HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: District 3 Class 5A Playoff Previews
The playoffs for the most-populated classification in District 3 get underway on Friday, with six games on the slate.
The 14-team bracket’s top two seeds, No. 1 Cocalico (8-2) and No. 2 Cedar Cliff (8-2), will be watching along with everyone else, having received byes through the first round. Everyone else in the bracket will be in action.
Here’s how the rest of the teams in the bracket match up on Friday.
No. 9 Northern York (7-3) at No. 8 Governor Mifflin (7-3)
Friday, 7 p.m. at Governor Mifflin HS, Shillington
The host Mustangs captured the Berks League Section 1 title in the regular season, rebounding from an 0-3 start to win their last seven games. Mifflin fell to the 5A bracket’s top two seeds, Cedar Cliff and Cocalico, along with a blowout loss to Berks neighbor Wilson in a rivalry game. The Mustangs rebounded in a big way once the league schedule began, reeling off five straight victories by an average margin of 38.6 points before closing the season with tighter wins over Exeter (33-27) and Conrad Weiser (21-20), the two teams that finished directly below them in the section race. Mifflin’s ground-heavy attack centers around running back Nick Singleton, who led all Berks County rushers with 1,426 yards and 26 touchdowns on 147 carries. Mifflin is making its 11th appearance in Districts. The Mustangs have never won a title, but have compiled a 19-14 playoff record.
Northern York finished second in the Mid-Penn Colonial Division race, trailing only undefeated Shippensburg. The Polar Bears got off to a 1-2 start, falling to Middletown (34-7) and Mechanicsburg (35-26) before rebounding to win six of their last seven games. The only blemish over that span was a 27-21 loss to Shipp on Oct. 11 that scuttled Northern’s Colonial title hopes. Northern’s main offensive cog is senior running back Kyle Swartz, who has racked up 2,017 yards and 24 touchdowns on 237 carries. Swartz has accounted for more than half of the Polar Bears’ offensive yardage. Northern is making its 12th appearance in the District 3 playoffs. The Polar Bears have never won a title, and have a 5-11 overall record.
Friday’s winner faces top-seeded Cocalico in the quarterfinals.
No. 13 Waynesboro (5-5) at No. 4 Manheim Central (8-2)
Friday, 7 p.m. at Manheim Central HS, Manheim
The host Barons captured their 26th Lancaster-Lebanon League Section 2 title this season, rebounding from an early-season two-game losing streak to win its last six games. Central knocked off top-seeded Cocalico 46-43 on Sept. 27, in the latest chapter in their storied rivalry with the Eagles. The Barons rely on senior quarterback Evan Simon, who completed 130 of 226 pass attempts for 2,191 yards and 20 touchdowns, along with a team-high 705 yards and 12 scores on 136 rushing attempts. His top receiver, Colby Wagner (64-1,285, 10 TDs), led the L-L League in receiving yardage, and was third in receptions. Central’s history in the District 3 playoffs is legendary; the Barons are making their record 31st appearance, with a record 18 championships. Their 57-13 playoff mark is also a District 3 record.
Waynesboro finished third in the Mid-Penn Colonial race behind Shippensburg and Northern. The Indians’ back-and-forth season opened with a 1-3 slump out of the gate, but they won four of their next five games before falling to Northern 49-25 in Week 10. Waynesboro’s signature win was a 22-7 triumph over West Perry (6-4) in Week 9. Sophomore running back Aiden Mencia is the main workhorse in the Indian offense, with 1,039 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on 158 carries. Freshman Mikel Holden also chipped in 788 yards and four scores on 148 attempts. Waynesboro is making its fourth straight playoff appearance, but the Indians have yet to taste victory in Districts.
No. 12 Mechanicsburg (6-4) at No. 5 Warwick (8-2)
Friday, 7 p.m. at Warwick HS, Lititz
The Warriors finished third in the L-L League Section 1 race behind Manheim Township and Wilson, who handed them their only two losses. Township defeated Warwick 28-7 in Week 7; Wilson knocked them off 14-7 a week later. The Warriors had one of the L-L League’s most prolific offenses, averaging 386 yards per game, and were third in the league in defense, allowing 241.3 yards per game. Warwick’s most impressive win came in Week 3, when the Warriors dusted Manheim Central 37-7. Quarterback Joey McCracken has completed 136 of 214 passes, for 2,338 yards and 24 touchdowns. His top targets are Conor Adams (48-846, eight TDs) and Caleb Smitz (42-767, 11 TDs). Colton Miller (181-934, 23 TDs) is the Warriors’ top rusher. Warwick is making its seventh playoff appearance. Last year, the Warriors earned their first-ever playoff victory over Palmyra (64-0) before falling 33-23 to Cedar Cliff in the quarterfinals.
Mechanicsburg finished fourth in a crowded Mid-Penn Keystone Division race; all of the division’s top four teams qualified for the playoffs. The Wildcats roared to a 4-1 start, but faltered in the season’s second half, falling to Susquehanna Township (34-0), Cedar Cliff (31-24), and Bishop McDevitt (42-7), all of whom finished ahead of them in the Keystone Division. Mechanicsburg hammered Lower Dauphin 45-7 last week, so they’re at least moving into the playoffs with some momentum. Quarterback Micah Brubaker is a two-way threat for Mechanicsburg, while RB Keegan Neill is the main big-play threat in the backfield. The Wildcats are making their 10th appearance in the District 3 playoffs. They have a 7-8 record.
No. 10 New Oxford (6-4) at No. 7 Northeastern (7-3)
Friday, 7 p.m. at Northeastern HS, Manchester
At least New Oxford and Northeastern won’t have to worry too much about scouting one another; the two York-
Adams Division I rivals just squared off last Friday, with the Bobcats prevailing 38-21. They’ll face one another for the second time in a week, with the winner advancing to face second-seeded Cedar Cliff. Northeastern roared to a 5-0 start to open the season, posting league-leading offensive numbers behind RB Manny Capo (248-1,696, 18 TDs) and QB Zech Sanderson (99-209-3, 1,305 yards, 16 TDs). But the Bobcats faded down the stretch, losing three of four before rebounding against New Oxford last week. Northeastern has made five previous appearances in Districts and have a 1-5 record.
The Colonials finished in a third-place tie with Northeastern in the Division I race. New Oxford has the league’s top passing attack, led by 2,000-yard passer Brayden Long and wideout Abdul Janneh, the league’s top quarterback and wideout, respectively. Janney led the league in receptions and receiving yards (48-901, 12 TDs), while Long (2,170 yards, 25 TDs) is the only York-Adams passer to eclipse the 2,000-yard mark this season. New Oxford is making its sixth playoff appearance. The Colonials are 3-5 overall.
No. 14 Solanco (5-5) at No. 3 Shippensburg (10-0)
Friday, 7 p.m. at Memorial Park, Shippensburg
The Greyhounds’ unblemished record and Mid-Penn Colonial Division championship were good enough to earn them a No. 3 seed in the bracket and a home game against the Golden Mules. The vast majority of Shippensburg’s victories were by a comfortable margin; only Northern (27-21) gave the Greyhounds any serious trouble, back in Week 8. Shippensburg’s 1-2 backfield punch of 1,000-yard rushers Jacob Loy (1,139 yards, 19 TDs) and Alex Sharrow (1,009 yards, 12 TDs) fuel the Greyhound offense. Shipp is making its ninth playoff appearance since 2009. The Greyhounds are 4-12 in the postseason.
Solanco started the season strong, going 3-1. But once the Mules got into Section 2 play in the L-L League, the sledding got much tougher. Solanco went 2-4 in section play, dropping lopsided decisions to section front-runners (and playoff qualifiers) Cocalico (46-15), Lampeter-Strasburg (41-14) and Manheim Central (49-20). The Mules’ offense relies almost exclusively on its ground game, which averages 327 yards per outing. Running back Nick Yannutz (215-1,487, 14 TDs) and quarterback Grady Unger (142-770, 11 TDs) are the main catalysts. Solanco is making its sixth appearance in Districts; the Mules are 3-5 overall.
No. 11 Exeter Township (7-3) at No. 6 York (7-3)
Friday, 7 p.m. at Smalls Athletic Field, York
The host Bearcats are limping into the playoffs after falling 35-14 to Central York in the de facto YAIAA Division I title game last week. The loss snapped York’s six-game winning streak. The Bearcats got off to a shaky 1-2 start prior to their winning streak, falling to Cedar Crest (17-14) and Pittsburgh Central Catholic (42-7). York’s rushing attack was second in the YAIAA, powered by dual-threat QB Tobee Stokes (568 passing yards, 681 rush yards, 15 total TDs) and RBs Tyler Whitt (993 yards, eight TDs) and Kelvin Matthews (548 yards, eight TDs). The Bearcats are making their 11th playoff appearance and have a 4-10 record in previous outings.
Exeter finished a game behind Governor Mifflin in the Berks League Section 1 race. In addition to their 33-27 loss to the Mustangs in Week 9, the Eagles also dropped early-season decisions to Berks Catholic (14-10) and Spring-Ford (24-7). Exeter’s offense ranked third among Berks teams, averaging 374 yards per game, and was second in total defense (176 yards per game). Quarterback Gavin McCusker led all Berks quarterbacks with 1,638 yards and 22 touchdowns on 94-of-162 passing. He was only intercepted three times. His top target, Alex Javier, ranked third among Berks wideouts with 36 catches for 765 yards and 12 scores. Exeter is making its 11th appearance in the district playoffs, where the Eagles have a 4-10 record.