PIAA State Championship Preview: Middletown vs. Quaker Valley

Middletown stands alone.

The Blue Raiders are the only Central Pennsylvania football team still alive in the PIAA playoffs, after advancing to the state championship game with a 49-7 rout of Conwell-Egan last Saturday in the Class 3A semifinals.

Manheim Central, Manheim Township and Steel-High all saw their seasons end with semifinal losses last weekend. The Barons fell 31-28 to Gateway, the Blue Streaks dropped a 28-7 decision to Pine-Richland, and the Rollers were defeated 20-14 by Homer Center.

Middletown returns to the state championship game for the second straight season. The Raiders were at this stage last year, but fell to Beaver Falls in the title game. That loss, a 30-13 decision, is the only blemish on Middletown’s record in the last two years. The Raiders are 29-1 since 2016.

Standing between Middletown and its first state championship is District 7 kingpin Quaker Valley, which knocked off District 10 champ Sharon 42-23 in last weekend’s other semifinal.

The Class 3A title game will be played Saturday at noon in Hersheypark Stadium. It will be televised live on the Pennsylvania Cable Network.

Here’s what you need to know about the game:

PIAA CLASS 3A CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

Middletown (14-0) vs. Quaker Valley (13-1)

ABOUT MIDDLETOWN: The Blue Raiders rolled to another yet another lopsided postseason victory in the semifinals, hammering District 12 champion Conwell-Egan. In its four playoff games, Middletown has outscored its opponents 175-14 and has recorded two shutouts. The Raiders have also outgained their foes 2,792-797 over that same span.

Last Saturday, they held Conwell-Egan’s heralded running back, junior Patrick Garwo, to 59 yards. Garwo had over 280 yards and four touchdowns in a victory over District 11 champion Palisades the week before.

Middletown does most of its damage on the ground, averaging 283 rushing yards per game. The Raiders have a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in their backfield. Brady Fox, a 5-11, 190-pound senior who set a school record for career rushing yardage this season, has 1,402 yards and 26 touchdowns on 142 carries, while Jose Lopez, a 5-11, 185-pound sophomore, has 1,749 yards and 25 TDs on 195 attempts.

The passing game is a bit of an afterthought in the Raider offense, but that doesn’t mean they can’t throw the ball effectively. Quarterback Scott Ash has completed 66 of 126 passes for 1,132 yards and nine touchdowns, and has been intercepted four times. His top target, Tyreer Mills, has just 19 catches for 317 yards and three scores.

Middletown has blown out almost every opponent this season. Its average margin of victory through 14 games is 35.5 points. Only three teams have stayed within 35 points of the Raiders — Palmyra, which lost 17-10 on Oct. 6, Trinity, which fell 45-34 on Sept. 29, and Lower Dauphin, which lost 24-7 in Middletown’s season opener.

ABOUT QUAKER VALLEY: In a return to normal for their offense, the Quakers put up more than 40 points in their semifinal victory over Sharon. That win came two weeks after postingĀ  a strange 2-0 triumph over Aliquippa in the WPIAL championship. Quaker Valley averages more than 40 points per game, but it was the Quaker defense that stood out in that win over the perennial powerhouse Quips. A first-half safety was the only scoring in the game, which was played in rainy conditions at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field.

After a bye week, Quaker Valley returned to action in last weekend’s semifinals. Quarterback Ricky Guss accounted for all six Quaker touchdowns, throwing for four and running for two, the the rout of the District 10 champs.

Guss went 14-for-24 for 200 yards through the air, and added 75 yards on the ground. For the season, he has completed 112 of 234 passes for 2,142 yards and 25 touchdowns. He is also Quaker Valley’s top rusher, with 1,161 yards and 28 TDs for the year.

Quaker Valley’s only loss of the season came against Aliquippa on Oct. 13. The Quips won, 22-7. But the Quakers took the rematch in the WPIAL final. Quaker Valley’s average margin of victory in its 13 wins is 27.2 points. Only three teams have held the Quakers to less than 30 points this season.

Defensively, Quaker Valley has posted three shutouts and held three teams to single-digits.

This is the Quakers’ first trip to the state final.