(Statistical Information Courtesy of The Herald, Erie Times-News,
(Coach Quotes Courtesy of Bob Greenburg Interviews)
WEEK FOURTEEN FOOTBALL PREVIEWS
Two teams from the Mercer County area remain alive in the PIAA playoffs and interestingly enough, it is the two programs that have had the most success on the statewide stage over the past 28 years: Farrell and Wilmington.
Farrell has advanced to four state championship games (1990, 1995, 1996, 2015) and won state titles in 1995 and 1996. Meanwhile, Wilmington has an area-best 13 state playoff wins, won a state title in 2008 and also advanced to the initial Class AA state championship game in 1988.
Both teams will look to move closer to Hershey this weekend in Classes 1A and 2A, respectively. Farrell will play its second PIAA playoff game by squaring off Friday night with District 9 champion Ridgway/Johnsonburg. Saturday, Wilmington opens PIAA play against District 9 Class 2A titlist Kane. Both games will be held at Slippery Rock University's Mihalik-Thompson Stadium.
PIAA CLASS 1A PLAYOFFS -- Friday, November 25
Farrell (9-3) vs. Ridgway/Johnsonburg (10-2) -- Slippery Rock University, 7:00 p.m.
Farrell advanced to the PIAA quarterfinals by blanking District 5 champion Conemaugh Township last Friday night at Somerset, 30-0. Sophomore quarterback Kyi Wright ran for two scores and also threw an 81-yard touchdown pass to junior Brandon Chambers in the first quarter.
Wright threw for 140 yards. Chambers had two catches for 84 yards while Jourdan Townsend had four receptions for 56 yards. Senior Braxton Chapman led Farrell on the ground with 79 yards and a touchdown.
However, Chapman suffered a season-ending knee injury late in the second quarter after his 40-yard run set up the Steelers' final touchdown. Chapman amassed 1,432 rushing yards this season despite missing a month at midseason due to an ankle injury.
Sophomore Christian Lewis will likely take over the starting tailback position in Chapman's absence. He started for Chapman in the middle of the season and has 402 rushing yards on 58 attempts this season. Lewis ran for 51 yards last week against Conemaugh Township.
"Our heart breaks for Braxton. We know how hard this kid works and we know what he means to us," Farrell head coach Jarrett Samuels said. "We look at it and put a positive spin on it. Braxton -- he left a great impact on these young guys. These kids are resilient. They responded well to our meeting.
"We're ready to go. I'm very excited."
Chambers has a team-leading 26 catches. Townsend has 22 catches. Each player has six touchdown catches this season.
Farrell's defense has allowed 44 total points since October 8, including two shutouts. Last week, middle linebacker Pap Keeler intercepted a screen pass on the first play of the game while safety Elijah Harper also had an interception. Farrell limited Conemaugh Township to nine first downs and 94 rushing yards on 34 attempts. Overall, Conemaugh Township finished with 142 offensive yards.
"Our guys really came out and established from the first series by getting the turnover, we really established ourselves up front," Samuels said. "Our physicality really showed too. That was one thing I challenged the guys all week (about). We had to be physical against Conemaugh. I was very, very happy with our defensive output."
Ridgway won its first District 9 title since 1989 last Friday night by pulling away from Elk County Catholic, 42-13, at Brockway. Ridgway led 20-13 at halftime before breaking open the game with 22 fourth-quarter points.
Neil MacDonald ran for 108 yards and two touchdowns in the win while junior quarterback Johnny Mitchell went 5 of 7 for 136 yards and a touchdown. He also scored on a one-yard touchdown run. Defensively, MacDonald intercepted two passes for the Elkers.
MacDonald leads Ridgway with 1,080 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. Mitchell has 488 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. Juniors Jacob Zimmerman (294 yards) and Joey Elinski (278) have each contributed on the ground. Elinski and Zimmerman each have three rushing touchdowns.
"They're very good," Samuels said. "The quarterback is a dual threat. He can run but can also sling it pretty good too. They have a lot of athleticism on the perimeter. Those guys are very quick, very fast."
MacDonald is also the leading pass receiver with 12 receptions. Senior Josh Raubenstrauch has 10 catches for a team-high 159 yards and four touchdowns. Elinski (108) and MacDonald (101) have each reached triple-digits in tackles on defense. MacDonald has four of Ridgway's 12 interceptions this season.
"They're a big-play team," Samuels said. "We definitely have our work cut out for us."
This is the fourth year that Ridgway and Johnsonburg have competed together in a co-op agreement. Approximately 5/8 of the this year's team is comprised of Ridgway students while Johnsonburg students account for the other portion. Prior to the co-op, the schools had a series that dated back 108 years. The team played two of its home games at Johnsonburg this year to allow for Homecoming to be celebrated at both schools.
Head coach Mark Heindl is in his ninth season at Ridgway and owns a 43-50 overall record. The Elkers went 4-6 last season and returned only four starters from 2015.
This year, Ridgway went 3-2 in the Allegheny Mountain League South Division, falling to undefeated Class 2A Kane, 28-23, and dropping a 36-16 decision to Class 2A Brockway. The Elkers earned the top seed in the D-9 1A playoffs and downed AML South foe Curwensville in the district semifinals, 33-0.
The winner will play the District 7 champion, Clairton or Jeannette, in next weekend's state semifinals.
The game can be heard on Sports Radio 96.7 and News/Talk 790 WPIC. Live stats available here.
PIAA CLASS 2A PLAYOFFS -- Saturday, November 26
Wilmington (11-1) vs. Kane (13-0) -- Slippery Rock University, 1:00 p.m.
Between 1994 and 2009, the Wilmington football program qualified for the state playoffs nine times (1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2001, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009). Coupled with Wilmington's participation in the inaugural state playoffs in 1988, the Greyhounds had not had a district title or state playoff drought of more than five seasons until the decade of the 2010s.
However, last Saturday night's District 10 2A title game served as steady, soaking rains for Wilmington's drought as the Greyhounds are back in the PIAA playoffs after earning a 56-7 win over Sharpsville. Wilmington scored the first 28 points and the final 28 points of last week's game. All eight Wilmington touchdowns came on the ground as the Greyhounds finished with 331 rushing yards as a team.
Senior halfback Spencer DeMedal led Wilmington with 139 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries. Senior fullback Kyle Slicker gained 82 yards and a score on eight attempts while sophomore halfback Cameron Marett scored three times and added 79 yards on nine attempts.
Senior quarterback Reese Bender completed 4 of 5 attempts for 112 yards. Junior split end Bryson Verrelli had three catches for 79 yards and DeMedal had a 33-yard catch.
Defensively, Marett intercepted two passes and recorded a sack. DeMedal and Robert Pontius both had interceptions for the Greyhounds, who limited Sharpsville to 184 yards and nine first downs.
The Greyhounds have allowed 115 points in 12 games this year. Eight opponents have been held to one touchdown or less.
"Defensively, we've gotten better as the year went along," Wilmington head coach Terry Verrelli (299-128-3) said. "I think that's probably the key to our success."
DeMedal leads Wilmington with 909 rushing yards. Slicker has rushed for 796 yards while Marett has 795. Bender has thrown for 749 yards and seven touchdowns while DeMedal has added 336 passing yards on 22-of-33 accuracy. Bryson Verrelli leads Wilmington with 32 catches for 567 yards and four touchdowns.
District 9 champion Kane rolled to a 34-12 win over District 5 entry Chestnut Ridge in last week's opening round of the state tournament. Senior Frank Truden, playing in place of injured junior halfback Erik DeLong, ran for 117 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries for the undefeated Wolves. Quarterback Reed Williams completed 17 of 24 attempts for 194 yards and two touchdowns, helping Kane own a 346-120 edge in total offense.
Davis Gardner caught seven passes for 99 yards while Ray Maze added five receptions. Defensively, Gardner, Maze and Keaton Rounsville all had interceptions.
A junior, Williams has thrown for 1,923 yards and 26 touchdowns this year. He has completed 96 of 158 (60.8 percent) attempts and has been picked off only four times. Gardner has 40 catches for 579 yards and 10 scores. Maze leads the team with 823 receiving yards. Maze has averaged 26.5 yards per catch on his 31 receptions. Maze also has 10 touchdown catches.
The 5-foot-10, 190-pound DeLong has amassed 1,661 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns this season. The junior is averaging 7.6 yards per carry. Truden has added 369 rushing yards and eight touchdowns while fellow senior Austin Labesky has contributed 330 yards and five scores.
"They have a good football team," Terry Verrelli said. "They have a great passing game. The quarterback is very accurate and they have a good running game.
"We've got some work to do, that's for sure, stopping the pass and the run."
Labesky has a team-high five sacks. Gardner has five interceptions. Kane has blanked three foes this year and held five others to one touchdown or less. Head coach Todd Silfies owns a 44-10 record in five seasons.
The Wolves defeated AML North champion Otto-Eldred for the conference title October 28, 37-26. In the D-9 playoffs, Kane rolled Moniteau, 55-7, before winning the district title with a 21-14 win over Clarion.
All-time, Wilmington is 13-10 in state playoff play. Kane is 2-3. The Wolves defeated Mercyhurst Prep in 2007, 12-7, before dropping a 48-21 decision to Serra Catholic in the Class A west final. Two years ago, Sharpsville downed Kane, 50-14, in the quarterfinals of the state Class A playoffs. Last season, Farrell eliminated Kane by a 27-6 score in the state quarterfinals.
The winner will play the District 7 champion, either Neshannock or Steel Valley, in the state semifinals.
The game can be heard on Sports Radio 96.7 and News/Talk 790 WPIC. Live stats available here.
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