(Statistical Information Courtesy of Professor Briggs' archives, The Herald and Erie Times-News. Coach quotes from "PIC SportsLine" interviews)
WEEK SIXTEEN FOOTBALL PREVIEWS
What started in the relative heat of early August will conclude this weekend in Hershey as both the Farrell and Wilmington football teams conclude their respective seasons in the state championship round of the PIAA playoffs. Farrell makes its fifth all-time appearance in the state finals as the Steelers face District 2 champion Lackawanna Trail for the Class 1A title. That game will kick off at 1 p.m. Thursday.
Twenty-four hours later, Wilmington meets District 4 kingpin Southern Columbia for the 2A title. It's the second straight year that those programs will meet in the Class 2A title game. Wilmington will be making its fourth all-time appearance in the state championship game.
PIAA CLASS 1A CHAMPIONSHIP
Farrell vs. Lackawanna Trail -- 1 p.m. Thursday
The Farrell Steelers have been ranked No. 1 in Pennsylvania in Class 1A since the start of the 2018 season. So it should come as no surprise that the undefeated Steelers are playing for a state championship Thursday.
Farrell earned its second trip to Hershey in four seasons by dispatching District 7 champion Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, 41-10, last Friday night in the state semifinals. Senior tailback Christian Lewis ran for 187 yards and three touchdowns while senior quarterback Kyi Wright added 91 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Overall, Farrell amassed 336 rushing yards in the victory.
Defensively, Farrell snuffed out O.L.S.H.'s vaunted passing attack by holding the Chargers to 108 passing yards and 160 total yards. Farrell has held its five postseason opponents to only 36 total points. Over the last four games, the Steelers have yielded 430 total yards.
Farrell leads the area in scoring defense, allowing only 6.9 points per game. The Steelers have surrendered 97 points all season. Farrell has also posted a plus-19 turnover margin this season.
Lewis leads the area with a Farrell-record 2,217 rushing yards and 33 total touchdowns this season. His 208 points rank No. 10 all-time in Mercer County and breaks the previous record of 194, set last year by current senior wide receiver Jourdan Townsend.
"Christian is really playing at a high level. But that's how he practices," Farrell head coach Jarrett Samuels said. "He's strong, he's tough. His biggest strength is that he may look like he's 180 pounds but he can run like a 200-pounder."
Townsend, who ran for a touchdown last week against O.L.S.H., has 184 points this season. He is one of three Mercer Countians to surpass the 180-point mark twice (Hickory's DeShawn Coleman in 2011 and 2012; Hickory's Chuck Carr in 2015 and 2016). Townsend has 68 catches for 1,202 yards and a District 10-record 24 touchdowns this year. Wright has thrown 28 touchdown passes while being intercepted only twice in his 124 attempts. He has thrown for 1,547 yards while also rushing for 599 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Lackawanna Trail makes its first appearance in a state title game after reaching the state semifinals in 2000 and 2003. The Lions downed District 6 champion Juniata Valley, 24-14, last week in the semifinals at Danville High School. The Lions' Wing-T offense amassed 365 rushing yards on 61 carries in the win.
Fullback Ray Melnikoff ran for 157 yards on 17 carries while halfbacks Jeffrey Resto and Cody Moyle had 79 and 67 yards, respectively. Melnikoff leads Lackawanna Trail with 1,312 yards and 15 touchdowns. Melnikoff also leads the team with 13 catches. Moyle has rushed for 822 yards while Resto has 774 rushing yards. Quarterback Nate Rolka has thrown for 780 yards and has rushed for 663 yards and eight touchdowns.
"(Rolka) is a big physical kid," Samuels said. "He's not going to run away from you, he's looking to run you over when he gets in the open field."
As a team, Lackawanna Trail averages 268.3 rushing yards per game. The Lions have 50 rushing touchdowns under the guidance of 10th-year head coach Steve Jervis.
"This Lackawanna Trail team is a tough team," Samuels said. "They are very well disciplined and coached up well. They have great offensive concepts out of the Wing-T, with a lot of shifting. We want to make sure that we don't get behind, because if you get behind against this team, they'll grind the clock out on you."
In Week Two this season, Farrell rallied for a 31-19 win over Class 2A state finalist Wilmington. Samuels feels that experience will benefit his team Thursday against similar competition. "(Lackawanna Trail) is a championship team. They remind me so much of Wilmington. The line of scrimmage battle on Thursday is going to be very crucial. We definitely have to be physical up front on both sides of the ball."
Lackawanna Trail owns a 14-1 overall record, with the lone loss coming October 5 to rival Old Forge, 28-21. The Lions avenged that loss in the District 2 playoffs, however, by earning a 29-12 win November 2 over Old Forge. Lackawanna Trail has won eight straight games.
Lackawanna Trail High School is located in Factoryville, Wyoming County, at the intersection of U.S. Routes 6 and 11, approximately 15 miles northwest of Scranton. This is the first time a District 10 team has met a District 2 team in the state finals since 1997, when Sharpsville defeated Riverside, 10-7.
Farrell is 2-2 all-time in state championship games. The Steelers won consecutive titles in 1995 and 1996 over Southern Columbia. Farrell earned runner-up in both 1990 (Marian Catholic) and 2015 (Bishop Guilfoyle). Lackawanna Trail reached the state semifinals in both 2000 and 2003, losing twice to Southern Columbia.
The game will be heard on News/Talk 790 WPIC and Sports Radio 96.7.
PIAA CLASS 2A CHAMPIONSHIP
Wilmington vs. Southern Columbia -- 1:00 p.m., Friday
For the second straight season, Wilmington faces perennial powerhouse Southern Columbia in the Class 2A state championship game. Wilmington will make its fourth overall state title game appearance while Southern Columbia has qualified for the state championship game in each of the last four seasons. Winners of eight state titles, Southern Columbia is making its 17th championship game appearance.
Both teams used stellar defensive efforts in their respective semifinal victories last week. Wilmington held District 7 representative Steel Valley to 11 total offensive yards in the Greyhounds' 26-6 win. Meanwhile, Southern Columbia held Philadelphia West Catholic to minus-7 rushing yards as the Tigers mauled the District 12 champs, 42-6.
Wilmington's famed "Hounds Hammer" defense has produced countless shutouts and memorable performances. Last Friday's effort against Steel Valley will undoubtedly rank among the finest hours of Wilmington football. Wilmington held Steel Valley to two first downs, one on a penalty and the other on the last play of the first half with Wilmington playing a prevent defense.
"I thought we had a great game plan going into the game," Wilmington head coach Brandon Phillian said. "I thought the kids really bought into the game plan and were very engaged with it and understood it. But I'll be honest. Not in my wildest dreams did I imagine we would be able to hold (Steel Valley) to 11 yards. The kids executed well and it certainly exceeded my expectations."
Offensively, senior halfback Cameron Marett ran for 149 yards and a touchdown while sophomore halfback Ethan Susen added 53 yards and the game's first touchdown. Senior quarterback Robert Pontius scored on a quarterback sneak and also threw the go-ahead touchdown pass -- an eight-yarder -- to senior tight end Jacob Yohman in the second quarter.
Marett now has 1,761 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns while Susen has 883 yards and 15 touchdowns. Pontius adds 566 rushing yards and 19 rushing touchdowns. He has also thrown for 1,237 yards and 14 scores this season. As a team, Wilmington has 5,026 rushing yards and 76 touchdowns this season.
Defensively, Wilmington allows 157.6 offensive yards and 12.6 points per game this season. One week after facing the potent combination of Kam Williams and Todd Hill (over 3,700 combined rushing yards), the Greyhounds will have an even stiffer test against Southern Columbia.
Senior quarterback Stone Hollenbach has thrown for 1,571 yards and 26 touchdowns while orchestrating Southern Columbia's Delaware Wing-T offense. Hollenbach will walk on at Alabama next fall. Junior running back Gaige Garcia has rushed for 1,907 yards this season, along with 35 touchdowns. Younger brother Gavin Garcia has 1,074 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Junior wide receiver Julian Fleming (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) is regarded as one of the nation's premier high school football players. He has 72 catches this season for 1,495 yards and 22 touchdowns. He owns the District 4 career records for catches (177), receiving yards (3,913) and touchdown catches (55).
"Southern Columbia is an extremely talented team," Phillian said. "They have excellent skill people. They're very fast at the skill positions and they're very big and strong up front. Not only are they talented, they are extremely well-coached from a schematic standpoint."
Southern Columbia has outscored its opponents 811-148 this year. The Tigers average 459.9 yards per game while limiting opponents to 120.3 yards. Under 35th-year head coach Jim Roth (427-63-2), Southern Columbia utilizes a 4-4 defensive alignment.
"It's a monumental challenge, but we're going to be up to the challenge to give our best," Phillian said. "While we recognize that Southern Columbia is a very good team, this is a team that believes. The boys believe and the coaching staff believes. Everybody has bought in."
Last season, Southern Columbia led 24-0 at halftime on its way to a 48-0 win over Wilmington in the state title game. Hollenbach completed 13 of 16 passes for 142 yards and three touchdowns. Garcia ran for 154 yards and a touchdown. He also caught a touchdown pass from Hollenbach. Fleming had six receptions for 72 yards and a touchdown.
"I think going down (to Hershey) last year is going to pay dividends this year," Phillian said. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you get to do twice. That's how special this opportunity is. Most teams, most student-athletes never get the chance to play in a state championship game."
Southern Columbia lost to Farrell in both 1995 (6-0) and 1996 (14-12) in the Class A state finals. The Tigers downed West Middlesex, 56-14, in the 2006 Class A title game. Southern Columbia won five straight state championships from 2002 to 2006.
Wilmington played in the inaugural Class AA state championship game in 1988 against Bethlehem Catholic, dropping a 26-11 verdict. Twenty years later, Wilmington upset West Catholic, 35-34, in the "AA" title game.
The game will be heard on News/Talk 790 WPIC and Sports Radio 96.7.