(Statistical Information Courtesy of The Herald, Erie Times-News,
(Coach Quotes Courtesy of Bob Greenburg Interviews)
WEEK FIFTEEN FOOTBALL PREVIEWS
The calendar has flipped to December and two of the Mercer County area's football teams are still playing. Friday night, Farrell and Wilmington will compete in the state semifinals in Class 1A and Class 2A, respectively. Farrell will face District 7 champion Clairton at Slippery Rock University while at North Allegheny High School, Wilmington meets District 7 Class 2A titlist Steel Valley.
"If you're playing in December, you've had a good year for sure," Wilmington head coach Terry Verrelli said. "We're thankful for that."
"It means you had a great season," Farrell head coach Jarrett Samuels said of playing in the year's 12th month. "It means you're blessed and it means that a lot of things have to go your way for you to get there."
Farrell is in pursuit of its second straight trip to the state championship game. The Steelers have made four trips to the title game (1990, 1995, 1996 and 2015). Wilmington aims for its third trip to the finals, joining the 1988 and 2008 squads. Wilmington's 2008 state title team is the area's most recent champion. Farrell (1995, 1996) is the only area football program with multiple state championships.
Will either program advance to Hershey or will football season end before the start of basketball next weekend?
PIAA CLASS 1A PLAYOFFS -- December, November 2
Farrell (10-3) vs. Clairton (13-0) -- Slippery Rock University, 7:00 p.m.
For the fourth time since 2008, Farrell and Clairton will meet in the state semifinals. Clairton won each of the previous meetings in 2008 (24-21), 2009 (13-7) and 2010 (48-8). Clairton also advanced to the state championship game with state semifinal victories in 2011, 2012 and 2014. However, Farrell is the more recent title game participant of the two programs, having won the West in 2015.
Farrell reached the state semifinals by downing District 9 champion Ridgway last Friday night, 20-7, as the Steelers defense limited the Elkers to 32 yards and five first downs. Linebacker Pap Keeler recorded two sacks while James Jackson also had a sack. Jackson's counterpart at safety, Elijah Harper, intercepted a pass.
Sophomore Jourdan Townsend caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from Kyi Wright in the first quarter, then helped seal the win with a 57-yard punt return for a touchdown. Tailback Christian Lewis added a three-yard touchdown run in the final minute of the first half to give Farrell a 14-0 halftime lead.
Lewis led Farrell with 79 rushing yards on 14 carries while versatile Brandon Chambers added 43 yards on 14 attempts. Wright went 6 of 8 for 86 yards.
With Braxton Chapman sidelined by a knee injury, Lewis is Farrell's active leading rusher with 481 yards this season. Chambers has 27 receptions while Townsend has 25 catches after hauling in three passes last week. Townsend has seven touchdown catches, one more than Chambers. Wright has thrown for 1,233 yards and 17 touchdowns this year.
Farrell's defense has allowed 51 total points since October 8, including two shutouts.
"It's been a tough season with injuries, but we've overcome a lot of adversity and I'm so proud of this team," Samuels said. "We steadily got better as the season progressed. Now we're on a roll and we believe."
Clairton has been on a roll since the start of the season. The Bears have outscored their opponents 632-92 this season. Nine of Clairton's 13 foes have been held to one touchdown or less this year, including four shutouts.
In last Saturday's District 7 title game at Robert Morris University, Clairton pulled away from Eastern Conference rival Jeannette, 26-6. Clairton scored the final 20 points of the game, including two lengthy touchdowns from highly touted Lamont Wade. Wade returned an interception 83 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter to give the Bears an 18-6 lead. His 54-yard touchdown sprint in the fourth quarter sealed Clairton's ninth District 7 title in the last 11 years.
"They are a great, storied program," Samuels said of Clairton. "We have great respect for their coaching staff because they deal with the same dynamics that we deal with here in Farrell. They have a great program."
Wade played quarterback due to an injury to starting quarterback Noah Hamlin. Wade ran for 100 yards on 21 carries while also completing 6 of 10 passes for 65 yards. Hamlin is expected to return to quarterback for Friday night's game.
Wade has 6,767 career rushing yards and his 120 career touchdowns are the most in Pennsylvania history. Wade is regarded as one of the top collegiate cornerback prospects in the nation.
"They have awesome team speed (and) great players," Samuels said. "They have a top player in the country in Lamont Wade. He does everything for them. They have skill all over the place."
Clairton's defense forced four Jeannette turnovers and held the Jayhawks to 52 rushing yards.
"To go against the best and beat the best to get to the state championship -- you have to embrace the challenge," Samuels said. "Again, we respect them and everything they've done. But going into Friday, we like our chances too."
Clairton is 17-4 all-time in the state playoffs. The Bears lost their first two state semifinal appearances, falling to Keystone in 1989 (15-14) and to West Middlesex in 2006 (37-30). Farrell, meanwhile, is 12-5 in PIAA play, including a 4-3 mark in state semifinals. Farrell's first three state semifinal wins (1990, 1995, 1996) came as a member of District 7. The Steelers have defeated teams from Districts 4, 5, 6 and 9 in state playoff play.
The winner will play either District 6 champion Bishop Guilfoyle (13-0) or District 3 champion Steelton-Highspire (6-7) in the state championship game next Friday. Those teams will meet Friday night at Chambersburg High School.
The game can be heard News/Talk 790 WPIC.
PIAA CLASS 2A PLAYOFFS -- Friday, December 2
Wilmington (12-1) vs. Steel Valley (13-0) -- North Allegheny High School, 7:00 p.m.
The Wilmington Greyhounds have recorded significant milestones in each of their last two games. Two weeks ago, Wilmington returned to the top of District 10 by rolling past Sharpsville in the D-10 Class 2A title game, 56-7. Last Saturday, Wilmington blanked previously-unbeaten Kane in the state quarterfinals, 42-0, to give head coach Terry Verrelli his 300th victory as head coach.
Now, the Greyhounds seek another milestone as they aim for their third all-time trip to the state championship. A major obstacle stands in Wilmington's way however: District 7 champion Steel Valley. The undefeated Ironmen blasted Neshannock last Saturday night, 49-14, at Robert Morris University to win the District 7 championship.
Last week against Kane, the "Hounds Hammer" defense earned its third shutout of the season as Wilmington yielded only 35 rushing yards and 10 total first downs. Offensively, quarterback Reese Bender engineered Wilmington's balanced attack by throwing for 227 yards and four touchdowns on 8-of-11 accuracy. Spencer DeMedal caught touchdowns of 43 and 39 yards, respectively. Bryson Verrelli had a 70-yard touchdown catch and Colton Marett grabbed a 20-yard touchdown.
Bryson Verrelli led Wilmington with four catches for 118 yards. DeMedal had three receptions for 89 yards and also led the ground attack with 104 yards on nine carries. Cameron Marett added 100 rushing yards. The Greyhounds piled up 279 rushing yards and finished with 506 total offensive yards.
DeMedal went over the 1,000-yard mark for the season last week and now has 1,022 rushing yards. Cameron Marett had 936 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns while fullback Kyle Slicker has gained 832 yards. Bryson Verrelli has a team-high 37 catches for 703 yards. Bender has thrown for 976 yards and 11 touchdowns while DeMedal is 23 of 34 passing for 354 yards on the season.
Defensively, the Greyhounds have allowed 115 points in 13 games this year. Nine opponents have been held to one touchdown or less.
Steel Valley led Neshannock 49-0 after three quarters last week in earning the program's first District 7 title since 1989. The Ironmen have allowed only 101 points this season, including five shutouts. Four other opponents have been held to one touchdown.
"They are a team full of skilled people and quickness," Terry Verrelli said. "It's not easy to run on them and if you're going to pass, it better be a quick one because the pressure's on you. In watching films, that's the problem every team has had."
Offensively, senior tailback DeWayne Murray (5-10, 195 pounds) ran for 213 yards and five touchdowns against Neshannock. He has 1,901 yards and 43 rushing touchdowns this year. For his career, Murray has 6,325 yards, which is the sixth-highest total in District 7 history.
Senior quarterback Ryan Harper has thrown for 1,800 yards and 32 touchdowns on the season. Last Saturday night, he threw for 186 yards and two touchdowns. He threw a 65-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Zai'Quan Henderson and a 55-yarder to tight end Trevon Adams. Senior wide receiver Paris Ford, a Pitt recruit, caught four passes for 62 yards against Neshannock.
Steel Valley has scored 708 points this season, an average of 54.5 points per game.
"They're very good offensively, too," Terry Verrelli said. "Those skill people play both sides of the ball. They run very well. They have great running backs and they'll throw the ball."
According to Verrelli, the best way to slow down the Steel Valley offense is to keep the ball out of the Ironmen's hands.
"I think defense, obviously, wins championships," the 39th-year head coach said. "But in our respect, for this game, if we don't move the football on offense, then we're in trouble. We have to move the ball offensively and use up some of the clock. They're just way too strong to give them the ball most of the time.
"On the ground is the key, because throwing the ball, it's just not easy. You have to throw it, but it can't be a constant thing."
Wilmington is 2-5 in state semifinals. This is the first time that the Greyhounds will play a PIAA playoff game at North Allegheny. Wilmington is 3-1 against undefeated teams this season. Steel Valley's only other state playoff appearance came exactly 27 years ago, December 2, 1989, when the Ironmen fell to eventual state champion Hickory in the Class AA western championship at Indiana (Pa.) University, 17-7.
Steel Valley won the Class AA District 7 title in 1988 while Wilmington won the D-7 Class A title that same year. That was the first year of the state playoffs in football in Pennsylvania and the PIAA used a different classification system than District 7.
Steel Valley was considered Class AAA by the state then and had already said it would not participate in the PIAA playoffs if invited (according to Pittsburgh Press archives). The PIAA considered Wilmington a Class AA school. The Greyhounds defeated Farrell, 10-7, in the D-7 title game that year and subsequently earned the Region 4 Class AA state playoff berth when Steel Valley defeated Center (a Class AA team by both D-7 and PIAA standards) for the D-7 title.
Wilmington defeated Bellwood-Antis, 21-0, in the western championship. The Greyhounds then fell to Bethlehem Catholic in the inaugural state title game, 26-11, at Mansion Park in Altoona. Meanwhile, Aliquippa represented D-7 in the Class AAA playoffs that year after winning the district title over Blackhawk, 36-7.
The Wilmington-Steel Valley winner will advance to next Saturday's state championship game against either District 6 champion Ligonier Valley (14-0) or District 4 champion Southern Columbia (14-0). Those teams play Friday night at Bald Eagle Area High School.
The game can be heard on Sports Radio 96.7. Live stats available here.
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