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Steel-High defeats Northern Lehigh 42-35 in PIAA Class 1A quarterfinal on late TD pass

Written by: on Saturday, November 26th, 2022. Follow Sean McBryan on Twitter.


Steelton-Highspire quarterback Alex Erby lofted the ball into the air as wideout Jaeion Perry ran his route to the back right corner off the end zone.

Perry secured the ball, got two feet in, and scored the deciding touchdown with four seconds left in the game to propel the Rollers to a 42-35 thrilling victory over Northern Lehigh in a PIAA Class 1A quarterfinal Saturday afternoon at War Veterans Memorial Stadium in Steelton.

“I was running to the back corner and [Erby] always told me he was going to put it on the outside,” Perry said. “I just turned my body and caught it.”

The Rollers wouldn’t have been in a position to win on their final drive without junior running back Ronald Burnette, who rushed for 222 yards and three touchdowns.

“I felt confident,” Burnette said. “We prepared very well throughout the offseason. We were prepared to be here. We knew we were going to be here by the end of the season. Our coaches make sure we prepare everything and the way the team plays together, the chemistry is there. We have each other’s backs.”

The District 3 champion Rollers (12-1) move on to face District 4 champion Canton for a chance to play in the state final for the second time in three years. The Rollers won the state championship 32-20 over Jeannette in 2020.

The matchup against Canton is a rematch of last season’s PIAA first-round game which the Warriors won 32-27. Canton went on to lose to eventual champion Bishop Guilfoyle 20-7 in the semifinals.

The Erbys (quarterback Alex, lineman Andrew Jr., and head coach Andrew) were all key parts of that state championship squad; the two younger Erby were freshmen that season.

Burnette wasn’t on the roster that year and began the year as a backup to senior Jakhai Noss, who’s no longer with the team. It’s going to be special playing for a chance to get back to the state title game as a key player.

“It’s going to feel amazing honestly,” Burnette said. “Especially the opportunity to play with these guys because I haven’t played for Steel-High my whole life. But I’ve always known these guys. It was like one day we’re all going to get to play together. Now that day is here and we’re making it big time.”

After forcing a turnover on downs, Nick Frame hit Austin Smyth for a 31-yard touchdown to finish a 90-yard drive and give the Bulldogs (12-2) a 6-0 lead with 4:25 left in the first quarter.

Burnette rushed for 44 yards on Steel-High’s next possession including an 8-yard TD run to make it 7-6 with 2:21 left in the first.

Alexander Jimenez-Wittong scored from the 2 on fourth down with 8:39 left in the first half as the Bulldogs regained the lead.

Durrell Ceasar Jr. returned the ensuing kickoff 67 yards to the 8 and Erby ran it in from the 3 three plays later to tie the game at 14 with 7:05 left. That score held at halftime.

Jimenez-Wittong scored again from the 2 to end Northern Lehigh’s first drive of the third to give the Bulldogs a 21-14 advantage.

The Rollers had two 15-yard penalties that backed them up on the next drive and they had to punt. Steel-High held the Bulldogs on fourth down at its own 31 and Burnette dashed 43 yards to the 26 on the next play. Erby then converted a fourth down with his legs to put the ball at the 5 as the third quarter came to an end.

Burnette then ran in for his second TD of the day from the 5 on the first play of the fourth quarter to tie it at 21.

Steel-High then forced a three-and-out and Daquan McCraw had a 25-yard punt return to set the Rollers up at Northern Lehigh’s 21. Burnette scored his third touchdown from the 16 a few plays later and the Rollers went up 28-21.

The Bulldogs responded with an 11-play, 69-yard drive that Frame finished with a 1-yard TD plunge. Northern Lehigh still trailed 28-27 after the PAT was missed with 3:47 remaining in the game.

The Rollers recovered the onside kick at the 49 and Burnette’s 37-yard run put them at the 12. Erby shuffled the ball to McCraw for an 8-yard touchdown to make it 35-27, but the short 56-second drive allowed the Bulldogs time for an opportunity to tie.

Northern Lehigh did just that, going 70 yards in 11 plays. Frame hit Smyth for their second TD connection and Jimenez-Wittong converted the two-point conversion to make it 35-35 with 27 seconds left in the game.

Erby, Burnette, and Perry then came through in the clutch. Burnette ran for 18 yards in two plays and Erby hit Perry three straight times for 39 yards including the game-winning 20-yard TD in the back corner of the end zone with four seconds left.

Passing: Erby 13-17-0–146 (2 TDs).
Rushing: Burnette 22-222 (3 TDs), McCraw 3-29, Erby 6-24 (TD), Perry 1-6.
Receiving: Perry 5-68 (TD), Ceasar Jr. 3-35, McCraw 3-30 (TD), Burnette 1-8, Kochvar 1-5.
Penalty: 14-175.
Punt-avg: 1-37.
First downs: 21.
Fumbles-lost: 0-0.

Northern Lehigh
Passing: Frame 7-12-1–125 (2 TDs).
Rushing: Jimenez-Wittong 17-99 (3 TDs), Frame 13-65, Ramos 10-42, Abidelli 12-41, Tosh 2-4.
Receiving: Smyth 4-62 (2 TDs), Jimenez-Wittong 2-28, Ramos 1-35.
Penalty: 5-39.
Punt-avg: 1-14.
First downs: 27.
Fumbles-lost: 2-0.

Scoring Summary
Steelton-Highspire (12-1) 7 7 0 28 – 42
Northern Lehigh (12-2) 6 8 7 14 – 35
1st Quarter
NL-Smyth 31 pass from Frame (Moffitt kick missed) – 4:25
SH-Burnette 8 run (Hernandez kick) – 2:21
2nd Quarter
NL- Jimenez-Wittong 2 run (Ramos run) – 8:39
SH-Erby 3 run (Hernandez kick) – 7:05
3rd Quarter
NL-Jimenez-Wittong 2 run (Moffitt kick) – 7:42
4th Quarter
SH-Burnette 5 run (Hernandez kick) – 11:54
SH-Burnette 16 run (Hernandez kick) – 9:29
NL-Frame 1 run (Frame run failed) – 3:47
SH-McCraw 8 pass from Erby (Hernandez kick) – 2:51
NL-Smyth 8 pass from Frame (Jimenez-Wittong run) – 0:27
SH-Perry 20 pass from Erby (Hernandez kick) – 0:04

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