HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: CD meets nationally ranked St. Joseph’s Prep in Saturday’s state championship game
We’re down to one.
Central Dauphin is the last Central Pennsylvania team standing in the state playoffs, after the Rams advanced to the PIAA Class 6A title game with a victory over Downingtown West last week.
The midstate’s two other semifinalists, Cocalico and Lampeter-Strasburg, both bowed out with losses last Friday.
Awaiting CD in the championship game is one of the state’s biggest powerhouses, nationally ranked St. Joseph’s Prep. The Philadelphia Catholic League and District 12 champions held off an upset bid from Pittsburgh Central Catholic in last week’s semifinals. St. Joseph’s is the defending state champion.
The Rams and the Hawks will battle for state gold on Saturday in Hersheypark Stadium.
Here’s a preview of the game:
PIAA CLASS 6A CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Central Dauphin (12-2) vs. St. Joseph’s Prep (11-2)
Saturday, 6 p.m. at Hersheypark Stadium
ABOUT ST. JOSEPH’S PREP: The defending state champions earned the chance to defend their title with a 31-24 overtime victory over Pittsburgh Central Catholic in last weekend’s semifinals. The Hawks tied the game with 15 seconds left in regulation when Marvin Harrison Jr. — the son of the former Indianapolis Colts standout — caught a 12-yard TD pass on fourth-and-10.
After scoring on their overtime possession, the Hawks thwarted Pittsburgh Central Catholic by intercepting a pass at the goal line.
It was the closest shave in months for St. Joseph’s, which entered last week ranked No. 22 in the nation by USA Today. The Hawks have won 11 straight since a 1-2 start that included losses to nationally ranked powerhouses IMG Academy and Marietta, Ga.
St. Joseph’s roster is stocked with a small army of major-college recruits, but two of the biggest are questionable for the championship game with injuries of unknown severity. Junior quarterback Kyle McCord, who has already committed to Ohio State, has sat out the last two games with an apparent knee injury. He’s passed for 2,399 yards and 31 touchdowns this season.
Linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr., a Clemson recruit and the son of the former Philadelphia Eagles star, also missed last week’s game, and his status for Saturday is uncertain.
The Hawks replaced McCord with a converted wide receiver, lining up Malik Cooper in the Wildcat formation and letting him create with his legs. Cooper, who has reportedly been clocked at 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash, presents a different challenge than McCord, but the offense is still dangerous with him running the show. And after mostly using his legs in his two previous playoff starts, Cooper completed 21 of 24 passes for 258 yards against Central Catholic, adding two touchdowns on the ground.
And it’s not like the Hawks are lacking talent, even with McCord and Trotter at less than 100 percent. Harrison, the team’s leading receiver, is also headed to Ohio State, while running back Kolbe Burrell is bound for Buffalo. Offensive tackle Matthew Lombardi is going to Tulane, while wideout Sahmir Hagans is sorting through a handful of college offers.
Harrison had six catches for 115 yards against Central Catholic, boosting his totals to 43 catches for 968 yards and 14 TDs for the season. Burrell eclipsed the 1,000-yard plateau for the season in the Hawks’ state playoff opener and has 14 touchdowns this season.
St. Joseph’s is in the state championship game for the sixth time in seven years. The Hawks have won five titles since 2013. They defeated Harrisburg 40-20 in last year’s Class 6A title game.
ABOUT CENTRAL DAUPHIN: The Rams roared into the state championship with a 65-44 victory over Downingtown West in the semifinals. CD ran right at the Whippets, racking up 445 yards on the ground and 539 total yards, paced by a 270-yard, four-touchdown performance by running back Timmy Smith and a 108-yard, one-TD outing by Elijah Vargas.
It was a record for most points in a PIAA Class 6A playoff game.
The Rams gave up 44 points, but the defense came up with a pair of big plays in the second half, intercepting Downingtown West twice in the third quarter to set up a pair of scores that gave them a cushion the Whippets couldn’t erase. CD took a 37-14 lead at that point, but never rested on its laurels. Instead, a 24-yard TD run by Smith and an 89-yard kickoff return for a score by Malachi Bowman gave the Rams a 51-30 lead heading into the final quarter.
Vargas and Smith added TD runs to open the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach, though Downingtown West added a pair of late scores to make the score more respectable.
Sophomore quarterback Max Mosey completed 5 of 10 passes for 94 yards and added a touchdown run for the Rams, who won their 11th straight.
CD now faces what is unquestionably its biggest challenge of the season in St. Joseph’s. But the Rams have made a season out of overcoming adversity. They got off to a 1-2 start, falling to Wilson (21-13) and Manheim Township (10-7) in the early going. But they rebounded to roll through the rest of the regular season, capturing the Mid-Penn Commonwealth title on their way to the District 3 playoffs.
In the postseason, CD avenged its loss to Township with an instant-classic 35-34 double-overtime victory that saw them rally from a 21-7 deficit. The Rams then defeated arch-rival Harrisburg 27-20 in the district final.
Smith has 1,257 yards and 16 touchdowns on 180 carries this season. Mosey has completed 140 of 223 passes for 2,084 yards and 16 scores. Nick Chimienti is the Rams’ leading receiver, with 56 catches for 1,073 yards and nine touchdowns.
CD is back in the championship game for the first time since 2011, when the Rams defeated North Penn 14-7 to capture the PIAA Class 4A title.