The Hershey Experience – Observations and Thoughts for 2019
Written by: Phil Myers on Friday, December 13th, 2019
Well, it’s time again to recap the last weekend of Pennsylvania high school football with observations and thoughts. The state championships of 2019 were a hodgepodge of fantastic games and individual teams that will forever be legendary. In fact, this was probably the best weekend of championship football since 1999. There was no shortage of talent gracing Hersheypark Stadium and every team, no matter the outcome, was deserving to be there.
Farrell 10 Bishop Guilfoyle 7 – According to most pundits, this was not to be one of the closer games. Farrell was a big favorite. But Justin Wheeler, BG’s head coach, had a game plan to slow down the Steelers offense and his team did just that, holding Farrell to one touchdown in regulation. That TD was the result of a BG fumble recovered by Farrell at the Marauder 21. The Steeler defense played better though, and BG could not put any consistency together when they had the ball. The Purple and Gold’s big break came in the fourth quarter when Cameron Maloney blocked a punt and Jack Donoughe advanced the ball to the Farrell five. Keegan Myrick scored on third down and the game eventually went to overtime.
Myrick tried a jump pass to Andrew Yanoshak on third down in overtime that was batted away just as Yanoshak got his hands on the ball. Farrell’s Brian Hilton Jr. had quite a game as he then blocked BG’s attempted overtime field goal and kicked the winning three-pointer. That was the first field goal he ever tried in a game. The kick was into the wind and the wind was so fierce, it nearly blew the ball back across the crossbar. Hilton Jr. also recovered the fumble that set up Farrell’s touchdown. Farrell’s coach, Anthony ‘Amp’ Pegues, was very humble and said some nice things about Guilfoyle’s players and coaching staff and the program they have. He also deflected certain questions, saying “it’s all about the players, not me.” It was good to see former coach Jarrett Samuels and talked briefly with him after a big hug. Speaking of hugs, Farrell QB Raymond Raver Jr. went over and gave Bishop Guilfoyle’s Yanoshak and Myrick hugs before the obligatory handshake as both made a big impression with their defensive play and competitiveness. Both had 8 tackles with Yanoshak registering his 20th sack of the year. Farrell has now won four state titles and BG has three. Game Wrap up HERE
Thomas Jefferson 46 Dallas 7 – Even though both squads were undefeated, TJ was the favorite. The Jaguars proved the pundits right in this game. The real keys were the talent of TJ, plus how well they controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Without a doubt, in this humble writer’s opinion, this 2019 edition of Thomas Jefferson football was the best team coach Bill Cherpak has put on the field. QB Shane Stump was the offensive star for the Jags, scoring four touchdowns and throwing for another. Dylan Mallozzi rushed for 215 yards and scored a TD for the winners. Another quality player in the TJ arsenal is WR Daniel Deabner. Add to that Mac Duda and Logan Danielson, two linemen who did an excellent job opening holes and protecting the QB. In fact, Danielson was the inaugural winner of the Bill Fralic Award for the best Pittsburgh area lineman and Duda is heading to Princeton to play football.
Despite the offensive show in putting up 46 points, Cherpak’s defense shut out Dallas until half way through the fourth quarter. The Jaguars had one of the top defenses in Pennsylvania all year, allowing a total of 62 points in 16 games. Much credit for the win has to go to the Jaguar defense as they held a team averaging 44 points a game to a mere 7. Coach Cherpak said, “We did a couple things we hadn’t done before, everyone did their job, and the defense was just amazing as a result.” The win was the fourth championship for the Cherpak led TJ Jaguars. The Mountaineers’ only other championship appearance was a win in 1993. Game wrap up HERE
Southern Columbia 74 Avonworth 7 – When the Antelopes scored first, it was the first time SCA trailed all year. Then the Tigers scored last 74 points to set new state record for total points scored in any PIAA championship game. Also, 67 is the biggest margin of victory in a final. During a span of 9 minutes and 56 seconds from the 5:22 mark of the first quarter to the 7:26 mark of the second Southern scored 48 points. One could write a book about the accomplishments of this Tiger team. As it stands now SCA has 5 Division 1 recruits and four of these are going to Big Ten schools. The #1 recruit in America is WR Julian Fleming, an Ohio State commit, who rewrote the record books with 5,472 yard receiving and 78 receiving TDs (87 overall). He fell just short of the record for catches. RB Gaige Garcia, a Michigan commit, amassed 8,316 career rushing yards, scoring 141 touchdowns plus 1,108 yards catching passes with 17 TDs. Overall, he has produced 161 TDs in his career. His career total touchdowns and rushing touchdowns are among the elite in the history of high school football in America. QB Preston Zachman threw four TD passes and is heading to Wisconsin to play.
A now sixth Division 1 recruit is sophomore Gavin Garcia (offered by Bowling Green this week) who has more moves than Jennifer Lopez. What an exciting runner he is to watch. Gavin returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, but both were negated by penalties or maybe Southern scores 80 some points. Place kicker, Ethan Haupt, nailed 8 PATs to increase his state record to 118 extra points made in one year. Most kickers never even attempt 118 PATs in their high school career let alone in one year.
When told of all the records the defense came up with such as forcing 9 turnovers, intercepting 6 passes, scoring 4 defensive TDs, and holding a high scoring offense to just a touchdown, Coach Jim Roth just said with nearly a chuckle “obviously the defense played well”. Cal Haladay, who is going to Michigan State, is the leader of the pack on the defensive side of the ball. He is the Tiger career leader in tackles. Fellow linebacker, Max Tillett, is second in career tackles. Tillett is going to New Hampshire. And to boot, every single Southern player we talked with was humble and respectful. Mrs. Roth was even gracious enough to converse briefly with me and was instrumental in getting #4, the only two-time PA Gatorade Player of the Year, to pose with yours truly.
The 2019 Southern Columbia Tigers are easily the best small high school team this writer ever saw. Future SCA opponents beware, there are 2 more Garcias coming in the near future behind Gavin. Coach Roth now sits at 444 career wins, tied for second for most wins in PA history with Jack Henzes. He could break the record of 455 held by Berwick’s George Curry next year. The 894 points scored by the Tigers are the most by any PA state champ. Of those 894 points, 703 were scored in the first half!! Avonworth’s coach, Duke Jancour said, “I have never witnessed a more dominant team in any sport than what I saw from that Tiger football team.” Richland coach Brandon Bailey echoed those sentiments the week before saying, “That’s the best football team I’ve ever seen at the high school level.” The senior class had a record of 63-1 with three state championships. Roth and his SCA Tigers now have won 10 state championships, more than any other PA high school football team. This was Avonworth’s first appearance. Game wrap up HERE
Archbishop Wood 19 Cheltenham 15 – This might have been the best game and had the most amazing ending of all six games. The first half each defense battled hard and gave little if any ground. The Panthers were the first to threaten a score. Wood’s short punt gave Cheltenham the ball at the Wood 40 and the Panthers eventually worked their way to the Viking five before a penalty, an incomplete pass, and a loss of 11 yards on fourth down sent them back to the Wood 21. Sandwiched between two field goals by the Vikings’ Ryan Morgan (42 yards) and Robert Meyer (22 yards) that gave Wood the 6-0 lead at the half, Cheltenham put together a drive that fizzled at the Wood 13.
The second half began with Cheltenham fumbling the kickoff and Wood taking advantage on a Kaelin Costello 28-yard run to go up 12-0. The Panthers fumbled the next kickoff too, but Wood missed a short field goal and just like that the momentum changed. Cheltenham’s quarterback, Adonis Hunter, threw a touchdown pass to T.J. Harris in the third quarter and followed that with a TD toss to Sidiqq Williams with four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, putting the Cats on top 15-12 after a two-point conversion on the second TD. Seven straight runs by Costello, a couple of totes by Cardel Pigford, and another run by Costello gave the Vikes the ball at the Cheltenham 3 with eight seconds left. After using their last timeout, Max Keller hit Pigford with a look-in pass for the win with 4 ticks on the clock.
Costello was the workhorse for Wood, rushing the rock 38 times for 280 yards, which was most of their offense which totalled 333 yards. Thomas Pomponi had 14 tackles, a sack, and a fumble recovery for the Vikings. Both schools are only 10 miles apart from each other. Cheltenham’s coach, Ryan Nase’s wife is an alumnus of Archbishop Wood and taught school there. The Vikings have now secured six state titles, while the Cheltenham Panthers appeared in their first title game. Game wrap up HERE
Wyoming 21 Central Valley 14 – Wyoming mounted one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the PIAA finals of any class. The Wyoming Area Warriors were held to a grand total of 79 yards through 3 quarters by an unyielding Central Valley Warrior defense. Then lightning struck when Dom DeLuca threw a pass on third and eight from his twenty to Derek Ambrosino. But Riley Rusyn streaked in front Ambrosino coming from the opposite direction, snaring the ball in stride and ran the remaining 60 yards or so to complete the 80-yard score. “It wasn’t even meant for him, it was meant for Derek and Russ came out of nowhere and took it long. That was the game changer,” stated DeLuca.
The second key to Wyoming’s win was when Central Valley elected to go for a fourth and two near mid-field nursing a 14-7 lead with nine minutes to go. The green and gold stuffed the run and proceeded down the field to tie the game on a fourth down four-yard throwback pass from DeLuca to Ambrosino. The third key was what happened to set up Wyoming’s winning drive. Central Valley was forced to punt from near midfield and the punt only travelled 8 yards plus CV was hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty giving Wyoming’s Warriors the ball at the Valley 42. A 39-yard pass to Brian Williams set up DeLuca’s quarterback sneak to win the game with 41 seconds left.
DeLuca is one tough hombre as he was hurt early in the third quarter when he took a hit to both knees. The next series he was out playing defense and eventually offense, limping and with blood trickling down his leg. He accounted for all three TDs and picked off a CV pass in the end zone in the first half. Winning coach, Randy Spencer, said, “The drives and the plays are important, but it’s the spirit and will to win and compete that is what I am so proud of. That they found success when there was adversity, I’m so emotional and blessed.” Lineman Sammy Solomon said something interesting, “You could tell they were getting scared after we scored the first touchdown, so we kept throttling on them. We had to be aggressive and physical. This feels amazing, I can’t hardly describe it.” Congrats to Sydney Kruszka, whom we believe is the first female high school football player in Pennsylvania history to be a member of a state championship team as Wyoming wins their initial championship game appearance, while Central Valley dropped both of their championship final games. Game wrap up HERE
St. Joes Prep 35 Central Dauphin 13 – St. Joes Prep came to play and although Central Dauphin had plenty of scoring chances, the Hawk defense was up to the task and said ‘no dice.’ Ohio State bound junior quarterback, Kyle McCord and Clemson commit LB Jeremiah Trotter Jr. did not play. But the Hawks have plenty of talent in the cupboard and never really were in trouble. The key for St. Joes was to put extra men in the box to prevent the Ram running game from taking off and then pressure the quarterback with various blitzes, which they did to a tee. Led by Liam Johnson’s (Princeton) 4 sacks, the Hawks accumulated 8 sacks for the game. Johnson and Blake Romano had 10 tackles each to show the way in that department.
SJP jumped out to a 21-0 halftime lead. CD looked to get back in it by scoring in the third quarter reducing the deficit to two scores, but the Hawks iced the game by scoring a pair of TDs to increase their advantage by 28 points before the Rams scored on the final play of the game and the year of PA high school football. Kolbe Burrell had a nice game running the ball for St. Joes. He ended up with 25 totes for 189 yards and two touchdowns including a 55 yarder. Central dauphin has a very good defense, but the Hawk offensive line led by 6’7” 290 lb. Matt Lombardi and 6’2” 310 lb. Matt McGeary were better this night. Lombardi is headed to Tulane, while McGeary is headed to Colgate. This was St. Joes fifth championship win. Central Dauphin won in 2011. There is no doubt with McCord and Trotter this is one of the top teams in the U.S.A. Actually they’re not bad without them. Game wrap up HERE
Now for some other observations and comments of championship weekend. The Pittsburgh area bands were great and stood out this year. Thomas Jefferson, Avonworth, and Central Valley all had wonderful bands that performed at the half. Heat is needed in the press box as is some hot chocolate or coffee. (Maybe even a candy bar or two like a couple years ago?) Much thanks goes out to my wife for putting up with me during the high school football season. Thanks also to my darling cousin, Pam, who takes me in for a couple nights, takes me to my favorite restaurant for breakfast, and chit-chats with me usually till the wee hours of the morning. And speaking of thanks, much gratitude goes out to Ed Weaver of Circle W Sports, Eric Epler and staff at PennLive, Chris Harlan and staff at the TribLIVE, Mike White and staff at the Post-Gazette, Tom Reisenweber and staff at GoErie, the gang at PAPrepLive, Varsity570, PAPreplive.com and others I can’t think of right now that contributed stats that were needed for previews when certain teams’ stats did not appear on MaxPreps. Also, Mr. Epler and Mr. Reisenweber have wonderful preseason preview magazines that I was able to secure and that came in handy.
What a stupendous year of high school football. Can’t wait till next year! Lastly, Merry Christmas to all and a heartfelt Happy New Year too.
For another view of the weekend view our lead photographer Sykotyks take HERE
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