor Mifflin on their ensuing possession. The Mustangs fumbled it away on their next series as Central’s Garrett Fittery was there for the recovery, setting the Barons up in fantastic shape at the Mifflin 25 yard line. Faced with a 3rd & 9 from the Mustang 12 yard line, Evan Simon was able to find his always-reliable target on the outside, Jake Novak, as the Baron duo built the Manheim Central lead up to 14-0 with 4:22 still left on the first quarter clock.
Staring an almost do or die type drive in the face following the second MC touchdown, the Mustangs rallied the troops and were able to formulate an answer of their own. Tasked with a 3rd& 10 from their own 45 yard line, the Mustangs went up top where senior quarterback Kam Wolfe was able to find Bryce Stubler for the much-needed 19 yard pitch and catch to give the Mustangs a fresh set of downs.
After Mifflin went on to convert a critical 4th & 1 from the Baron 43, the Mustangs looked to the air once more as this time it was Michael Franks on the receiving end of a Kam Wolfe toss as the 37 yard connection put the Mustangs on Central’s doorstep with the ball now resting on the 12 yard line. After an 11 yard pass from Wolfe to Chase Yoder, the stage was set for Isaac Ruoss to do his thing as the star Mifflin fullback barreled his way into the endzone from 1 yard out to put Mifflin on the board and trim Manheim Central’s lead to 14-7 as the first quarter clock was about to expire.
On the ensuing series, it had appeared that Central had found an answer of their own as a 39 yard pitch and catch from Simon to Novak put the Barons on the brink of another two touchdown advantage as MC suddenly found themselves down to the Mifflin 14 yard line. However the Barons would get no closer than the 6 yard line on this series as the Mifflin defense rose up and stuffed Central’s 4th & 2 attempt as the Barons handed the ball back to Mifflin with nearly the length of the field left to traverse after failing to convert on downs.
Albeit well within the shadows of their own goalposts, Mifflin decided to roll the dice and go for it on 4th 1 from their own 17 yard line. Unfortunately for the Mustangs, the gutsy play call came up snake eyes as the long pass out to the boundary skipped along the Hersheypark Stadium turf as the Barons yet again found themselves with a golden opportunity as Mifflin returned the favor on downs.
Just like the last time they took over with a short field to navigate, the Barons were able to find the endzone once again as this time a 2 yard Gio Lester plunge across the goal line gave the Barons the 20-7 lead as the two teams played on into the intermission.
Faced with the unenviable task of having to kickoff to Manheim Central while in the midst of a two touchdown deficit, Governor Mifflin would have to lean on their stout defense to get a quick 3 & Out to give the ball back to their equally potent offense. Or would they.
Sensing an opportunity to strike, Mifflin decided to roll out a surprise onside kick to start the second half which worked like a charm as the Mustangs were able to capitalize as GM took over at their own 48 yard line with an added boost of energy no doubt. That energy level would deflate for the time being as a fumble shortly thereafter ended the Mifflin drive with a screeching halt as Landan Moyer came away with the recovery as the junior linebacker found himself in the right place at the right time for the Baron takeway.
Fortunately for Governor Mifflin, Kam Wolfe was able to come to the rescue and show off his defensive prowess as the Mifflin senior standout came away with a critical interception to thwart another Manheim Central advance. From there, Mifflin was to get back right into the thick of it as a 13 yard jaunt by Darius Copeland put a significant dent in Central’s lead, with the Barons now maintaining the slim 20-14 cushion with 9:17 left in the third.
Despite the fact that Governor Mifflin had started to tilt the pendulum in their favor following the Copeland TD, the ever-precious element of momentum had now started to swing heavily in Mifflin’s favor starting on Manheim Central’s next possession. After the Barons fell victim to a sack courtesy of the Mifflin defense on third down, the Barons tried to catch the Mustangs napping with a fake punt, but Mifflin was wide awake and alert at the wheel as GM diagnosed the Central trick as the Mustangs took over near midfield looking to go in front. “I got greedy,” Manheim Central head coach Dave Hahn admitted in the aftermath when asked about the fake. “I thought we could try and sneak one in there based off what (Mifflin) did prior, and they made an adjustment. That was my bad.”
Although it wasn’t exactly easy, the Mustangs were able to do exactly that. Following a punishing second-effort run by Isaac Ruoss on a key 3rd & 5, coupled with a 9 yard gallop by Kam Wolfe, the Mustangs found themselves just outside the Baron 10 yard line. And on a 3rd & 11 play from the Manheim Central 12 yard line, the Mustangs laid claim to their first lead of the contest as Kam Wolfe hit Tyshaun Weaver on the inside slant to put the Mustangs up 21-20 heading into the final stanza with that all important momentum factor having shifted over to Mifflin’s side of the palace.
Although Mifflin was playing with the lead and in the possession of the ball to begin the final quarter, a low snap that rolled past Wolfe standing in the shotgun spelled doom for this Mifflin series. After the long 3rd & 30 pass attempt sailed incomplete, the Mustangs punted it back to their opposition as the Barons now set up shop at their own 41 yard line following the change of possession.
In a close, white-knuckle type of championship battle, it is sometimes hard to discover the one true “play of the game.” If there was a list of nominees for this game however, Manheim Central’s next third down conversion would definitely be at or near the top of the list.
Facing a 3rd & 8 from the Mifflin 39 yard line, Evan Simon lobbed a pass into air that eventually found the waiting arms of Tyler Simon who got behind the Mifflin defense as the gigantic third down conversion gave the Barons new life inside the Governor Mifflin redzone. Although the drive would eventually fall shy of a touchdown, it was not without points as a 23 yard field goal from Niko Gavala put the Barons back in the pilot’s chair now leading 23-21 with 6:10 left to play.
Faced with their own crucial third down attempt on their next series, Governor Mifflin was able to move the sticks as a 9 yard gainer from Wolfe to Tyshaun Weaver put the Mustangs out near midfield. From there, Kam Wolfe fired off a gorgeous 49 yard pinpoint pass to Michael Franks in stride for the go-ahead touchdown, and after a successful two point conversion play from Wolfe to Bryce Stubler, the Mustang lead had swelled to six at 29-23 with just 4:52 left to play.
“Don’t let the wheels fall off,” Manheim Central head man Dave Hahn said at that critical juncture when describing his team’s biggest test of adversity to date this season. “We’re here for a reason so just keep playing, doing our thing, and we’ll be fine.” Message received. Loud and clear.
The Barons took over at their own 29 yard line and proceeded to author a 71 yard drive that won’t soon be forgotten around these parts. The march towards another district championship trophy got underway when Evan Simon was able to find Vinny Lester for the first down across the Mifflin side of the field to the 49 yard line to put the drive into motion. From there, another chunk of 10 yards was marked off when Simon found Jake Novak down to the 39. And after another 6 yard gainer from Simon to Lester to the 33 yard line, the Simon and Lester tandem had one more memorable aerial display left in store. It was a pump and go, perfectly executed by a heady sophomore quarterback who placed his name among some of the most legendary signal-callers that have donned the prestigious Manhiem Central colors thanks to this game-clinching drive as Evan Simon threw an absolute dime in the face of adversity to senior wideout Vinny Lester as the Barons went back on top 30-29 with just 3:51 left to go.
Now playing behind a definite 12th man in the stands, the Manheim Central defense took to the field determined to end this back and forth affair once and for all. Whether it was perfectly executed play calls, an added boost of energy, or perhaps a mixture of the two, the Baron D balled out on their last series. After forcing a sack that led to a 3rd & 15 attempt, a subsequent Mifflin pass complete short of the yard to gain set up the Mustang’s last gasp on a 4th & 4 attempt. The final Mifflin pass would fall incomplete on the fourth down attempt as the Barons began to celebrate their remarkable 17th District 3 title.
“It means everything to the program,” Coach Hahn said when describing the town’s first taste of district gold since 2009. “In Manheim this is where you expect to be come Thanksgiving. And when you do it with different kids year after year, it’s special.”
NEXT UP: Manheim Central moves to the PIAA semifinal round where the Barons will await the winner of the Hollidaysburg/Gateway being played Saturday afternoon at a site and time to be determined later this weekend. The Barons will enter the Western Final hoping to lay claim to victory and book a return trip back to Hershey for what would be their first appearance in the state championship game since 2009.
With their defeat at the hands of Manheim Central, a fantastic season for Governor Mifflin falls just short of District 3 immortality. Nevertheless, this group of Mustangs wrote one heck of a chapter in the annuals of Mustang football that will never be forgotten by their loyal fans back in Shillington. Although the Mustangs will lose several key pieces to graduation next season, one can always can always count on the Governor Mifflin Mustangs being a constant force in Berks Section 1 with enough talent and coaching to seriously alter the landscape of the District 3 playoffs should they clinch a spot. Look no further than 2017 for proof of that.
Follow EasternPAFootball.com on Twitter @EPAFootball
Share This Post: