High School Football: 4 Central PA teams left standing in the state semifinals; here’s a look at each game
For Central Pennsylvania high school football, it’s down to a final four.
Four teams — Middletown, Bishop McDevitt, Manheim Central, and Harrisburg — are still alive in the state playoffs. All four will play in the semifinals of their respective classes this weekend.
All but Harrisburg will play Friday night; the Cougars will have to wait until Saturday for their semifinal clash.
Here’s a scouting report of each semifinal matchup.
PIAA CLASS 3A SEMIFINAL
Middletown (13-1) vs. Scranton Prep (14-1)
Friday, 7 p.m. at Bethlehem Catholic High School (Lehigh/Northampton counties)
WINNER FACES: Either District 10 champion Sharon (11-3) or District 7 champ Aliquippa (13-1) in the state championship game at noon on Saturday, Dec. 8 in Hersheypark Stadium
ABOUT MIDDLETOWN: The Blue Raiders booked their third straight trip to the state semifinals by holding off District 12 champ Conwell Egan 21-14 in last Friday’s quarterfinals. Jose Lopez rushed for 261 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries to lead the way for Middletown, which won despite being outgained 350-309 in total yardage. Lopez opened the scoring with an 88-yard TD run in the first quarter, and gave the Raiders a 14-0 lead with a 46-yard jaunt in the second. His final touchdown, a six-yard dive, gave Middletown a 21-7 lead late in the third quarter, and the Raider defense stiffened after allowing Conwell Egan to pull within a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter.
Middletown, the three-time defending District 3 champions, are trying to reach the state championship game for the third straight year. The Raiders have won 10 straight games since suffering their only loss of the season, a 40-14 decision against Class 4A state semifinalist Bishop McDevitt, on Sept. 7.
Lopez is the Raiders’ leading rusher, with an even 2,000 yards and 26 touchdowns on 241 rush attempts. Richie Sykes is the second 1,000-yard rusher in the Raider backfield; he has 1,164 yards and 14 TDs on 127 attempts. QB Scott Ash has completed 81 of 146 passes for 1,384 yards and 14 touchdowns, with just six interceptions.
Middletown’s two previous trips to the state championship game ended in losses. The Raiders are seeking their first state title.
ABOUT SCRANTON PREP: This is the third straight season that the Cavaliers have met Middletown in the state playoffs, and they’re still looking for their first victory. Scranton Prep fell 35-0 to Middletown in last year’s quarterfinals; that was their first and only loss of the season. In 2016, the Cavaliers dropped a 40-13 decision against the Raiders, also in the quarterfinals.
Scranton Prep, the District 2 champion, knocked off Mountoursville 45-7 in last week’s quarterfinals to earn another shot at Middletown. QB Leo O’Boyle threw three touchdown passes and Ben Jones scored twice on the ground to lead the Cavalier offense, while the Scranton Prep defense held Mountoursville to 198 total yards and forced two turnovers. It was the 10th straight victory for the Cavaliers, whose only loss was a 27-15 setback against Valley View on Sept. 14.
Ryan Cosgrove leads the Scranton Prep rushing attack, with 1,220 yards and 13 touchdowns on 205 attempts. Tucker Johnson (119-964, 11 TDs) and Jones (21-205, five TDs) are solid contributors on the ground as well. O’Boyle has completed 147 of 225 passes for 2,090 yards and 31 touchdowns. Scranton Prep averages 335 yards per game on offense.
PIAA CLASS 4A SEMIFINAL
Bishop McDevitt (13-1) vs. Erie Cathedral Prep (11-3)
Friday, 7 p.m. at Altoona High School
WINNER FACES: Either District 12 champ Imhotep Charter (11-2) or District 11 champ Bethlehem Catholic (11-3) in the PIAA championship game on Thursday, Dec. 6 at 7 p.m. in Hersheypark Stadium.
ABOUT BISHOP McDEVITT: The Crusaders are back in the state semifinals for the first time since 2015, when they bowed out following a 38-34 loss…to Erie Cathedral Prep. Bishop McDevitt fell to Berks Catholic in last year’s Class 4A quarterfinals, but the Crusaders avenged that loss with a 41-31 victory over the Saints last week. CJ Reyes-Diggs rushed for 157 yards and three touchdowns to lead the way for McDevitt, while QB Chase Diehl threw for two touchdowns and ran for another as the Crusaders notched their eighth straight victory.
The Crusader offense does most of its damage through the air behind Diehl, who has thrown for 3,169 yards and 39 touchdowns on 161-for-232 passing. His top target, Nazir Burnett, has hauled in 66 catches for 1,427 yards and 22 TDs — though he was held to just two catches for 17 yards last week against Berks Catholic. Reyes-Diggs has 1,484 yards and 16 scores on 145 rushes to power the McDevitt ground attack.
The Crusaders’ only loss of the season was a 50-43 setback against Cedar Cliff on Sept. 21. They have scored at least 38 points in every game since.
ABOUT CATHEDRAL PREP: The Ramblers require no introduction to students of PIAA history. They are seeking their third straight state championship and their fifth overall. Cathedral Prep advanced to the semifinals with a 42-10 rout of South Fayette last week. While the Ramblers have lost three games this season, one was a 24-21 setback to perennial state powerhouse Pittsburgh Central Catholic in Week 1, while the other two came to highly regarded out-of-state programs (a 35-3 decision to Lakewood, Ohio-based St. Edward in Week 3 and a 51-40 setback against Clarkson Football North in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada in Week 10).
The Rambler offense averages 456 yards and 44 points per game. Senior Billy Lucas leads the ground attack with 1,660 yards and 19 touchdowns on 199 carries, but he’s far from the only threat. Connor Schleicher (672 yards, 12 TDs), Luke Sittinger (650 yards, six TDs), and Collin Johnson (303 yards, four TDs) also chip in to fuel an attack that has churned out 4,153 yards in 14 games. Schleicher, the Ramblers’ starting quarterback, has also completed 82 of 157 passes for 1,249 yards and 16 touchdowns, but Johnson also has thrown for 899 yards and 13 TDs on 55-of-87 passing in eight games under center as well. Jack Oedekoven leads the receiving corps with 37 catches for 769 yards and 10 scores.
PIAA CLASS 5A SEMIFINAL
Manheim Central (14-0) vs. Upper Dublin (13-1)
Friday, 7 p.m. at Wissahickon High School (Ambler, Montgomery County)
WINNER FACES: Either District 12 champ Archbishop Wood (10-3) or District 7 champ Penn Hills (14-0) in the PIAA title game Friday, Dec. 7 at 7 p.m. in Hersheypark Stadium.
ABOUT MANHEIM CENTRAL: The Barons are back in the state semifinals for the second straight year. Last season, they bowed out with a 31-28 loss to eventual state runner-up Gateway. That defeat was Central’s first and only loss.
This year, the Barons bring another unblemished record into the state semis after hammering L-L League Section 2 rival Cocalico 40-14 in the District 3 championship game/state quarterfinals last week. Central rode the hot hand of quarterback Evan Simon, who threw for 373 yards and five touchdowns on 12-of-18 passing. The Barons outgained Cocalico 560-279 in total yards and built a commanding 21-0 halftime lead in a game that was never really close. Tyler Flick added 115 yards and a touchdown on the ground for the Barons, while Colby Wagner hauled in five passes for 218 yards and three touchdowns.
Simon has completed 109 of 198 passes for 2,319 yards and 26 touchdowns for the Barons this season. He also is second on the team in rushing, with 531 yards and 11 scores on 97 carries. Flick, who missed last year’s playoff run with an arm injury, has rushed for a team-high 1,650 yards and 30 scores on 243 attempts. Wagner (23-753, 11 TDs), Will Rivers (25-532, five TDs), and Isaac Perron (24-369, two TDs) are Simon’s favorite targets.
Manheim Central averages 396 yards per game on offense, while its defense yields 216 yards per game.
The Barons are 15 years removed from their only state championship — a thrilling, 39-38 overtime victory over Pine Richland played in near-blizzard conditions in Hersheypark Stadium. Since then, Manheim Central has made two appearances in the state title game, falling to Thomas Jefferson in 2004 and to Selinsgrove in 2009.
ABOUT UPPER DUBLIN: The Cardinals are making their deepest incursion into the PIAA playoff bracket after surviving a 35-28 shootout with West Chester Rustin last week. Quarterback Drew Slivka threw for 231 yards and a touchdown and rushed for a pair of scores to lead Upper Dublin, which recorded its ninth straight victory. The Cardinals’ only loss of the season came back in Week 4, when they fell 42-17 to William Penn Charter. The District 1 champions have outscored their opponents 102-35 in three postseason games.
Slivka has passed for 1,701 yards and 18 touchdowns for the Cardinals this season. Lucas Roselli leads a balanced ground attack with 766 yards and 14 touchdowns. Mason Novak is second on the team with 548 yards and nine scores.
Coached by former Millersville University quarterback Bret Stover, who led the Marauders to the NCAA Division II playoffs as a senior in 1988, Upper Dublin is making the second state playoff appearance in program history. Stover has coached the Cardinals for 16 years.
PIAA CLASS 6A SEMIFINAL
Harrisburg (12-1) vs. Coatesville (14-0)
Saturday, 1 p.m. at Hersheypark Stadium
WINNER FACES: Either District 7 champ Pine-Richland (11-2) or District 12 champ St. Joseph’s Prep (11-0) in the PIAA title game Saturday, Dec. 8 at 6 p.m. in Hersheypark Stadium.
ABOUT HARRISBURG: The Cougars earned a rematch with Coatesville in the semifinals by holding off Mid-Penn Commonwealth rival Central Dauphin 16-6 in the District 3 Class 6A title game/state playoff quarterfinals on Nov. 16, then settled in for a bye week last week. Jahmir Plant and Dana Purdy scored on touchdown runs for Harrisburg, whose stifling defense allowed that lead to stand.
It was the second district title in three seasons for the Cougars, who now get a second shot at the only team to beat them this season. Coatesville handed Harrisburg a 37-6 loss all the way back in Week 1. The Cougars have won 12 straight since, without allowing more than 17 points in any victory.
QB Kane Everson leads the Cougar attack, with 2,156 yards and 26 touchdowns through the air. Plant has rushed for 894 yards and 10 scores to pace the ground game.
ABOUT COATESVILLE: The Red Raiders are looking to reach the state championship game after bowing out in the semifinals last season. They bring an unblemished record into this year’s semifinal showdown after dusting North Penn 42-13 last week in the District 1 Class 6A championship game. The Raiders scored four straight touchdowns in the second half to turn a close game at the break into a rout. Aaron Young scored three touchdowns and racked up 180 yards on 17 carries for Coatesville, while quarterback Rick Ortega added a 47-yard TD run and caught an 8-yard TD pass from Young on a trick play. The Raider defense added six sacks.
Ortega has completed 112 of 173 passes for 2,016 yards and 34 touchdowns for Coatesville, adding 936 yards and 13 scores on the ground. Young is the Raiders’ top rusher, with 1,602 yards and 27 TDs on 163 carries. Coatesville’s top receiver is Dapree Bryant, who has 51 catches for 996 yards and 15 scores.
The Raiders average 382 yards per game on offense. No one has held them to less than 35 points all season long.
Coatesville is coached by Matt Ortega, the former head coach at York High. Ortega also served as defensive coordinator at McCaskey High School for one season before moving to York and ran the defense at Harrisburg from 2004-2008.
Ortega’s offensive coordinator at Coatesville is Jim Cantafio, who Lancaster-Lebanon League fans will remember as a former head coach at Conestoga Valley and Wilson, in addition to a successful stint at Wyoming Valley West in north-central Pennsylvania.
Other L-L League alums on Ortega’s coaching staff include Darryl Daniel, a former Conestoga Valley standout, Syracuse University grad and NFL wide receiver; Damien Henry, a star at running back for McCaskey who went on to serve as an assistant coach for several years with the Red Tornado, and former McCaskey assistant coach Pete Susi.