Football

Hittin’ The Road With Travelin’ Matt (Playoffs Week 1)

Tagged under: District 11, District 3, District 4, pfn

Matt Herring | November 6, 2023

Each week Travelin’ Matt traverses Pennsylvania attending the hottest high school football games and best match ups in the Commonwealth.  Follow his exploits each week as he documents his journey from Week Zero to the Pennsylvania State Football Finals!

 

Wednesday, November 2

The State of PA Football – Live at MaGerks’s (Lionville) 

 

Thursday, November 3

3A #9 Palmerton (10-0) vs. 3A Jim Thorpe (4-6)

 

Friday, November 4

2A Annville-Cleona (7-3) vs. 2A Camp Hill (5-5)

 

Saturday, November 5

2A #6 Mount Carmel (8-2) vs. 2A Wyalusing (6-4)

4A #4 Jersey Shore (9-0-1) vs. 4A HM Milton (9-1)

 

ROUNDTRIP – 565 MILES

 

Wednesday, November 2

My high school football week kicked off earlier than usual as I participated in a mid-week PA Football News “State of PA Football” live broadcast at MaGerk’s Pub & Grill in Lionville.  Our four man PFN team broke down the newly-released 1A through 6A brackets as we talked our way through projections from the district tournaments to the State Finals.  The chatter was lively among the group taking a deep dive on each class, matchups and our individual picks to prognosticate which teams would be vying for PA Gold at Cumberland Valley High School in December.

Two special segments during the live broadcast featured coaches and players from 4A District 3 Twin Valley and 6A District 1 Coatesville.  The coaches of both schools are magnificent leaders of their teams but what struck me most was the character of the players who joined the broadcast to represent each team.  These young men were all impressively well-spoken and deeply thoughtful beyond their gridiron experiences.  I was particularly affected by the senior athletes who spoke about the lessons they had learned from their coaches, how the community played an active role in their individual growth as young men and the realization that in the playoffs every game could be their last should their team falter on Friday night.

I would be remiss if I didn’t give a mention to MaGerk’s Pub & Grill of Lionville.  The restaurant is clearly invested in the local scene as dozens of massive sports team action photos from surrounding schools grace their walls.  I was hard-pressed to not find every local high school sports team represented throughout the restaurant and the place was buzzing on a Wednesday night which made for the perfect location during the PFN broadcast.

Enjoy the full broadcast of Bracket Breakdown: The State of PA Football below…

 

 

Thursday, November 3

My four game in three days weekend began in Palmerton where the 3A state-ranked #9 Blue Bombers were playing host to district foe Jim Thorpe (and their patriotic star-spangled socks).  Palmerton edged the Olympians 41-31 in the regular season but my interest in the game was less about their rematch and more about an opportunity to witness Blue Bombers quarterback/defensive back Matt Machalik.

Palmerton’s signal-caller Machalik is the first player in PA history to record 5,000 passing yards and 5,000 rushing yards in a career.  The Blue Bomber senior is committed to Lehigh University and talk of his dynamic playing style was enough motivation for me to make the trip to Carbon County to witness high school football greatness.  The two-time 1st Team All-State field general did not disappoint.

Machalik is everything you could desire in a high school football player – captain and team leader, engaged through the whistle every play, a two-way player who delivers tenacious hits on defense, a tremendous teammate and a person who keeps his ego at bay despite his immense talent.

On this night, Machalik would score twice on the ground and toss two touchdown passes as well.  On defense, he intercepted a pass and thumped Olympians to the ground swiftly on numerous occasions.  His leadership on the field was unmistakable and his teammates were bolstered by his enthusiasm throughout the night.

Palmerton handily dispatched Jim Thorpe by a score of 37-7 in this contest and improved their season record to a perfect 11-0 advancing to the second round of the District 11 tournament.

For a sample of Machalik’s athleticism take a look at just one of his many star-studded plays from the game vs. Jim Thorpe…

End 3Q and the @MachalikMatthew show is on full display. It’s 37-0 @PalmertonHS headed to the 4th. @JTOlympians @PaFootballNews pic.twitter.com/8INNN8cHRk

— CC Hastings (@CCHastings1863) November 3, 2023

After the game I had the opportunity to catch up with QB/DB Matt Machalik…check out his interview below…

Post game interview with @PalmertonHS QB @MachalikMatthew 5 TDs (3 rushing/2 passing) and a defensive interception in 37-7 District 11 first round win vs @JTOlympians @PaFootballNews pic.twitter.com/lRGY2gjaE1

— CC Hastings (@CCHastings1863) November 3, 2023

 

 

Friday, November 4

The first week of District playoffs are an anomaly compared to my week to week regular season travel plans.  During the regular season I travel the state to the biggest matchups to witness the highest ranked teams PA has to offer.  In Week 1 of the District playoffs many of the top seeds have the week off while the lesser seeds battle for the right to advance and play those higher ranked teams in the second round.

As I scanned the available Friday night matchups I was drawn to an interesting clash between 2A District 3 #1 seed Annville-Cleona Dutchmen and the #4 seed Camp Hill Lions.  On paper, the game presented a meeting of teams with completely differing styles: run-heavy Annville-Cleona and pass-heavy Camp Hill.  In addition, the contest was being hosted at historic Alumni Stadium in Lebanon.

Alumni Stadium is a throwback sports venue located in the heart of the City of Lebanon.  Built in 1939, the site has played host to thousands of events from local sports contests to community gatherings.  While many modern high school football stadiums are located on school grounds the oldest community stadiums are commonly built into the fabric of the neighborhoods where they reside.  Lebanon’s Alumni Stadium is clearly the latter and as you enter the stadium it is as if you’ve stepped back decades in time.

I was fortunate upon my early arrival to Alumni Stadium to meet a Lebanon Police Officer who was educated on the history of the venue.  He pointed me to several areas of the stadium that told its story and some tremendous places to take photos.

Check out some photos from around Lebanon Alumni Stadium…

     

As for the game, it was as advertised with Annville-Cleona pounding the ball on the ground nearly every down and Camp Hill airing the ball on nearly every play.  On this night it would be the air attack of Camp Hill that would prove victorious as Camp Hill raced out to an early 21-0 advantage the Dutchmen could not overcome.  The Lions would register a 35-14 victory as they claimed their spot in the second round of the District 11 playoffs.

 

Saturday, November 5

Nothing beats a Saturday high school doubleheader and I was looking forward to this one on many levels.  The day began at historic Mount Carmel’s Silver Bowl where the state’s all-time winningest program calls home.

The 2A state-ranked #6 Red Tornadoes have won 898 contests in their storied program history and on this day they were opening their District 4 tournament vs. the Wyalusing Rams of the Northern Tier League.

Being Pennsylvania’s all-time leader in program victories is no small deal in a state with a rich high school football tradition and despite that lofty rank the Red Tornadoes celebrate their win total with a simple yet effective numerical tally at the top of their press box (see photo below).

Having lived in the Coal Region for the past 12 years and just 10 miles from the Silver Bowl I’ve had the pleasure of watching many Mt. Carmel games.  There’s many benefits to attending a Red Tornadoes contest…the energy of the hometown fans cheering on their team in an historic stadium…and one of the best concessions food in the state!

I’ve visited hundreds of concession stands at high school football games across the Commonwealth and Mt. Carmel ranks among the best hands down.  If you’ve never experienced “Hot Cheese Pizza” (or even heard of it) your local pizza shop needs an upgrade.  In addition to the top-notch pizza the parents who run the food stand also prepare many local homemade favorites including delicious pierogies, hot roast beef sandwiches and my favorite…made from scratch Italian Wedding Soup.  You can’t go wrong with any selection at the Mt. Carmel concessions stand.

 

On the field, Mt. Carmel football was equally satisfying and the Red Tornadoes were up to the task on this day handily defeating a well-prepared Wyalusing Rams squad by the score of 43-21.  Mt. Carmel football is highly-touted as a hard-hitting team and the same can be said for this season’s Rams of Wyalusing.  In a contest that sent two players off the field on stretchers in addition to numerous halts in play for injuries the Rams and Red Tornadoes battled for four quarters until the final horn sounded thankfully ending the game with no further carnage.

The second half of my Saturday double-header took me 70 miles from Coal Country to #4 state-ranked Jersey Shore in Lycoming County where the 4A Bulldogs would face off against a red-hot Milton team that was on a nine game winning streak.

A visit to Jersey Shore has been at least an annual visit for me in the past several seasons but this year my motivation was more than just to see the Dawgs’ fast-paced offensive attack.

Earlier this season in a September 8 game vs. District 4 rival Selinsgrove the game was knotted at 21-21 with just 11 seconds left to play in a highly-charged contest.  The game was in a timeout when Jersey Shore senior linebacker Max Engle collapsed to the ground.  Engle would be taken from the field to the hospital and, understandably, both teams agreed to end the game in a tie due to the uncertainty of the situation.  Engle would sadly pass away seven days later due to what was described by doctors as a traumatic brain injury.

My trip to Jersey Shore on this night was less about watching a football game than to experience, understand and feel how the community and team was recovering from the loss of their Bulldog teammate.  If you are familiar with the Jersey Shore football program you would not be surprised by their singular focus on honoring their fallen teammate for the remainder of the season and beyond.  Both symbolically and by their play the Jersey Shore football team has shown tremendous resilience despite their deep grief.

Upon approaching the stadium the tributes to Max Engle are striking and heart-warming.  Hanging on the wall near the stadium entrance are banners with photos of the senior football players…Max Engle’s included.  The players carry Engle’s #4 jersey to midfield for the coin toss and on the field Engle’s #4 is painted at midfield and in the end zones.  The 40 yard line has the number “4” highlighted in Jersey Shore’s team color orange and even the four yard line hashes are highlighted in Bulldog orange.

Equally touching has been the response from high school football teams across the state and particularly Jersey Shore opponents since Engle’s passing.  Teams from every corner of the Commonwealth have shown their support for Jersey Shore by wearing orange shirts on school days throughout the season and placing #4 decals on their helmets.  And, during games they play against Jersey Shore, opposing teams take a knee on the field with the Jersey Shore team for their first offensive and defensive plays in remembrance of Max Engle.

On this night, Jersey Shore cruised past Milton 54-6 but just as every game since September 8 vs. Selinsgrove the contests have been less about football and more about the fellowship of the Bulldog team and their community to honor teammate Max Engle.

Next week in the District 4 championship Jersey Shore will return to Selinsgrove to the field where they lost their beloved teammate Max Engle.  I would imagine that night will also be less about football than a gathering of community and remembrance of #4 Max Engle for Jersey Shore and Selinsgrove alike.

Follow along next week as Travelin’ Matt takes you on another PA High School Football journey.

Follow PA Football News on Twitter @PaFootballNews

 



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