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PIAA 4A Championship: Cathedral Prep 27, Imhotep 20

(Photo by Tom Elling)
The game was played on a cold day, and, as the fourth quarter began, it must have felt even colder for the Erie Cathedral Prep Ramblers. Given another shot at the Imhotep Charter Panthers, the team that had embarrassed them 40-3 in last year’s state championship game, Cathedral Prep found themselves behind two scores, with Imhotep leading 20-9.  Even worse, the Panthers were driving, starting the final frame with a 3rd down and 5 from the Ramblers’ 25 yard line.  Cathedral Prep’s comeback chances – their chances for exacting revenge upon the reigning champion, of defeating the foe that they’d fought a year to get another crack at – seemed to hang by a thread.

And that’s what made this win in Hershey all the more sweet for Cathedral Prep.  The Ramblers scored 18 points in the final 8:57 of the game to stun the Panthers, and Prep got their revenge, turning the tables on Imhotep for the 27-20 victory to kick off the PIAA Championship weekend.

In the final quarter, it was all Ramblers, as one big play after another swung the momentum and the score farther and farther in their direction.  The final frame of the contest began with an Imhotep fumble, recovered by Prep at their own 26.  This drive stalled at the Imhotep 18 yard line, but Junior Kicker Anthony Lupo’s 35-yard field goal with 8:57 left – a field goal that would not have been good from 36 yards, just sneaking over the crossbar – put the Ramblers within one score, 20-12, and started something special.

The biggest play of the game happened just under two minutes later, when Imhotep faced a 3rd-and-9 at their own 31.  Senior QB Nasir Boykin, a dynamic dual-threat, attempted to hit his receiver in the flat, but Junior CB Terry Roberts, who had masterfully retreated just enough to give the illusion of openness, jumped the route and intercepted the pass at full speed, taking it 36 yards for the score and unleashing a raucous celebration from the Cathedral Prep fans.  The two-point conversion was good, and the score was tied at 20 apiece.

Imhotep’s next possession went three and out, and they were forced to punt; Cathedral Prep started from their own 35 yard line with 5:44 left to play.  On 2nd and 8, junior QB Joseph Mischler stepped back and hurled the ball down the middle of the field; travelling 50 yards in the air, the pass connected with junior wideout Tyler Oedekoven, who shrugged off good coverage to make a fantastic grab and run it in for the 62-yard score, giving Erie Cathedral Prep the lead for good.  The PAT made it 27-20, and a solid defensive stand from the Ramblers ensured that would be the final tally.

For most of the first half, Imhotep was the stronger team on the field of play; when they were stopped, it was due just as much to their own penalties as to Cathedral Prep’s defense.  After a 7-yard punt by Mischler on Prep’s second drive of the game, the Panthers found themselves starting at the Cathedral Prep 40 yard line.  On the fifth play of the drive, 1st and 10 from the 13, Boykin floated an absolute rainbow of a pass to the left edge of the end zone, where a tightly-covered Justin Harris (Jr. WR) made an impressive, almost flailing catch to give Imhotep the game’s first points.  The Panthers, who do not kick field goals or extra points, converted to go up 8-0.

On the next drive, however, Prep answered.  Although a screen pass fell to the ground on 3rd and 12 from the Imhotep 39, a roughing the passer penalty against the Panthers give Prep another opportunity, which they did not waste.  A nice pass from Mischler to Junior WR Henry Fessler, who had himself a fantastic game, put the Ramblers at the 4 yard line.  Three plays later, junior RB Matthew Ludo leapt over the left side of the offensive line for the score; the PAT cut the deficit to 8-7.

The biggest play of the first half may have been, incredibly, a punt.  After a deep Imhotep drive that didn’t result in points, Prep took over on their own 11 yard line.  They went three-and-out, and were forced to punt from their own 20.  Mischler, whose previous punt had gone a mere seven yards, set out to redeem himself – and redeem himself he did.  Kicking with the wind this time, Mischler’s punt bounced, and kept rolling… and rolling… and rolling, finally coming to a stop at the Imhotep 9 yard line.  That’s right, the field was flipped by a 71-yard punt.

After a delay of game penalty against the Panthers, they faced 3rd and 15 from their own 4 yard line.  Taking the shotgun snap in the end zone, Boykin had no time to react, and was hit immediately by junior linebacker (and Notre Dame commit) Matthew Bauer, who forced a fumble in the end zone.  Although an Imhotep offensive lineman fell on the ball, the resulting safety gave the Ramblers the lead, 9 to 8.

With 1:31 left in the first half, however, Imhotep would take back the lead.  The Panthers, coming out of a time out, faced 4th and inches just short of midfield, and Cathedral Prep stacked the box with 10 men.  Junior running back Isheem Young, himself highly-recruited and regarded as one of the nation’s top free safeties in the class of 2018, was hit at the line, but found a small opening – and that was all he needed.  Once he got past the line of scrimmage, he found himself with 10 defenders behind him, and he easily outran them to the goal line.  A failed 2 point conversion kept the score at 14-9, which is how the half ended.

The only score in the 3rd quarter happened on the second half’s first drive.  Imhotep received the ball, with a nice return setting them up at their own 46 yard line.  On 3rd and 10 from the Cathedral Prep 31, Boykin tossed the ball down the middle of the field, where senior WR Aamir Brown came down with the ball for the score.  It was 20-9 after the missed 2 point conversion, and even a 45-yard run by Cathedral Prep’s Bauer later in the 3rd (on his 2nd carry of the drive and the game) was not enough to give them a true scoring chance.

Ultimately, this was a fantastic way to start the weekend.  Although the gameplay was at times sloppy, the momentum swings and big plays in this one made for an immensely entertaining contest.  Congratulations to the Ramblers!

Notes: Both teams had a pair of defensive linemen that made life difficult for the opposing offense.  Imhotep’s Omar Speights, a sophomore DE, was in the backfield all night, and big Jalen Denby, Sr. Nose Guard (listed at 6’0”, 345 lbs) clogged the middle of the line all night, making it difficult for Prep to find much room between the tackles….  On the other side, junior DE Christopher Smith made some great plays for the Ramblers, including a well-timed deflection at the line of scrimmage, and junior DE Juice Scruggs was involved in a number of plays, not always making the tackle but usually stringing the runner outside to prevent any significant progress….  Imhotep rotated a number of running backs; all were impressive, but junior Chris Wells, in particular, turned a lot of would-be tackles for loss into gains of 2 or 3…. This was Cathedral Prep’s third PIAA Championship, and first since 2012.  Their record in Championship games improved to 3-3….  Imhotep fell to 1-2 in the PIAA Championships; they lost in 2013 before winning last year’s contest.

On Friday, December 9th, we’ve got a 2014 rematch in the 1A Championship, pitting Bishop Guilfoyle vs. Clairton, at 1:00 p.m., followed by the brand new 5A Championship, featuring Archbishop Wood and Harrisburg at 7:00 p.m. Follow all of the action on Twitter @pafootballnews; and be sure to check out for more recaps and other football news!

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