High School Football: FOX43’s District 3 Playoff Preview
The District 3 playoffs continue this week with a slate of seven games — six semifinal matchups in Class 6A, 5A and 4A on Friday, and a championship showdown in Class 3A tonight.
The district’s two representatives in Class 2A and 1A will open the PIAA playoffs this weekend as well.
That’s a lot of football to keep track of, but FOX43 will have all the scores and highlights for you in the High School Football Frenzy.
The Football Frenzy Game of the Week features the latest chapter in the Lancaster-Lebanon League’s fiercest, most competitive rivalry, as Manheim Central and Cocalico will square off Friday in the Class 5A semifinal in Manheim. There’s much more on that game below.
In the meantime, let’s take a look at this week’s playoff matchups, starting with the largest class:
CLASS 6A SEMIFINALS
Hempfield (8-3) at Cumberland Valley (9-2)
Friday, 7 p.m.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: CV finished in a second-place tie with State College in the Mid-Penn Commonwealth standings, then opened the postseason with a 62-9 rout of C.D. East in the quarterfinals. Hempfield, which finished third behind Manheim Township and Wilson in the Lancaster-Lebanon League Section 1 race, defeated Dallastown 31-28 in its playoff opener.
ABOUT CUMBERLAND VALLEY: The Eagles’ only losses were to Central Dauphin (20-14 on Sept. 29) and Harrisburg (56-14 on Nov. 4). In their nine wins, their average margin of victory is 26.3 points. As is often the case, CV’s offense revolves around the ground attack. RB Jake Palmer is the main cog, with 1,121 yards and 11 touchdowns on 171 attempts. Meanwhile, dual threat Charlie Katshir, a Penn State recruit, has hauled in a team-high 24 passes for 480 yards. Katshir also plays defensive back, kicker, punter, and kickoff/punt returner. No word on whether he drives the team bus to away games, but it’s not a far-out assumption to make. A traditional District 3 powerhouse, CV is seeking its 12th district championship.
ABOUT HEMPFIELD: In addition to Section 1 losses to Manheim Township (56-0) and Wilson (21-10), Hempfield also fell 27-20 to Exeter Township early in the season. But the Black Knights have won six of their last seven games. Hempfield’s last two games have been shootouts. The Knights defeated Lebanon 59-48 in their final regular season game. QB Mark Himmelsbach has rushed for 1,431 yards and passed for 1,337 yards, and has scored a combined 23 touchdowns. Stephen Wentzel (135-957, 10 TDs) is the also a factor in the backfield, while Temple recruit David Martin-Robinson has 40 catches for 620 yards and four scores to go with 480 rushing yards.
Wilson (8-3) at Manheim Township (10-1)
Friday, 7 p.m.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: The second-seeded Blue Streaks blanked Central Dauphin 28-0 in the quarterfinals; it was Township’s second victory over CD this season. Wilson hammered Red Lion 42-7.
ABOUT MANHEIM TOWNSHIP: The Blue Streaks are getting a rematch for the second straight week. They knocked off Central Dauphin 17-10 in Week 1, and broke Wilson’s 68-game winning streak in Section 1 with a 38-14 victory on Oct. 20. Eventually, Township earned the Section 1 title, ending Wilson’s nine-year championship reign. Township’s only loss came in Week 3, when the Streaks were throttled 49-14 by Class 5A semifinalist Governor Mifflin. Township’s offense revolves around the two-pronged attack of QB Luke Emge (1,448 passing yards, 20 TDs) and RB Grayson Sallade (1,146 rushing yards, 16 TDs). Township also had the L-L League’s third-ranked defense, yielding just 215 yards and 14.7 points per game.
ABOUT WILSON: It certainly says something about the state of your program when a 7-3 record and a 12th straight District 3 playoff appearance is considered a bit of a down year, but that’s we are with Wilson. In addition to their loss to Township, the Bulldogs also fell to Governor Mifflin (21-14) and Central Dauphin (28-20) in non-league play, getting off to an uncharacteristic 1-2 start. But Wilson has won its last three games, and appears to be hitting its stride. Iggy Reynoso, Berks County’s all-time leading rusher, has racked up 1,474 yards and 22 touchdowns this season. QB Connor Uhrig has 1,553 passing yards and 14 TDs.
CLASS 5A SEMIFINALS
Governor Mifflin (10-1) at Harrisburg (11-0)
Saturday, 1 p.m.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Harrisburg continued its rampage through District 3 with another blowout win in the quarterfinals, stomping Exeter Township 46-14. Governor Mifflin rolled to its eighth straight victory with a 56-7 rout of York.
ABOUT HARRISBURG: The Cougars moved up to No. 69 in the High School Football America Top 100 poll with yet another easy win; their average margin of victory this season is 40.5 points per game, and the closest anyone’s come to them was in Week 1, when Imhotep Charter dropped a 33-14 decision. Stacked with talent on both sides of the ball, Harrisburg is averaging 451 yards of offense per game. RB/DE Micah Parsons (1,161 rushing yards, 27 TDs) is the guy who draws the most attention, but QB Yahmir Wilkerson (112-188-3, 2,101 yards, 24 TDs) makes the whole offense go.
ABOUT GOVERNOR MIFFLIN: The Berks League Section 1 champs are seeking to avenge a 46-21 loss to the Cougars in last year’s 5A semifinals, but the Mustangs will be big underdogs on Saturday — even though they’ve outscored their opponents by an average margin of 38 points per game during their current eight-game winning streak, and haven’t allowed more than 14 points per game during that span. Mifflin’s bread and butter remains the ground game, with 1,500-yard rusher Isaac Ruoss leading the way. But QB Kamron Wolfe isn’t afraid to air it out, throwing for 1,102 yards and 12 TDs. The Mustangs have held opponents to 184 yards per game this season, but their defense is facing its stiffest test this weekend.
Cocalico (10-1) at Manheim Central (11-0)
Friday, 7 p.m.
GAME OF THE WEEK: Manheim will be the home base for FOX43’s High School Football Frenzy. We’ll get you ready for the district playoffs with a pre-game show at 6 p.m., and have all the scores and highlights at 10.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: The top-seeded Barons rolled up another lopsided victory with a 55-0 rout of Waynesboro in the quarterfinals, while Cocalico set up a rematch with its arch-rival by hammering Cedar Crest 42-7.
ABOUT MANHEIM CENTRAL: The Barons are District 3 playoff royalty, with a record 16 championships, including a run of 10 straight from 1992 to 2001. Their 30 appearances are also a District 3 postseason record. But Central hasn’t won a title since 2009, as the rise of powerhouse programs like Bishop McDevitt and Harrisburg in recent years have stolen some of the Barons’ thunder. Still, Central appears primed for another title game appearance — assuming they can clear the major hurdle Cocalico represents in the semifinals. The Barons took the regular-season meeting with the Eagles, 17-7, back on Sept. 29. QB Evan Simon (1,907 pass yards, 23 TDs), RB Tyler Flick (1,422 yards, 19 TDs) and TE Jake Novak (975 yards, 11 TDs) are the main cogs of the Baron offense, while Central’s defense is tops in the L-L League, with 204 yards and 9.7 points allowed per game.
ABOUT COCALICO: The Eagles are trying to avenge their only loss of the season and book their second trip to the district title game in four years. Cocalico been on a rampage since their loss to Central. The Eagles have won their last six games by a combined margin of 352-97, and no one has held them under 42 points during that surge. Quarterback Noah Palm is the main cog of the offense, leading the team with 1,141 rushing yards and 18 TDs. RB Brandon Brubaker has contributed 693 yards and 20 scores on the ground. Cocalico rarely passes the ball; Palm has attempted just 40 passes this season. So stopping the run will be a priority for the Barons. They did it in the first meeting; Cocalico managed a season-low 194 yards on the ground in its first meeting in Manheim.
CLASS 4A SEMIFINALS
East Pennsboro (9-2) at Berks Catholic (11-0)
Friday, 7 p.m.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: The top-seeded Saints captured the Berks League Section 2 title with an undefeated regular season, then dusted Gettysburg 48-18 to open the playoffs. East Pennsboro also rolled through the quarterfinals, hammering Susquehannock 45-14.
ABOUT BERKS CATHOLIC: The defending district champs have won almost half of their games by shutout, and are allowing just 6.4 points and 139.1 total yards per game this season. Only three teams have managed to score more than once in a game against Berks Catholic, and many times the points the Saints have allowed were yielded by the backup defense after the starters took a powder at halftime. Running back Cooper Lutz (1,034 yards, 23 TDs) is averaging just under 14 yards per carry this season for the Saints.
ABOUT EAST PENNSBORO: The Panthers continued their late-season surge by hammering Susquehannock for their sixth straight victory. They’ve scored at least 42 points in five of those games. Senior running back Onasis Neely has rushed for 1,293 yards and 17 touchdowns during East Pennsboro’s winning streak. He has 2,342 yards and 32 scores for the year. But he’ll face his biggest obstacle on Friday; opponents are averaging just 74.5 rushing yards per game against Berks Catholic.
Lampeter-Strasburg (7-4) at Bishop McDevitt (9-2)
Friday, 7 p.m.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: The second-seeded Crusaders knocked off Shippensburg 43-22 in the quarterfinal round, while Lampeter-Strasburg sprung one of the first round’s few upsets with a 34-19 triumph over third-seeded Northern Lebanon.
ABOUT BISHOP McDEVITT: The Crusaders have won seven straight games and scored at least 41 points in six. Their only losses were to 6A semifinalist Cumberland Valley (49-23) and 5A powerhouse Harrisburg (35-0). McDevitt quarterback Chase Diehl eclipsed the 2,000-yard passing plateau in the regular season. He has 2,279 yards and 23 TDs overall, and has completed 74 percent of his passes. WR Nazir Burnett needs just 74 yards to reach 1,000 for the season; he’s averaging 22.6 yards per catch, and has a team-high 11 TDs. T’nyis Becker is another popular target for Diehl, with a team-high 46 catches for 738 yards and four scores.
ABOUT LAMPETER-STRASBURG: The Pioneers were outpaced by Manheim Central, Cocalico and Cedar Crest in the L-L League Section 2 race, and stumbled their way into the playoffs by losing three of their last four regular-season games. But L-S came alive against Section 3 champ Northern Lebanon in the quarterfinals, fighting back from deficits of 13-0 and 19-14 by scoring the game’s final three TDs. The Pioneers’ balanced offense averages 429 yards per game, split almost evenly between the ground game (208 yards per game) and the air attack (221 yards per game).
CLASS 3A CHAMPIONSHIP
Wyomissing (10-1) vs. Middletown (11-0)
Thursday, 7 p.m.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: The top-seeded and undefeated Blue Raiders blasted Bermudian Springs 42-7 in the semifinals, while Wyomissing held off Littlestown 13-9 in a defensive struggle.
ABOUT WYOMISSING: The Spartans advanced to the championship game despite managing a season-low 13 points in the victory over Littlestown. Ben Terefenko hit Alyas Branford-Williams for a 6-yard TD with 45 seconds remaining to lift Wyomissing, which was outgained 317-182 in total yards, including just 61 on the ground. But the Spartans are used to winning without a lot of offensive fireworks; they average 270 yards and 27.6 points per game, one of the lowest totals among any of the playoff survivors. The backfield tandem of Nick Kowalski (714 yards, 10 TDs) and Nolan Babb (621 yards, nine TDs) does most of the heavy lifting for the Spartan offense.
ABOUT MIDDLETOWN: The defending champions rolled to another lopsided victory in the district semifinals, which is a familiar outcome this season. Middletown’s average margin of victory during its 11-game winning streak is 33.7 points. The Blue Raiders have had three close games so far: a 24-7 win over Lower Dauphin in Week 1, a 45-34 shootout triumph over Trinity on Sept. 29, and a 17-10 victory at Palmyra on Oct. 6. Everything else has been a romp. Middletown’s offense features a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in the backfield: Jose Lopez (1,625 yards, 24 TDs) and Brady Fox (1,094 yards, 19 TDs).
PIAA CLASS 2A PLAYOFFS
The District 3 Class 2A playoff bracket skipped ahead to the final last Friday, where second-seeded Newport knocked off No. 1 York Catholic, 26-7. Newport (10-1) advances to the first round of the PIAA playoffs, where the Buffaloes will face District 2 champion Dunmore (12-0). The Bucks are led by quarterback Gavin Darcy, who has 1,319 yards and 24 touchdowns through the air.
Newport will try to ride running back Ethan Rode, who has 933 yards and 12 touchdowns on 136 attempts. The Buffaloes finished second to Williams Valley in the Tri-Valley League race this season. Their only loss was a 27-14 setback to Line Mountain on Oct. 13.
PIAA CLASS 1A PLAYOFFS
Steelton-Highspire captured its second straight District 3 Class 1A title with a wild, 68-42 shootout victory over Fairfield last Saturday. The Rollers (9-2) advance to the first round of the PIAA playoffs, where they face District 4 champ Wyalusing Valley (5-7) Saturday at 1 p.m. at Williamsport High School. The Rams knocked off Montgomery 28-6 last Friday to punch their ticket to States.
Quarterback Malachi Young completed 9 of 12 attempts for 217 yards and five touchdowns in Steel-High’s victory over Fairfield, setting a District 3 mark for TD passes in a 1A final. Young has passed for 1,364 yards and 16 TDs this season.
Wyalusing Valley lost its final three regular-season games, but rebounded to upend Montgomery.