Written by: Phil Myers on Wednesday, January 4th, 2023
It’s 2023 now, but not too late for another 2022 review. Some years covering games around the state, the great games of the year seem to elude me. I can’t say that I haven’t seen great teams and great players every year, because I have. Watching 30 plus games each season including the state championships, I get to at least see the top two teams in each classification plus their outstanding players who end up making the all-state teams. But great games are not as common for me as one would think, even though I try to look for good match-ups every week, sometimes involving teams I have yet to see in my lifetime. This year I saw 14 new teams to up my total number of high schools I’ve seen play football to over 350. And I saw great games in all but three weeks that I attended games.
I will not touch on every great game that I saw in 2022, but I will highlight the best of the 19 great games I did see. I will do it in chronological order beginning with the Peach Bowl Classic held in Chambersburg on August 26th and 27th. I witnessed 3 great games that opening weekend of high school football in Pennsylvania.
Steelton-Highspire 21 Bishop Canevin 14 (Aug. 26) – Steelton led 21-7 at halftime, but Canevin came back scoring a TD in the 4th quarter. The Crusaders intercepted a pass late in the game and eventually actually had a chance to tie or win the game in the waning seconds. They drove the ball to the Roller two-yard line. But third down play saw a bad snap send the ball back to the ten where the QB fell on it. The quarterback panicked as time wound down and he immediately spiked the ball turning possession over to Steel High who took a knee to run out the clock for the win.
Woodland Hills 28 William Penn-York 24 (Aug. 27) – Elijah Nesby scored 3 first half touchdowns to give Woody High a 28-8 lead at the intermission. It could have been a larger lead, but a pick six was nullified due to a penalty. The second half saw William Penn take advantage of some shoddy Wolverine play. In addition to Woodland Hills turning the ball over in all three of their possessions, they returned two kickoffs for touchdowns that were called back due to penalties. Trailing 28-24, the Bearcats recovered a fumble with 4 minutes left and drove to the Woody High one. With only seconds remaining in the game, a 4th down run by William Penn was stuffed for a loss by the Wolverine defense preserving Woody High’s tenuous 4-point lead. Nesby ran for 129 yards and William Penn’s all-state back, Jahiem White, ground out 121 yards.
Imhotep 19 Bishop McDevitt 14 (Aug. 27) – This game pitted, at the time, the #1 Class 5A team (Imhotep) against the #2 Class 4A team (McDevitt). The irony is that McDevitt ended up being the top 4A team and Tep ended the year as bridesmaids in 5A. In a game with D-I college talent all over the field, Imhotep made enough plays on defense and McDevitt failed to convert several opportunities on offense. Jabree Wallace-Coleman led the Panther offense with 136 yards rushing and a score, while Stone Saunders threw for 286 yards and a TD for the Crusaders.
The rest of the regular season had me mostly in District 9 where I saw a few great games, three of which I’ll mention. But I also travelled to Cresson (Penn Cambria), Saltsburg (Kiski School), and Quarryville (Solanco).
DuBois 27 Brockway 26 (Sept. 2) – Only 12 miles separate these two towns and the high schools were involved in a doozy of a game. One of the biggest crowds in recent memory at Mansell Stadium in DuBois got their money’s worth. Brockway struggled mightily in the first half but only trailed 12-7. The Rovers took a 20-18 lead into the final stanza, but a costly fumble resulted in a DuBois field goal before the teams traded touchdowns giving the Beavers the 27-26 one-point lead. Brockway’s kicker had gotten hurt early in the game so when Brockway drove to the Beaver five instead of attempting the winning field goal on the last play of the game, the Rovers had to go for a touchdown. The resulting completed slant pass over the middle was stopped a couple feet short of the goal line. As the DuBois celebrated their victory, the Brockway players and coaches were dejected and thinking ‘if only we’d have had a few more seconds.’
Penn Cambria 27 Bedford 20 (Sept. 30) – Both teams entered this showdown with 5-0 records. QB Garrett Harrold and RB Zach Grove led the Penn Cambria offense. Ethan Weber was the man for Bedford’s offense. Although the Bisons never led in the game they tied it twice and was a blocked PAT away from tying the game a third time in the opening half at 21. The Panthers clamped down on Weber and his Bisons in the second half. After gaining 171 yards and scoring 3 TDs in the first two quarters, Weber only gained 31 yards in the last two quarters. The only score in the second half was in the third on a run by Grove, his second of the game. Harrold threw for 134 yards and ran for 127 with a TD passing and another running. Bedford’s only scoring chance in the second half ended turning the ball over on downs at the Panther 24 a couple plays after a key 10-yard penalty prevented them from getting a first down in the red zone.
Brockway 21 Keystone 20 (Oct. 7) – Brockway made my list three times. In this game we find two teams jockeying for seeding position come playoff time. The Panthers led early 7-0 and regained the lead 14-13 with just under 7 minutes left. The Rovers scored with under 4 minutes remaining and made the 2-point conversion to go up 21-14. Keystone countered with a score with 1:20 on the clock. The Panther coach called time out and asked the players what they wanted to do. The players wanted to go for the win rather than overtime, but Brockway’s defense came up with a sack that allowed them to eke out the win.
Redbank Valley 47 Central Clarion 38 (Oct. 28) – By looking at the score you might say how was this a great game? Well, I’ll tell you. This game centered around two underclassmen quarterbacks. Central Clarion’s sophomore quarterback, Jase Ferguson, threw for 287 yards and 3 TDs. He also ran for a pair of scores. Not to be outdone Redbank’s freshman QB, Braylon Wagner, threw for 267 yards and 5 touchdowns. Momentum in this game changed in the last 50 seconds of the first half. Trailing 23-14, the Bulldogs of Redbank marched 64 yards in 6 plays and scored on a drive that took only 70 seconds. Then on the last play of the half Brandon Ross intercepted a screen pass and took it 40 yards to the house to give Redbank a lead (28-23) they never relinquished. The Wildcats scored with 3 minutes remaining to cut Redbank’s lead to 41-38, but the subsequent onsides kick was returned for a touchdown to give Redbank Valley the final margin of victory. It was Central Clarion’s only loss of the regular season and it came in the last week.
The playoffs were a different animal. Almost every week there were one or more great games that I was lucky enough to attend, including one that most definitely will go down as one of the best games I have ever seen, and I’ve seen quite a few.
Clearfield 13 St. Marys 7 (Nov. 11) – This D-9 AAA championship game was played on Veteran’s Day and it had rained all day long. It stopped for a while before the game and in part of the first half, then really cut loose in the second half. The field developed huge puddles of water for most of the third and fourth quarters. Clearfield scored first to grab a 6-0 lead. St. Marys answered with a score to go ahead 7-6 after one. The Bison tacked on a second stanza TD to regain the upper hand 13-7, which ended up being the final score. After Clearfield’s second touchdown, St. Marys drove into Bison territory on 5 different occasions including 3 times in the red zone and did not score. With 22 seconds left in the game and the ball floating around on the Clearfield 8-yard line, a Flying Dutch second down halfback option pass was picked off in the end zone by Clearfield, giving the Bison the victory.
Brockway 7 Redbank Valley 3 (Nov. 12) – The only touchdown of the game came in the second when the Rovers faked a punt from their own 9-yard line and gained 23 yards. QB Brayden Fox (who is also the punter) connected with Mattie Brubaker on that play. Those two hooked up for a 45-yard touchdown 7 plays later to complete the 92-yard drive. Those were the only two passes Fox completed all day. Redbank kicked a field goal on the first play of the 4th quarter to close the gap. Later the Bulldogs drove into Rover territory, but had a pass picked off at the one. Brockway made a trio of first downs and ran out the clock. Jendy Cuello ran the rock 41 times and gained 171 yards for the winners. Each team had the ball one time inside the others 10-yard line during the game but failed to score in a very tough hard-hitting contest.
State College 57 Erie McDowell 50 (3 OT) (Nov. 18) – This was my game of the year and maybe of the decade. In fact, it would have to rate in my all-time top five without a doubt. This playoff game was played on snow-covered Memorial Field in St. College on a very cold night between a pair of 6A top ten teams. Without describing each score, suffice it to say a lot of points were scored. Each team scored points in every quarter. The Little Lions scored first, then the Trojans tallied the next couple of scores. St. College tied the game at 14 three minutes before the half. The home team put 15 points on the board in the third to take a 29-21 lead into the final frame. McDowell tied the game twice in the 4th, the second time with 24 seconds left to send the contest into overtime. Both teams scored in the first two overtimes, with no one being brave enough to go for the two-point conversion. St. College scored in the third OT to go up 57-50. McDowell’s first play went for 6 yards inside the five, but they fumbled and the Little Lions recovered for the win. Without the fumble we probably see at least 4 overtimes. There were over 830 yards gained in the game with over 400 coming via the pass. The only turnovers were a pair by McDowell with the second being the difference in the game. Those stats are really hard to fathom considering the terrible weather and field conditions.
St. College recovers fumble in 3rd overtime to win 57-50. WHAT A GAME!! Congrats to both teams. No quit in either squad. Both were well-coached. @PaFootballNews @statehighfball @McdowellFBall pic.twitter.com/cRrATFlsJb
— Phil Myers Sr. (@Protime_PFN) November 19, 2022
Pine-Richland 21 Erie Cathedral Prep 14 (Nov. 25) – Pine-Richland had won 9 straight. Cathedral Prep hadn’t played in a month. Prep came out and smacked the eventual state champs in the mouth by scoring two touchdowns in the first 13 minutes to build a 14-0 lead. The game’s momentum swung half way through the second quarter as P-R entered Prep’s red zone the Rams fumbled. But the Cathedral Prep player tried to get outside containment and ran backwards until he was tackled at the one. On third down, the Ramblers coughed up the ball at their own 7 giving the Rams another opportunity. Pine-Richland took advantage, scoring on a third down pass, Palmieri to Gelly. The defense then forced a three and out giving the offense a last chance before the half. In less than two minutes the game was tied as Palmieri connected with Rudolph to cap a 62-yard drive. The second half was a real battle with the only scoring chance being a missed field goal by Cathedral Prep. Then with 7:27 left Pine-Richland embarked on a five-minute drive which ended with Palmieri scoring on a short run with 2:01 remaining. Prep advanced into Ram territory but had a pass picked off to effectively end the game. During Pine-Richland’s 12-game win streak this was the only game they won by less than eleven points.
Southern Columbia 37 Westinghouse 22 (Dec. 9) – This was a fantastic game as both teams jockeyed for position, took chances, and poured their hearts into it. Westinghouse was the favorite in my book since they had beaten the #1 team (Farrell) rather easily and then handed Steel Valley their only loss of the year. Southern struggled during the season mainly due to injuries, but the Tigers gelled and got a couple players healthy for the playoff run. The House scored on a 4th down 56-yard screen pass at the end of the 3rd quarter to pull within one at 15-14, but then Southern kicked their offense into another gear in the last quarter, scoring three times. Still the game was only a one score contest until the last two minutes when Southern scored a touchdown to ice the game.
Belle Vernon 9 Neumann-Goretti 8 (Dec. 10) – There was obviously not a lot of offense in this game, but that’s because we had two fantastic defenses that stymied the other team’s offense. What made this game a great one was due to the fact it was a state championship game with everything on the line and it came down to the end of the game where Belle Vernon caused two fumbles on back to back plays at their goal line to prevent N-G from scoring the probable winning touchdown. The second fumble the B.V. Leopards recovered at the one. A safety would have still given the Saints the victory, but Belle Vernon’s quarterback got the N-G defense to jump offsides to seal the deal.
Congratulations to Steelton-Highspire, Southern Columbia, Belle Vernon, Bishop McDevitt, Pine-Richland, and St. Josephs Prep. They not only had great teams, but were the state champ in their respective classification. St. Joes had to be the best team I saw this year. They were big, fast, and dotted the field with college talent on both sides of the ball. In fact, they were MaxPreps’ #19 team in the country losing only to the #6 team in the USA, St. Thomas Aquinas, FL who went undefeated and won the Florida state championship. My #2 team in Pennsylvania was Pine-Richland, even though they had 3 losses. No one except for St. Joes was playing better football at season’s end. After a change at the QB position, the Rams won 12 straight and nobody came within 11 points of them except for Cathedral Prep. I would have to say Bishop McDevitt was the third best in my humble opinion.
All six of the state runners-up were great teams also. From Harrisburg to Imhotep to Aliquippa (which is a fantastic story in itself) to Neumann-Goretti to Westinghouse to Union Area. I would add Cathedral Prep to the list of great teams. They quite well may have been the second best 5A team in the state but ran into the Pine-Richland buzzsaw in the quarter-finals. The other great teams I saw by classification had to be McDowell, Solanco, Cocalico, and Bishop Canevin.
This list could go on for a while, but I’ll cut it down somewhat. Contrary to what many think, Pennsylvania still has an outstanding amount of talent. Maybe not up there with many southern states and California, but the Keystone State is certainly not short on football aptitude. I’ve gone over this list and checked it twice, so if I missed someone, especially you linemen, my sincere apologies. My Protime Player of the Year award goes to Ryan Palmieri of Pine-Richland. He was the heart and soul of that Ram team, and instrumental in the Rams winning their last 12 games after beginning the year 1-3. It was week five when Palmieri made his first start at QB and the rest is history. According to his coach, Jon LeDonne, Palmieri is just as valuable to the school off the field as he was to the football team on the field. He was also a real pleasure to talk with after the games.
Others who impressed this old high school football enthusiast were Samaj Jones, David Washington, and Josiah Trotter from St. Joes, Jahiem White (York William Penn), D’antae Sheffey (St. College), Stone Saunders, Riley Robell, and Tyshawn Russell from Bishop McDevitt, in addition to Ryan Palmieri from Pine-Richland there were Ryan Cory and Max Heckert, Semaj Bridgman and Rahmir Stewart from Imhotep, Quinton Martin (Belle Vernon), Ethan Shine (C.B. East), Elijah Nesby (Woodland Hills), Alex Erby (Steelton-Highspire), Garrett Harrold (Penn Cambria), Braeden Wisloski (Southern Columbia), Alex Carlson and Reese Yahner of Brockway, Tyler Albright (Keystone), Tate Minich (Redbank Valley), Karson Kiesewetter (Bishop Guilfoyle), and Jeff Hoenstine (Central-Martinsburg). The last two players I saw in 2021, but I feel they warrant a mention since they played in 2022 and were impressive when I saw them play in the prior year. Again, I may have missed a couple of names, but I am going by the game(s) I saw and these players are the ones that impressed me as great players. I would like to mention Brockway’s RB Jendy Cuello also. Young Mr. Cuello came to the United States from the Dominican when he was 9 and knew nothing about American football. He didn’t even speak English. Yet in the District 9 Class A championship game against Redbank Valley he ran for 171 yards. His final 2022 stats show that he ran for 1,410 yards, averaged almost 6 yards a carry, and scored 14 TDs. He is still learning the game, and who knows, he could be an all-stater next year.
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