2018 Week 16 (Pennsylvania)

2018 Week 16 (Pennsylvania)

Once again, the season starts winding down with Pennsylvania’s PIAA Championships in Hershey. Pennsylvania is in the third year of the Six Classes experiment. The championship schedule is a much simpler two-games-a-day. Thursday and Friday hosting games at 1pm and 7pm, and Saturday starting an hour earlier. For the 21st year, the championships were held at Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey. A company town just east of the state capital. The stadium holds 14,000–if ever needed–and enough parking for everyone to take two cars.

Being relatively close, it was a 4.5 hour drive down Thursday morning for the first game. The drive was easy enough. And arrived just 25 minutes before kickoff.

1A – Farrell v. Lackawanna Trail

After last year’s run ending in the state semifinal against Jeannette, Farrell’s Steelers came roaring into the Class 1A Championship. A minor slipup on the first play of the game led to a 7-0 deficit. But, Farrell would rattle off six straight touchdowns to take a nearly insurmountable lead into the break, 42-7.

The second half was a quick exercise and getting the game over with. Lackawanna Trail and Farrell each tacked on two more touchdowns. Farrell walks off with their first state championship since back-to-back titles in 1995 and 1996.

After the early finish, it was over to check into my hotel. Eat. And then get back to the stadium. The night game was, possibly, one of the least interested games. The fourth straight matchup between Imhotep Charter and Cathedral Prep.

4A – Erie Cathedral Prep v. Philadelphia Imhotep Charter

The worst part of this game, is the crowd. Imhotep Charter, being a charter school, just lacks the alumni, student body, or fan base, to draw a crowd for a Thursday night game 90 minutes away. With that, only 60 fans were on the Imhotep side at kickoff. A paltry number that just seems unfathomable for a state championship game. The crowd filled in a bit after kickoff, but still topping out somewhere between 100 and 150.

The game, itself, started with some intrigue. Cathedral Prep scored, but Imhotep tied it early in the second. Before Cathedral Prep rallied off two scores to go into the break up, 17-7.

The second half was cold, windy, and one-sided. Cathedral Prep held it together and added three more touchdowns to win, 38-7. Winning their third straight state title.

Next morning was a trip to get Indian food, a yearly ritual for me at the Pennsylvania finals. And then the game. My 100th of the season.

2A – Wilmington v. Southern Columbia

The first quarter ended scoreless. Only two drives consumed the first twelve minutes. A long Southern Columbia drive that ended as a fumble inside the five yard line. And Wilmington driving the field themselves, scoring with 10:22 left in the first half. But, Southern Columbia answered quickly, taking a 7-6 lead. Wilmington scored again, with 1:24 left. But, Southern Columbia’s explosive offense quickly moved the field and with 1 second left ‘scored’ a touchdown to tie it. Despite ample evidence he appeared short of the goal line.

After that, though, the flood gates opened. Southern Columbia scored twice in the third, and three times in the fourth. Ending the game–once again–with a running clock. Winning, 49-14.

After that, it was biding time until the 7pm kickoff for the Class 5A game.

5A – Penn Hills v. Manheim Central

Penn Hills opened up with an 18-7 halftime lead. Thanks to a monumental game by Daequan Hardy. Including a 100-yard Pick Six near the end of the first half. Overall, he finished with 3 receptions for 108 yards and 2 touchdowns. 3 interceptions for 140 return yards and a touchdown. And an 83-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

After the lackluster crowds for Thursday and Friday morning, the Manheim Central crowd was ridiculous. Only 22 minutes from Hershey, the Barons fans were out in force.

After taking a 30-7 lead and the looks of another running clock on the horizon, Manheim Central made it interesting. 30-14, 36-14, 36-20, 36-23, and 36-31 thanks to an 18-yard TD pass with 3 seconds left. The onside kick resulted in a disasterous injury for a Manheim Central player that left the game in an eerie limbo. The game clock hadn’t run. There was little celebration. As the player was taken off the field on a stretcher. Finally, after the player was safely removed, the announcement that the final three seconds should have run off the clock on the kickoff recovery and the game declared over.

Another night and an early start for Saturday.

3A – Aliquippa v. Middletown

Middletown came into their third straight championship game with a chip on their shoulder. Hanging on against Aliquippa’s stellar offense and trailed just 7-0 at the half.

After that, it was two touchdowns in the third, and two more in the fourth to once again get a running clock in a state championship this weekend. Middletown’s offense was just not effective, and their defense could only hang on for so long before the Quips offense ran over them.

With 4 of 5 games being very one-sided, and the fifth having a 23-point lead at one point before a fruitless comeback attempt, it was the hope of those in Hershey that the 6A game could make for an interesting finale.

6A – Philadelphia St. Joseph’s Prep v. Harrisburg

The problem was that St. Joseph’s Prep is one of the best teams in the country. One of the best sophomore quarterbacks leading them, with two sons of NFL players playing key roles.

The Harrisburg Cougars, though, did make it interesting. Starting the game with a Pick Six to take the lead. But, less than two minutes later, SJP answered to tie it. And scored another for good measure before the first twelve minutes were up. But, when it looked lost, Harrisburg scored again on a long drive. And scores on a short run to make it 20-14. But, again, SJP scored quickly to widen the gap.

But, Harrisburg just wouldn’t go away. They scored again, to make it a 7 point game. Finally, though, the cat was done playing with its meal, and tacked on two touchdowns to win rather easily, 40-20. In a game much closer than the score indicated.

After the final whistle. It was a brief stop on the field before calling it a night and heading home. A two-hour nap along the way and I got home just before six. A wonderfully long trip that probably should have just had another hotel room for the weekend.

Personally, though, Week 16 only saw two new teams, Lackawanna Trail and Manheim Central. For 2018, though, it was the 56th different stadium and either of the teams in the last game were the 173rd different team. Manheim Central was the 1,042nd team I’ve seen. And the 6A game my 925th game all-time.

2018 Season
36 New Stadiums
100 New Teams

173 Different Teams
56 Different Stadiums
53 Different Cities

103 Games

1042 Different Teams
298 Different Stadiums
268 Different Cities

925 Games

Up next, is a trip to North Carolina for four games planned over the weekend. One of two Friday night games at either UNC or Duke. And a three-game slate on Saturday at NC State’s Carter-Finley Stadium. Which would be my 299th and 300th different stadiums for a high school football game. After that, a ‘short’ drive west to Texas for twelve more games and the end of another football season.

For photos from this weekend, click HERE.

For photos from this season and others, visit http://www.flickr.com/sykotyk/sets/

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