2019 Week 16 (Pennsylvania)

2019 Week 16 (Pennsylvania)

The Pennsylvania State Championships are a fun, albeit slightly subdued affair. Unlike other states still playing this late, lack of warm weather hinders the crowds, and some of Pennsylvania’s crowds are paltry. Only 950 attended the Thursday afternoon game between 1A powers Farrell (one of the smallest public schools in the state) and Bishop Guilfoyle, a private school also from the west side of the state.

The afternoon timeslot obviously didn’t help. Thanks to television from PCN, it’s tough to get fans to travel 262 miles for a Thursday 1pm kickoff. But, between the live television and the very accessible venue, when crowds do show up, it works well for the Keystone State.

This year, the weather, though windy, was good for the weekend. The wind playing havoc with the Thursday games, and the winning field goal in overtime. But, for crowd comforts, a dry, cool December day was better than some of the games PA has had in the past. Some resulting in postponements.

Due to lockerroom limitations, the state can only play two games a day. For a long time, the schedule had been Friday at 1 and 7, and Saturday at 12 and 6. With the advent of six classifications, Thursday at 1 and 7 was added. But, not the first year. The first year the PIAA tried to have one Thursday night game, and squeeze three games into Saturday. However, the lack of additional lockerrooms made the day drag on as the second game couldn’t even begin until the first games’ teams had cleared out. So, for the past three years we have had Thursday afternoon games.

Now, Hersheypark Stadium isn’t a ‘nice’ stadium. For fans or press. It sits in a low plain surrounded by parking lots to the west that accelerate the wind. Funneled by the hill that the Milton Hershey School sits on, the wind moves right over and through the stadium.

A stadium built without a particular sport in mind, the stands don’t line up with the field. Nor do the light standards. Or the press box. The field, from stand to stand, is far wider than needed, which makes sightlines a bit distant. The stands incline quickly, though, so you do get a ‘top down’ view of the field in the upper levels. There is no videoboard. And the large stage that was constructed dominates the northern endzone. And blocking the view of the school and the “Welcome to Hershey” landscaping along the southern facing hillside.

As for the stands themselves, the stadium runs in large sections, starting at the northern endzone endline and one section ends at the southern endline. Then, one more, additional, section sits entirely beyond the end of the field. On both sides. The light standards, then, have four towers, of which only three are along the sidelines. The fourth sits just beyond the northern endzone. Which makes the south endzone a tad bit dimmer than the north endzone. And lastly, the pressbox is shifted to the north, sitting to the northern end of the 50 yard line.

For fans, though, the parking is plentiful and easy to access. The ‘loop’ around the Giant Center brings fans back along the Hersheypark Drive entrance and to the stadium. Parking is free for the games and literally a 14,000-seat sellout with every fan driving themselves could still have room to park.

The stadium doesn’t allow fans to crossover from one side to the other any longer. And entry is only from the southern ends under the end of the stadium. The concourse is all exposed, though the facade of the stadium has a unique look you don’t see in stadium construction today. All concrete. Though the stadium is aging badly when it comes to the restrooms and lockers.

Concessions are just food trailers permanently parked under the stands. Tickets once were good for the entire day, but as of two years ago, you need to pay a new ticket to get into the night game. Under the four-class system, you could see all 4 games in PA for $14. Now, for 6 games, it’s $8 per game, or $48 for the weekend.

There is consideration by Penn State to host the games at Beaver Stadium. But lack of turf is a major drawback. Parking may or may not be easier. Though there’s plenty for high school games, it’s broken up into lots instead of the ‘one way in’ that Hershey has with the major intersection off the end of Route 39. Seating and press would have to be addressed after the first high school game in years at Penn State was played earlier this season. But, if any place is going to unseat Hershey, it would be State College.

As for the games themselves, there were three great games, two bad games… and one that should require a warning label.

#73 1A – Bishop Guilfoyle v. Farrell

The first game, as in Indiana, started things off with a bang. Farrell came in as the favorite. After beating Clairton in the Western Final, it seemed the Eastern Final, between Lackawanna Trail and Bishop Guilfoyle was for the runner-up position. But, Farrell made costly mistakes and played sloppy at times. Despite Bishop Guilfoyle’s inept offensive production, stayed in the game and trailed only 7-0 until a fateful blocked punt set them up deep in Steelers territory. A touchdown would send it to overtime.

In overtime, it was the tale of two kicks. Bishop Guilfoyle got the ball first and were held to a fourth and goal. The field goal was blocked. Though that stops the play and Farrell couldn’t return it for a touchdown. However, Farrell then was stymied on their possession, and were forced to kick a 22 yard attempt into a stiff wind. And barely clearing the bar.

After that, it was hanging around and waiting for the 7pm game between the Dallas Mountaineers, a new team for me, against Thomas Jefferson Jaguars.

#74  4A – Dallas v. Thomas Jefferson

I was looking forward to this game, and unfortunately, perennial contender TJ made it appear easy against Dallas, who were on the big stage for the first time as a group.

Dallas never did get much offense going in the cold, blustery winds of Hersheypark Stadium. They did manage one late 4th quarter touchdown to avoid the goose egg, however.

After spending the night back at the hotel, it was time for the Friday slate. One good game. And one bad game. Or at least that is how it looked on paper. And for the bad game… it was one of those ‘bad games’ that you can’t help but marvel at.

#75 2A – Southern Columbia v. Avonworth

Avonworth is a good team. No doubt. Southern Columbia, though, was on a whole other level. The big debate before the game was whether Avonworth could hold off the running clock until after halftime. And with the Antelopes scoring first, it seemed like they might just make a game of it. And then, the wheels came off. Just as in nature, Tigers prey on Antelope. And this one was no different.

55-7 at the half. 68-7 after 3. And, 74-7 at the end. This was, however, not the most lopsided state championship game I’ve ever attended. I did see Delphos St. John’s improbable 77-6 victory over Shadyside in the OHSAA Division 6 game back in 2010. The thing about that game, however, was no running clock, and DSJ tacked on four touchdowns in the fourth quarter. In a game easily in hand.

Southern Columbia set some records in the game. Largest margin, most points, biggest halftime score, etc. It was also their state record tenth state title.

So, with the bad game out of the way, it was on to the nightcap. Archbishop Wood was the favorite, no doubt. They’re a formidable team and despite some ups and downs this season, still managed to make the 5A state championship game.

#76 5A – Cheltenham v. Archbishop Wood

The two schools are only 14 miles apart. The vagaries of the PIAA bracketing system caused District 12, the Philadelphia district, to play on the west side of the bracket. PIAA’s geographic inequalities of big schools being much more prevelant on the eastern side of the state. They each traveled over 90 miles to Hershey for a Friday night contest. And, it was a great game.

Archbishop Wood jumped out to a 6-0 lead at the half. Thanks to the unconventional two field goals. Rarely do you see so much outdoor kicking in December in high school games. Recovering the opening kickoff of the second half spelled doom for Cheltenham. Giving up a quick score, they were down 12-0. But, they regrouped, and put together a drive culminating in a 20 yard TD pass, down only 12-7. And in the fourth, scores on a 3 yard TD pass to take the lead, 15-12.

But Archbishop Wood does what Archbishop could. A late drive, to the three yard line with less than ten seconds remaining. And going for the win with a 3 yard pass to take a 19-15 lead. Only four seconds left spelled the end for Cheltenham’s dream season. Three yards shy of a state title.

Saturday then, was the finale of the Pennsylvania High School Football Season. Two games remained. The 3A and 6A finals. Again, a good and bad game in the projections. The earlier 12pm kickoff was a little early for me.

I’m a night person. Noon is early to me. So, checking out of the hotel before 11 and driving the two miles to the stadium was a tad annoying. But, at least the early game was going to be a good one.

#77 3A – Wyoming v. Central Valley

This was The Deluca Show. After suffering two bruising injuries. One leading him to be removed from the game as QB for Wyoming, and suffering an interception by his protege on that solitary play, he came back with a vengeance down by 14-0 late in the game.

An 80 yard TD catch and run.

A 4 yard TD pass.

And with a minute to go, a long pass to the one yard line set up the winning one yard TD run. A 21-point fourth quarter after being down 14-0 after 36 minutes. Central Valley was gassed at that point. Their defense had finally ruptured and they were hemorrhaging badly. The offense couldn’t turn it on after scurrying out to a two TD advantage. And Wyoming wins their first state title in the battle of Warriors.

Before the week, I had considered foregoing the 6A game and heading straight home. I had plans for the Browns-Bengals game Sunday afternoon. And after last week’s Indiana game, I wasn’t much looking forward to another long drive and then turn around early Sunday to head out to Cleveland. But, I also didn’t want to miss a game. The 6pm kickoff on Saturday helps greatly with that. And Hershey is a lot closer to home than Indianapolis. So, I stayed.

#78 6A – Central Dauphin v. Philadelphia St. Joseph’s Prep

I wasn’t expecting much from this game. Two of the Hawks’ stars were out. And yet they were still the favorites in this one. A quick 14-0 first quarter set the tone. Despite my hope of a running clock to get myself out of there early, a 21-0 halftime lead gave way to Central Dauphin making it interesting in the third. Still, a three TD leading going into the final quarter of the season.

After parting ways with a few friends and colleagues after the game. I had a 4.5 hour drive home. And despite leaving at 9pm, managed to still not get home until almost 3am. Gas, food, and an impromptu stop for home essentials on the way home put me a little later than I wanted.

Then, at 10am, it was up and out for the Browns game. With our daughter along for the ride, this meant a pre-game happy meal and a little more stalling getting out of the car and to the RTA train. I found it easier to just park for free outside of Cleveland and take the train to the stadium. Round trip for the wife and I (daughter is still free), to be far cheaper than parking right at the stadium. And the train lets off just half a block from the southwest corner of the stadium.

NFL – Cleveland Browns v. Cincinnati Bengals

I find it astounding that this was the first time since the NFL switched to eight divisions in 2002 (with Houston rejoining the league) that the Browns have beaten all three of their divisional foes at least once. That’s 18 seasons.

PIAA Champions:

Elsewhere around the country, some notes.

The amazing Columbine-Pomona matchup I saw in the regular season, that finished 34-33 almost had a rematch in the state final. Both Pomona and Columbine were on opposing sides of the semifinal bracket. Though only Columbine made the Colorado 5A Final. And then prompty lost to Cherry Creek, 35-10.

Elsewhere, in Montana, a team I had just seen earlier against a team I saw several years ago were playing for the Montana 6-Man Final. Jordan (Garfield County) was hosting Wibaux. I had just seen Wibaux play at Savage earlier this year in their final regular season game. And I had seen Jordan host Lambert/Richey back in 2011.

Jordan and Wibaux played last season in the state final. At Jordan. And Wibaux walked off with their first six-man title after years of dominating 8-man. However, this year Jordan got revenge, and the Mustangs won, at home, in convincing fashion, 70-14 for their first six-man title.

And lastly, a team I hadn’t ever seen in person, though have wanted to and passed on two opportunities had a noteworthy state championship game. St. Francis (KS) is located in the far northwest corner of the state. A small hamlet along US36, it’s a small outpost most notable for the Dollar General and Pizza Hut on the west end of town.

My first game in Kansas was going to be St. Francis traveling to Dighton. It was a rare, rural, Thursday night game. However, being 8-man, Kansas has a 45-point rule akin to the 45-rule that Texas has for 6-man. Whenever the margin reaches 45 points in the second half, the game is over. And St. Francis was really good. And it was projected to be one-sided. Not wanting to see only half of a game (and they would only play one half), I decided to see the Wichita game at Carpenter Stadium instead.

The next time I was in/near Kansas, I again wanted to check out a game in St. Francis. They were hosting a game on Friday night. And I really could have made it work. But, again it would be one half. They would win, 47-2. So, I went to Ellis instead.

So, St. Francis, the #2 team in 8-Man Division I, were playing Canton-Galva. Both were looking for their first title. St. Francis led 36-0 in the second quarter. Nine points away from a state championship at halftime. And then… it happened.

Canton-Galva would reel off SIXTY-SIX straight points, and win, easily, 66-36 over the once unbeaten St. Francis Indians. I still don’t know how exactly you recover from that. I saw Avonworth lose 74-7. I know that hurts. But I can’t imagine if Avonworth were up 36-0 before losing 74-36. The atmosphere at that stadium in Newton, Kansas had to be awkward.

Greatest comeback maybe in high school football in the last twenty/thirty years. If not longer. In the days of running-clock/mercy rules. It just isn’t supposed to happen. A 36-0 lead means you win. The rules are favored to you to just run the clock. But, because they hadn’t reached halftime, Canton-Galva had a chance. And they didn’t even need all 28 minutes or so to do it. They had eclipsed the 36 point deficit early in the fourth quarter. St. Francis could have been down 60 and still won. That’s staggering.

Next week, I’ll be in Georgia for the eight state titles. Just as a fan in the stands enjoying some football in the Deep South. My second time in Hotlanta for a state title weekend. A few years ago I saw 2 games on a Friday. I didn’t stick around for three on Saturday.

One of the 16 teams, I’ve seen previously. Buford. This year, games were moved from Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Falcons home, to Georgia State Stadium. The current home of Georgia State. A relatively recent addition to the college landscape. The stadium itself is the old Olympic Stadium and former Turner Field, home of the Atlanta Braves. In fact, this will be my second time attending a game there. I saw the Braves host the Red Sox in a game there a couple years back.

After that, it’s a drive west to Texas for four of the best days a high school football fan can experience. The UIL State Championships at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Twelve games in four days. Phenomenal teams, crowds, and usually games.

I can see at least 4 new teams, and as many as 13. Though, I’m hoping Denton Guyer wins anyways to advance to the state final. Of all the teams in the country, I have a soft spot for the black and silver of the Guyer Wildcats. I’ve seen them win two state titles and hope to cheer them on for their third. True story, they’ve only ever won state titles when I’m in attendance. So there’s that.

2019 Statistics
78 Games
151 Teams
47 Stadiums
15 States

81 new teams
35 new stadiums

1,143 different teams (new: Dallas, Cheltenham, Wyoming, Central Dauphin)
335 different stadiums (new: none)
1018 games


For more, and larger, photos from this weekend, click HERE.

For photos from previous weeks and seasons, visit http://www.flickr.com/sykotyk/sets/

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