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Written by: Billy Splain on Wednesday, December 15th, 2021
Quest: D11 (Week 16)
Once again this year, there were no District 11 teams advancing to the state finals in Hershey, but it’s still one of our favorite weekends of the year. Since retiring in 2015, Guy has been able to attend all the games. But until this year, Pam was not able to. Thanks to her “phased retirement” program, Pam was also able to also see all the games for the first time. It’s a two-hour in drive each direction for us to Hershey Park Stadium, but we commuted back and forth each day.
The PIAA went to an exclusively on-line ticketing system this year, and it caused a myriad of problems for fans, as many arrived not knowing they couldn’t buy a ticket at the venue. On the second day, Ticket Master was down for most of the day (or so I was told by one of the Hershey Park security personnel), which caused the situation to become “crazy” in his words. Nothing wrong with on-line ticketing option for spectators, but why does it have to be the only option? What’s wrong with offering as much flexibility and as many choices as possible to customers?
Another area of confusion was that the website for venue said that they had gone completely cashless. Signs at the stadium indicated the same. But when I arrived and bought the event program, they asked for cash. Then I bought fries and soda from the Bricker’s fry truck, and they asked for cash. Vendors walked the stadium selling drinks, popcorn, soft pretzels, and cotton candy and they also wanted cash. So much for being “cashless.” All they did was to cause confusion with the misinformation. Would it have been so hard to explain the policy in place for THIS event?
Football is one of three sports I’ve seen in this stadium, the first being TQ Midget Auto Racing in 1982. I also saw Hershey Bears outdoor ice hockey in the stadium, as well as of course many football games.
DISTRICT 11 STATE CHAMPIONS. D11 has eleven state championships from the first year of the state playoffs, 1988 until the most recent D11 win in 2010. Allentown Central Catholic has the most with three state championships, followed by Bethlehem Catholic with two. Single state championships were won by Marian Catholic, Schuylkill Haven, Parkland, Wilson, Liberty, and Mount Carmel. I didn’t realize it, but I guess Mount Carmel was in District 11 in 1994. The last District 11 team to make the final was Parkland in 2015, and they lost by just three to Pittsburgh Central Catholic. Parkland was still playing for the win on the last play, with an almost completely immobile quarterback. It has now been six years since a District 11 team played in December at Hershey.
This year may very well have had the most entertaining state championship weekend ever. I sure think so.
GAME ONE. 1A. BISHOP GUILFOYLE MAURAUDERS VS. REDBANK VALLEY BULLDOGS. We’ve seen B-G play here several times before, including three wins. For Redbank Valley, not only was it their first state final in football, it was their first final in any sport. This one was close throughout, but B-G struck first and both times Redbank scored to tie it up, B-G came back quickly to retake the lead. Hard to classify a one-score final in a state championship game as anything less than a good one, and this certainly was with Guilfoyle winning their 4th, 21-14. Off to a good start.
Between games we headed to Arooga’s sports bar to eat, then up to the Hershey Lodge for coffee, a scone, and to sit by the fireplace and warm up. This is our annual ritual and we followed it all three days.
GAME 2. 4A. BISHOP MCDEVITT CRUSADERS VS. ALIQUIPPA QUIPS. The Thursday night game was the only game where I even had to put on my winter coat this year. McDevitt had won one state championship in the 1990s but had lost three state finals since. Aliquippa was a recent champion, winning states three years ago. It looked like a McDevitt rout after they scored two TDs in just over the first two minutes. But the Quips settled down and came back to take a two score lead in the fourth stanza. McDevitt got a quick one to close it back to one score, but a late Aliquippa fourth down conversion by inches sealed the deal. I’ve never seen players on the field pay more attention to extolling the crowd than McDevitt, including up to just seconds before the snap. If I were their coach, I’d put a stop to the unnecessary showboating and concentrate on their job on the field. Final was 34-27 Quips and another one-score game.
GAME 3. 2A. SOUTHERN COLUMBIA TIGERS VS. SERRA CATHOLIC BULLDOGS. Southern has the best program in the state year in and year out. This turned out to be the only blowout of the weekend. Southern controlled the first half, but didn’t put the game away. An uncharacteristic third quarter allowed the Bulldogs to almost get back to one score, a crossbar extra point doinker the only thing preventing it. But the fourth quarter belonged to the Tigers, as they put up five TDs to finish the game with 62 and a Mercy Rule win. Southern had 419 rushing yards to -74 (yes, minus) for Serra Catholic, a difference of almost 500 yards. For Southern it was their record 20th state championship game appearance (more than twice any other school), record 12th state championship victory, record fifth consecutive state title (tied with themselves), and upped their record to 74-1 in their last 75 games. It was a pleasure to watch the Garcia brothers run the ball for Southern the last six seasons. A halftime highlight was finally meeting the boss, Billy Splain, in person as well as meeting D11 colleague Brian Ptashinski. (pic below)
GAME 4. 5A. IMHOTEP CHARTER PANTHERS VS. PENN-TRAFFORD WARRIORS. What a game! It doesn’t get any better than overtime with a state title on the line. Imhotep may be the “best team in the state on paper” but the game is won and lost on the field of play. There’s a lot to be said for kids that started together in kindergarten flag football, and played through pee wee, knee high, middle school, JV, and varsity. See Southern Columbia above for the quintessential example. A team of immense talent that doesn’t mesh like the kids that grew up playing together has resulted in Tep being just 1-4 in state finals including losses in their last four in a row. Penn-Trafford had fantastic community support at the game and that had to be a factor in motivating their team. Imhotep brought what appeared to be the smallest number of supporters of any of the dozen teams. It was a war out there, but after trailing for a good amount of time, Tep took the lead in the fourth quarter. Penn Trafford didn’t panic or fold, and tied the game at the very end of regulation to send it to overtime. In the OT, the Warriors had first ups and after only gaining three yards, settled for a field goal. Imhotep was right where they wanted to be, needing ten yards in four cracks for a championship. But in a series of false starts, an errant snap for a big loss, an incomplete pass, and a sack on fourth down, just like that it was another silver medal for the Panthers. Pandemonium ensued on the Warrior side, from sideline to stands. Without question the best game Pam and I saw all season. PS: If Imhotep recruits top players like is frequently said, why in the heck don’t they recruit a kicker?
GAME 5. 3A. WYOMISSING SPARTANS VS. CENTRAL VALLEY WARRIORS. Last day. For the Saturday games, the starting times are advanced by one hour. We like that. This one was a rematch of last year when Central Valley took the win. If you appreciate stellar defensive performances as much as offense, this game was pure joy to watch. This was the only game of the six that matched up two unbeaten teams. These two teams averaged almost 45 and 48 points per game, and were held to almost no scores with the state title on the line. In Q4 it looked like the Spartans had the Warrior running back pinned on the sidelines, but he squirted away and down the sideline for the only touchdown of the game. Wyomissing drove to just three yards from the tying TD, but fumbled the snap on 4th down and never got to run their play. Almost always, a one-dimensional team is going to get bit sooner or later. Wyomissing was just two for 10 passing for only nine yards. Central Valley was only 4-8 for 19, but when you have one back rushing for 227 and are protecting a lead, you don’t need any more run/pass balance.
GAME 6. 6A. SAINT JOSEPH’S PREP HAWKS VS. MOUNT LEBANON BLUE DEVILS. This was the other game that featured an undefeated team, as Mount Lebanon came into the game with an unblemished record. Prep has been here before, and before, and before, etc. It was without a doubt the warmest state final night game we have been to. Rain arrived as predicted, but there was never enough to make it much of a factor. The wind, however, was another story. Prep scored first, but Mount Lebanon roared back. Prep kept it close through the third quarter, then Mount Lebanon took control in the final period and it sure appeared to us that the deserving team won the day. It’s always fun to see a school win their first.
THE FRY-NALE-FRY-FECTA. It’s no secret that Pam and I are huge fans of the fresh cut fries. Some insist that we don’t even like football all that much, that we just go for the fry trucks. Our penchant for referring to it as “Fry-day Night Lights” may have a little something to do with that. At the Hershey state championships, you can count on Bricker’s to always dish up gold medal taters. When we read that the venue had gone to a cashless-only system, we feared Bricker’s might not be there this year. To our great relief, we had Bricker’s. After a season full of fresh-cuts, we went all out on the last day. Because of the noon kickoff, we were there in the morning, so started off with a jumbo fry for breakfast. Just before halftime, another jumbo, for lunch. And you guessed it, at the second game a third jumbo for dinner to complete the Fry-Fecta at the Fry-Nale. By the way, the state finals at Hershey are not the only times we cross paths with Bricker’s fries. We enjoy them at both the Lincoln and Susquehanna Speedways, and have also had them at the Little League World Series in Williamsport.
We will back next week with one final blog for the season. Thanks for reading.
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