Section 1 champion Wilson is the last L-L League team standing as we head into the final weekend of District 3 playoff competition. The Bulldogs take on Harrisburg Saturday at 6 p.m. in Hersheypark Stadium. It’s an intriguing matchup for Wilson, which will be seeking to avenge its only loss of the season. Harrisburg upended the Bulldogs 21-13 in West Lawn back in Week 2 — a result that was considered a fairly large upset at the time. But the Cougars have picked up some impressive victories since then — most notably last week’s 27-21 triumph over defending district and state champion Central Dauphin in the semifinals.
Though they’re members of the L-L League, the Bulldogs aren’t really part of our coverage area, so I won’t be blogging live from Saturday’s final. But here’s a breakdown of how the teams match up:
No. 1 Wilson (12-1) vs. No. 3 Harrisburg (11-2), Saturday, 6 p.m.
Courtesy of PAHelmetproject.com
ABOUT WILSON: The Bulldogs enter Saturday’s game riding an 11-game winning streak; they haven’t lost since their defeat against Harrisburg in Week 2. Wilson managed just 175 total yards against the Cougars in that loss. The Bulldogs struggled on offense for much of the season, but things seem to have stabilized since their 14-7 victory over Penn Manor in Week 9. In the four games since, they’ve averaged 245.2 yards and 33 points per game. What changed? Wilson settled on QB Matt Timochenko (40-88-2, 480 yards, four TDs) after platooning him with up to two other players for most of the year. They also moved all-star TE Matt Rothrock inside to tackle to stabilize the line and added two of their best defenders — Junior Joseph and Dominic Moyer — to the mix in the backfield. Those tweaks appear to have paid off.
One area that has never been a question mark is Wilson’s defense, which has put up some staggeringly good numbers in 13 games. The Bulldogs have allowed just 160.2 yards and 6.8 points per game this season, including five shutouts. Harrisburg is the only team to score more than twice in a game against Wilson this season.
The Bulldogs are seeking their first district title since 2008 and their fourth overall. This is their 21st appearance in the district playoffs. They have a 26-16 record.
Wilson is ranked No. 7 in the Harrisburg Patriot-News statewide Class AAAA poll.
ABOUT HARRISBURG: The Cougars’ story is remarkable. Before the season there was some question about whether they’d even have a football program this year thanks to budget cuts. They only found out for sure that they would play this season in late August, after the community came up with enough money to fund the program. When they entered West Lawn to face Wilson in Week 2, they were coming off a heartbreaking 21-20 loss to Bishop McDevitt in their opener and were still searching for an identity. Beating the Bulldogs may have helped them find it. Since that victory, Harrisburg lost just once — a 24-21 setback against Central Dauphin on Oct. 13, and the Cougars avenged that defeat last week.
Harrisburg’s offense averages 395.1 yards and 34.7 points per game, and has several big-play threats in its arsenal. Most of the damage is done on the ground, where junior Robert Martin (138-1,759, 12.7 avg., 18 TDs) leads a dangerous four-man committee in the backfield. The other runners are Domonique Shurns (91-588, 6 TDs), Jalen Williams (46-586, 3 TDs) and Darian Davis-Ray (53-431, 7 TDs). QB Kyle Cook has completed 93 of 181 passes for 1,368 yards and 16 TDs with just six interceptions. His top targets is Marcel Brown (24-332, 5 TDs), though Brown is one of five players to grab at least 10 passes from Cook.
Defensively, the Cougars don’t have Wilson’s pedigree — or its staggering numbers. But Harrisburg is no slouch, either. The Cougars have yielded 227.9 yards and 16.2 points per game.
PREDICTION: The teams that can dent Wilson’s defense are few and far between, but Harrisburg is one of them. The Cougars are capable of building a lead and forcing the Bulldogs to play catch-up — something their offense is not really equipped to do. Having said that, Wilson has spent the entire season finding ways to win close games, and that’s what I think this one’s going to be. It could really go either way. So I’ll go with my gut: I’m taking the Cougars, just because a story as good as theirs has been this season deserves a happy ending. Give me Harrisburg.