Football

Around District 11 with Pam and Guy: Stairway to Seven

Tagged under: Gameday Hub, News, Playoffs

Guy Smith | December 12, 2023

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This past weekend we headed to Cumberland Valley for the six PIAA state championship football games. There was some discussion about whether or not we were going to all six games as usual, or cut back a bit.

We are now both in our 60s, and back-to-back-to-back days of this length are getting tougher. In the gym each day by 8:00 a.m., a two hour plus drive to Mechanicsburg, out in the cold for three hours, another three hours to kill between games, a second game outside in December weather, and a two hour plus drive home. Then do it all over the next day. And then the next. It’s getting to be a challenge.

And so, we compromised. Since the two teams we were really rooting for were Northwestern Lehigh and Southern Columbia, and they both played afternoon games, we agreed that if it were raining on any of the three days, we would only go to the afternoon game and then head home to dry off. It did not rain, and thus we did not skip the evening games. We also agreed that if there were any Mercy Rule games in the evening, we would head out and get home a little earlier. That we did do. For the first time, we did not watch the clock count down to zero in the final quarter of the final game, our version of Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

Overall, they were not really good games. Three games were Mercy Rule, two had margins of victories of more than three scores, and one was an exciting, close game. As admission for the two of us was over $100.00 when adding in the requisite processing fees, one nailbiter sandwiched around five blowouts is a bit of a disappointment. However, the saving grace was that one good game was the best game we had seen all year.

We have become quite comfortable at Cumberland Valley, and are happy to attend the state final games at the school. Guy even went to a 7th state final at CV this year, attending one of the soccer finals a few weeks back. Yes, there are still some things we like better about Hershey. Bricker’s Fries, popcorn vendors in the stands, restrooms, and the Hershey Lodge between games come to mind. But there is also a lot to prefer about Cumberland Valley. In that category we put parking, the lack of the metal detector backup, less traffic in the area, and more restaurant selections for between games. The staff from Cumberland Valley was extremely friendly at all times in all cases per our experience. We thank them.

Last year our between game choices were Redd’s Smokehouse BBQ on Thursday, DaVinci’s Italian Eatery on Friday (the pizza sold at the stadium), and Appalachian Brewing Company on Saturday. We liked Appalachian Brewing Company the best. This year when we read that Arooga’s sports bar would be hosting the PA Football News “State of PA Football” title game preview show live on Wednesday night, we knew we couldn’t add another consecutive day of four hour driving to attend in person. But we knew we wanted to support the place that hosted Billy, Hollywood, Dan the Man, and the rest of the gang. So we replaced Redd’s with Arooga’s this year.

Our original plan was to go to the Hershey Cubs ice hockey game at the old barn in Hershey on Sunday afternoon. But we agreed that six games in three days was enough for the week, and decided on a rare weekend day at home.

GAME 61. THURSDAY, DECEMBER 7. PIAA 1A CHAMPIONSHIP. FORT CHERRY RANGERS VS. STEELTON-HIGHSPIRE STEAMROLLERS. The first game looked like a good matchup on paper. Both teams entered the game a perfect 15-0. Protime picked the Rollers 43-42, but felt whoever had the ball last would win.

Steelton-Highspire is a is a tiny district in the Harrisburg area. It only encompasses two square miles. We had seen the speed and athleticism of Steel High last year when they eliminated our D11 Northern Lehigh Bulldogs, and later in the state final when they defeated Union. Besides 2022, they had also won in 2020 so this was their third final in four years. We really didn’t know anything about Fort Cherry, who were making their first appearance in a state final.

We sat on the home side with the Rollers fans. In fact, we sat on the home side with the eastern teams for all six games. We really know nothing about the teams that Fort Cherry played all season, but they were no match for Steel High. It was 34-0 at the half, on the way to a Mercy Rule win. Protime was correct. The team with the ball last was the winner. But it was a kneel down to run out the clock, not a comeback drive to win by a point.

We only saw the Rollers play three times during the past few years, once at home and twice at states. They were always a pleasure to watch. Congrats to the Rollers, especially the seniors, for all they accomplished.

From the Game Stats: Steel High had 335 yards passing. For Fort Cherry, when your QB rushes 30 times and only one other player ran the ball during the entire game, that’s a one-dimensional offense that’s going to be hard to get the job done at this level.

Final Score: Steelton-Highspire 42, Fort Cherry: 8.
State Championships: Steelton-Highspire: 5, Fort Cherry: 0

GAME 62. THURSDAY, DECEMBER 7. PIAA 4A CHAMPIONSHIP. ALIQUIPPA QUIPS VS. DALLAS MOUNTAINEERS. We have always admired the Aliquippa program when we have seen them play at states. They always appeared to be a smaller school slaying bigger dragons in the same manner of Steel High, with speed and athleticism.

We knew nothing about Dallas other than they did have one state championship, in 1993. Even though the school is only an hour from us, they are District 2 and we pretty much stick to District 11. Perhaps someday we will explore all of the District 2 stadiums. What we did know was that they were undefeated, and you can’t dismiss any team that makes it to the state final unblemished. They certainly had some close calls in their playoff run, eliminating Valley View by three, Bonner-Prendie by one, and the mighty Bishop McDevitt in overtime.

Parity is a nice concept, but seldom the reality. For the second time in a day, two unbeaten teams met and one pretty much dominated. In what was pretty similar to the first game, speed and athleticism won the day and the Quips dominated.

We were dismayed at the many postgame comments criticizing Aliquippa for running up the score. We think that’s ridiculous. First of all, they already have the Mercy Rule in place to help in mismatches. Second, the Quips scored more in the first quarter than they did in the whole second half. They ran kneel downs rather than let one of their backups feel the joy of scoring a touchdown in a state championship game. If you don’t realize that Aliquippa could have scored a lot more than 60, you don’t understand just how good that team was. If any school (not in any way talking specifically about Dallas by any means) doesn’t like giving up 60 points, develop your feeder program, work harder in the weight room, evaluate your staff. In other words, if any team doesn’t like being Mercy Ruled, work harder and get better.

From the Game Stats: Two Quip players rushed for 358 averaging 13.8 per carry. The entire Dallas team rushed for 48 averaging less than 2.0. And the Quips had more passing yards as well.

Final Score: Aliquippa 60, Dallas 13.
State Championships: Aliquippa 5, Dallas 1.

GAME 63. PIAA 2A CHAMPIONSHIP. WESTINGHOUSE BULLDOGS VS. SOUTHERN COLUMBIA TIGERS. Although there was only one good game this year out of six, this one was the game of the year. We have adopted Southern Columbia as our favorite team outside of District 11 because we feel they get woefully mistreated by the envious rest of the state.

They have built their dynasty by doing all the things mentioned above: A great feeder system, hard work, total commitment to excellence, the best coaching staff, and very importantly, total community support.

We believe that a mathematical formula that uses student enrollment numbers to determine classification is fair. Adding an additional factor based on transfers is probably necessary in today’s world. But we do not believe in punishing success by including winning in any formula the forcing of smaller schools to play bigger schools so that they are more likely to lose. We were raised to believe that the applying the same formula to everyone is fair, and punishing success is not. All that does is to lower the standards.

We became Southern Columbia supporters when we saw them play a District 11 team at a District 11 school, and when the Tigers left the field at halftime, they had to run a gauntlet of adult men screaming “cheaters” and “recruiters” at the KIDS, trying to get to the locker room. We found that totally disgusting and that’s when we realized what the Southern players have to put up with. They are kids.

But here they were. Back again, going for the unprecedented “Stairway to Seven,” a record seventh straight state championship.

Every one of the six championship games this year had a returning team from last year’s state finals. But this is the only one that had both teams returning. Gotta love a rematch.

Last year’s game was a slobberknocker. It could have gone either way, before Southern pulled away near the end to win by two scores.

Westinghouse entered the game undefeated at 13-0. Southern had a loss, but more wins at 14-1. Southern scored on the second play of their first possession, then scored on Westinghouse’s first possession on a pick six. Only a few minutes into the game and they were already up 14-0.

But then the momentum changed. For the rest of the first quarter, all of the second and third, and the first half of the fourth Westinghouse was the better team. They filled the gaps and stuffed Southern’s counters again and again while scoring three straight TDs, taking a 20-14 lead. Southern did have two excellent scoring opportunities on long passes that probably would have gone for six, but were dropped.

We don’t know if Westinghouse didn’t have a kicker or it was a conscious coaching decision, but they went for two after each touchdown, only converting one of three.

Then came “The Drive.” Halfway through the fourth quarter, Westinghouse had the ball. For Southern to win, they needed to force a punt, then score a TD. They forced the punt, but the ball rolled all the way down to the one-yard line. To be state champs, they would have to execute a 99-yard scoring drive when they had not had a long drive for a touchdown all day long.

In six minutes of football, a tale that will be told over and over in the town of Catawissa long after we are dead and buried, the Tigers started inside the one and marched down the field.

At one point in the drive there was a bit of controversy. Southern converted a fourth down pass to keep the drive alive. But they were called for holding, negating the first down and setting up a 4th and 18. On the next play, their pass was incomplete, ostensibly giving the ball and the championship to Westinghouse, who only needed to run out the clock. But Westinghouse was called for defensive holding and the fourth down was played for the third time. Southern converted the fourth and eight again and the drive continued.

Of course, the Southern haters claimed the officials “helped” them or gave them a “gift.” Looking at the replays, both calls seemed legit and the officials were spot on in making them. It was basically a wash, one penalty helping each team. Of course, the haters only saw it one way.

Southern completed the amazing 99-yard drive with 42 seconds remaining. The extra point was good, and they took the lead 21-20. Going for two after every TD really cost Westinghouse the championship. The Bulldogs looked almost in shock for those final 42 seconds, and it was indeed a “Stairway to Seven” for the Tigers.

For Southern Columbia, it was their record seventh straight title. Note that there was a Garcia (Gaige, Gavin, Garrett) on the team each of those seven years. There are no underclass Garcia’s on the current roster, so unless there is another one in 8th grade now, that streak will end.

For Westinghouse, a heartbreaker. They outplayed the Tigers for the majority of the game, and played good enough to win states against any team other than the Tigers. Take away the first three and last one of the 48-minute game, and they win by a three-score shutout. But you have to be ready to play at the opening kickoff, and you have to seal the deal when it’s all on the line. The Bulldogs got ever so close. Our hearts go out to them on the heartbreaker loss. We sure hope they come back again.

Not only was this easily the game of the year at states, but it was without question the game of the year for us.

From the Game Stats: Southern almost got beat relying too heavily on the run. They had only 27 pass yards. Westinghouse had over 100 more yards of total offense. For those crying that the refs helped Southern, the Tigers were flagged for 14 more penalty yards than the Bulldogs.

Final Score: Southern Columbia 21. Westinghouse 20.
State Championships: Southern Columbia 14 (in 30 years). Westinghouse 0.

GAME 64. PIAA 5A CHAMPIONSHIP. PETERS TOWNSHIP INDIANS VS. IMHOTEP CHARTER PANTHERS. The third battle of unbeatens in the first four games. People have the mistaken belief that because Imhotep Charter can draw students from the entire Philadelphia School District, they win state championship after championship.

But that is not the case. Before this year, they were state champions only one time, defeating Cathedral Prep in 2015. They lost in the final to South Fayette in 2013, Cathedral Prep in 2016-2017-2018, Penn Trafford in 2021, and Pine Richland in 2022. They entered this one with a 1-6 record in the finals, despite being clear favorites some of those years. The situation was best summed up by a Tep fan: “How come every time we get to a big game, we do nothing but dumb shit?”

The Tep fans, who seemed out in higher numbers that we can ever recall, adopted a cheer they repeated over and over. It was simply” “Get it Done!” This year, they got it done.

This year, no dumb shit. They ran harder, played harder, and we believe hit harder than any other team at states. They literally knocked the fight out of an undefeated 5A champion. In another game decided early, Prep never got to Mercy Rule, but they “got it done” and pretty much cruised to a four-score win. State champs for the first time in eight years.

There was a scary couple of minutes when the Indians QB looked, at least from the stands, to have a potential head injury and was left in the game for a couple more plays before being taken out for good. Even the Imhotep fans were screaming at the officials that the boy looked to be hurt. Hope that was not the case and that he is all good.

From the Game Stats: Imhotep had more than triple the total offense of Peters.

Final Score: Imhotep Charter 38, Peters Township 13.
State Championshsips: Imhotep Charter 2, Peters Township 0.

GAME 65. PIAA 3A CHAMPIONSHIP. BELLE VERNON LEOPARDS VS. NORTHWESTERN LEHIGH TIGERS. Although we mainly follow District 11, we go to all of the state final games annually. However, it was nice to have one of our own D11 teams in the final for the first time in eight years, since Parkland, with their star QB hobbled and unable to run, fought gamely against powerhouse Pittsburgh Central Catholic, losing by just three.

Since the state championships began in 1988, current District 11 teams have won 10 championships. Allentown Central Catholic leads the way with 3, Bethlehem Catholic 2, Marion Catholic 1, and public schools Schuylkill Haven, Parkland, Wilson, and Bethlehem Liberty have one.

It’s hard for D11 to get past the wall of Steel High at 1A, Southern Columbia at 2A, Bishop McDevitt at 4A, Imhotep Charter at 5A, and St. Joe’s Prep at 6A. Our best shot seems to be at 3A, although Northern Lehigh got pretty close last year in 1A.

We saw Northwestern Lehigh play four times. In the (real) Week 10 regular season finale against Southern Lehigh, the playoff wins against Scranton Prep and Wyomissing, and in the state final.

They had a great season, setting the school record for wins, but had to be considered an underdog against defending state champion Belle Vernon. Last year, Belle Vernon won a crazy 9-8 game over Neumann Goretti.

It likely comes across as Monday Morning Quarterbacking, but we could see in pregame warmups the Tigers didn’t have the size or speed to match up with Belle Vernon. They needed to play a near perfect game to be able to hang with the Leopards. That didn’t happen as BV ran the opening kickoff all the way and never looked back.

Once Northwestern Lehigh started putting their passing game into the mix more, they showed some life and for a while cut it to a one score game at 14-7. But aftr a first and goal from the six where four straight runs between the tackles only netted five, the brief spark of momentum was gone.

The Leopards slowly pulled away and ended the game up four scores.

From the Game Stats: Belle Vernon had 333 yards rushing. Northwestern Lehigh had more passing yards, more first downs, and ran more plays, but was a touchdown away from being Mercy Ruled. Dalton Clymer had a 100-yard rushing day, but averaged only 4.4 per carry and didn’t get in the end zone.

Final Score: Belle Vernon 38, Northwestern Lehigh 7
State Championships: Belle Vernon 2, Northwestern Lehigh 0.

GAME 66. PIAA 6A CHAMPIONSHIP. NORTH ALLEGHENY TIGERS VS. ST. JOSEPH’S PREP HAWKS. We are not really fans of PIAA rules allowing students from multiple states to play for one all-star “super team” in Pennsylvania.

The Prep schedule lists teams from DC, Florida, New Jersey, and Maryland. Only four of their games before playoffs were against teams from Pennsylvania. Only two of those four games were against 6A schools. And the combined record of those two PA 6A schools played was below .500. Should that even equate to making the “Pennsylvania” state playoffs?

However, what we don’t do, is blame St. Joe’s Prep. We don’t blame their school, their coaches, their fans, and most importantly, their kids. They are just playing by the rules of the sport that the PIAA has set. What school wouldn’t want to have on the field success? What kid wouldn’t want to play for the best team possible, if given the chance to do so without breaking any rules?

While we may not like the rules as they currently are, we hated to see Nazareth people yelling “cheaters” and “recruiters” at the Prep players, just as much as we hated to see Slatington doing the same to Southern Columbia. They. Are. Just. KIDS!

It certainly is a bizarre setup when the playoffs start, for Prep the easy part of their schedule begins. In their four state playoff games this year, the Hawks won by Mercy Rule. All four! That’s domination. Prep won their 8th PA state big school title in the past 11 years, and were in the championship final all but one of those years. And by the way, for those counting, Southern Columbia was not in the state final for ten of the last eleven.

Prep is an amazing team to watch, best we’ve ever seen in high school. As well they should be. Congrats for what the program has achieved in building a dynasty, and what the current group of players did on the field to enhance it. We were also impressed by North Allegheny. They played hard against the Super Team, and showed no quit, even when down by 35.

From the Game Stats: The incredible University of Cincinnati-bound Prep QB Samaj Jones passed for 233 and ran for 124, both numbers greater than the North Allegheny team totals for the game.

Final Score:St. Joe’s Prep 45, North Allegheny 23.
State Championships: St. Joe’s Prep 8, North Allegheny 3.

SUMMARY. Thus ends another season of high school football in Pennsylvania. Attendance at all the games was pretty decent, but not stellar. If we had a dollar for every person that asked us when we were going to do the “D11 Snack Bar of the Year” awards blog, we could each have our own large Williams French Fries. Next week, friends.

With NPRs of 66 football games this season for Guy and 60 for Pam, is it over? To quote John “Bluto” Blutarsky from “Animal House: What? Over? Did you say ‘over’? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!” With the spirit of Bluto in our hearts, we purchased tickets to see Virginia Tech vs. Tulane in the Military Bowl in Annapolis on December 27. One more game.

“BLOG YEARS” SCORECARD: 2021 – 2023 (100 / 181 Games)

PIAA District 11 Schools (48)

1-48. All 47 D11 football schools plus a second stadium for Executive Education, who played multiple home games at two locations (Muhlenberg College and Lafayette College) not already included for another D11 team.

D11 Alternative JV Game Sites (7). 49. Allentown Central Catholic Vikings JV (Percy Ruhe Park), 50. Bethlehem Catholic Golden Hawks JV (High School), 51. Blue Mountain Eagles JV (East Field), 52. Freedom Patriots JV (FHS Turf Field), 53. Lehighton Indians JV (Old Football Stadium), 54. Nativity BVM Green Wave JV (High School), 55. Pocono Mountain West Panthers JV (Old/West Stadium Grass Field).

D11 Related–Special Events, Sub Regional, or Former EPC teams (6). 56. Easton Red Rovers @ Lafayette College (Thanksgiving Day Game), 57. New Hope-Solebury Lions: D1-3A (Sub Regional), 58. Abington Heights Comets: D2-5A (Sub Regional), 59. Wyoming Valley West Spartans: D2-5A (Sub Regional), 60. Hazleton Cougars: D2-6A (Sub Regional) 61. Phillipsburg Stateliners (Former EPC).

All Star Games with D11 Players (6). 62. Colonial vs. Schuylkill League All-Star Game, 63. Lehigh Valley All-Star Football Classic, 64. PSFCA East vs. West Small School All Star Game, 65. PSFCA East vs. West Big School All Star Game, 66. PSFCA Pennsylvania vs. Maryland Big 33 Game, 67. Schuylkill League All-Star Game.

Out of District Playoff Game Sites with D11 Teams (7). 68. (G) Dunmore High School (Northern Lehigh Bulldogs), 69. Bald Eagle High School (Allentown Central Catholic Vikings), 70. Steelton-Highspire High School (Northern Lehigh Bulldogs), 71. (G) Governor Mifflin High School (Pleasant Valley Bears), 72. (G) Delaware Valley High School (Whitehall Zephyrs), 73. Northeast High School Supersite (Nazareth Blue Eagles), 74. Kutztown University (Northwestern Lehigh Tigers), 75. Cumberland Valley (Northwestern Lehigh Tigers).

Pennsylvania State Finals (6). Both Hershey and Cumberland Valley. 76. 1A State Championship, 77. 2A State Championship, 78. 3A State Championship, 79. 4A State Championship, 80. 5A State Championship, 81. 6A State Championship.

NCAA D2 PSAC Colleges (11). 82. Bloomsburg Huskies, 83. Clarion Golden Eagles, 84. East Stroudsburg Warriors, 85. Edinboro Fighting Scots, 86. Kutztown Golden Bears, 87. Lock Haven Bald Eagles, 88. Millersville Marauders, 89. Shippensburg Raiders, 90. Slippery Rock The Rock, 91. West Chester Golden Rams, 92. Mansfield Mountaineers (former PSAC).

NCAA Bowl Games / National Playoffs / or NFL (6*). 93. (G) D3 Delaware Valley Aggies, xx–D2 Kutztown University Golden Bears, xx–D2 Slippery Rock The Rock, 94. (G) D3 Susquehanna River Hawks, 95. New York Jets, 96. New York Giants.

GEFA 8-Main Semi Pro (4). 97. Wilkes Barre Warriors (The Bog), 98. Snyder County Spartans (East Snyder Park), 99. Dauphin County Comanche (Koons Park), 100. Lancaster Cyclone (Manor Middle School).

Other / Not Classified (5). NCAA D1 Rutgers Scarlet Knights, NCAA D 1AA Lehigh Mountain Hawks, WFA Harrisburg Havoc, Selinsgrove High School (PIAA Playoffs), Fleetwood High School Tigers.

D11 Related / PSAC Missing Active (8). WILKES-BARRE WOLFPACK: 2022-23 D2-6A Subregion team, WILLIAMSPORT MILLIONAIRES: 2022-23 D4-6A subregion team. PSAC CALIFORNIA VULCANS, PSAC GANNON GOLDEN KNIGHTS, PSAC INDIANA CRIMSON HAWKS, PSAC MERCYHURST LAKERS, PSAC SETON HILL GRIFFINS, PSAC SHEPHERD RAMS (WV).

Missed for Now (6). Nazareth Blue Eagles JV (Played a game at the middle school in 2021 when the main field was used for a varsity soccer playoff game), Cardinal O’Hara (North Schuylkill Playoff Game 2021), Berks Catholic (Pine Grove Playoff Game 2022), Trinity (Executive Education Playoff Game 2022), South Philly Supersite (Northwestern Lehigh Playoff Game 2022), Germantown Supersite (Whitehall Playoff Game 2022).

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