The improbable journey ended on a frosty, wet field. But it began in bone-dry August with plenty of questions. Central Dauphin (Harrisburg)
had one starter back on defense. Rams' coach Glen McNamee had to find the parts to rebuild his offensive line. The thought before the season was that Central Dauphin might not even escape its own conference.
The Rams, however, believed that they could do something special. They knew that history was out there hanging for them to grab—a first PIAA Class AAAA state championship in school history, becoming the first District 3 team to win a Class AAAA state title since Cumberland Valley in 1992. The journey wasn't exactly easy, having to go through Pennsylvania state powerhouse and defending state champion North Allegheny to arrive here at Hersheypark Stadium.
Central Dauphin pounded away behind the revamped offensive line of tackles Zach Wilk
and Evan Schwan
, center Nick Gillick
and guards Nick Greene
and Arthur Lewis
to whittle away North Penn (Lansdale)
for a 14-7 victory in the PIAA Class AAAA championship game Saturday night.
It was an offensive lineman's delight playing in the wintry, snowy conditions. The turf was wet and neither team could get firm footing to pass block. The Rams mainly relied on the run to bang and smash their way up and down the field, with Zayd Issah
, Drew Scales
and Adam Hollinger
as the main benefactors.
It was Issah's two-yard touchdown plunge with 8:08 left to play that spelled the winning difference in Central Dauphin's history-making season and game. Though it was the big guys up front that made it all possible.
"You have your doubters and we had our share in the beginning of the season," said the towering Wilk, a 6-foot-5, 275-pound senior two-way lineman. "We put the time and commitment into getting here when a lot of people didn't think we could. We knew the talk. We weren't even supposed to beat North Allegheny [in the state semifinals] to get here. We knew the only ones who believed in us were the players on this team and the coaching staff."
The Rams finished 15-1 overall, ending the year on a 14-game winning streak, last losing to Bishop McDevitt (Harrisburg, Pa.) back on September 10.
After North Penn tied the game 7-7 on James Fielder
's six-yard touchdown run with 10:09 left in the fourth quarter, Central Dauphin's Scales answered with a 46-yard kickoff return, and then Hollinger barreled 41 yards to set up Issah's go-ahead winning score.
"We kept coming back all year, we came back against Cedar Cliff when we were down, we came back against Central York, we're used to the pressure of close games, we know how to bounce back," Hollinger said. "There was never any doubt we would come back in this game. North Penn was a good team. But I don't think there was any way we were going to lose."
With less than four minutes to play, North Penn out of timeouts and the ball at the Central Dauphin 45, McNamee showed great faith in his offensive front by running a quarterback sneak to convert a first down on a fourth-and-one. Junior quarterback Brandon LaVia
clung tight behind Gillick for a six-yard gain that sealed the victory.
"These guys all came together and I'm happy for the seniors," McNamee said. "These kids believed in themselves. It's a great credit to them." Class AA State Championship GameLancaster Catholic (Lancaster, Pa.) 17, Tyrone (Tyrone, Pa.) 7HERSHEY, Pa.—
Lancaster Catholic was able to pardon the year's interruption, because it came with a little caveat—beating defending PIAA Class AA state champion West Catholic to get here for the second time in three seasons.
The Crusaders, bolstered by junior tailback
's 154 yards rushing, captured their second PIAA Class AA state championship in three years by beating Tyrone, 17-7, on a brisk Saturday afternoon at Hersheypark Stadium.
The victory enabled Lancaster Catholic to finish its season a pristine 16-0, while Tyrone, the District 6 champion, ended a very successful year at 14-2. It was Clay that set the tone for what at times was a very sloppy game, with one sequence featuring five-straight drives between the two teams ending in a turnover.
"It wasn't pretty," said Clay, who said he's receiving attention from Rutgers, Maryland and Miami, "but I'll take this. It's something we all worked long and hard for, and it's something we felt we could do. This one got a little tense at times, but I think what I liked about this team is how we always responded to pressure."
For Lancaster Catholic coach Bruce Harbach, it meant winning for his seniors.
"They're the ones who I think this means the most for," Harbach said. "These seniors were sophomores when we last won a state title, so some of them had a taste of what it was like. This was something they deserved and something they fought for all year. I couldn't be prouder of this group of kids, and especially the seniors."
Clay's first score, made possible by a Tyrone miscue on a punt, came when Clay slid into the end from a few yards out to put the Crusaders up, 7-0. Lancaster Catholic added to that on a 20-yard field goal from Satchel Ziffer
, giving the Crusaders what appeared to be a cushy 10-0 lead.
After having trouble moving the ball, Tyrone put together a series midway through the third quarter that resulted in the Golden Eagles' only score, a four-yard run by Christian Getz
. Any hopes of taking the lead were dashed when Andrew Dzurik
hit Sean Titus
with a 15-yard strike in the last two of the game to secure Lancaster Catholic's second state title in three years.
"Beating West Catholic to get here was big for us," Clay said. "But we weren't going to be satisfied with that. The goal was to win the whole thing and that's what we did."