No. 2 Manheim Central (13-0) vs. No. 1 Bishop McDevitt (12-1)
WHEN AND WHERE: Friday, 7 p.m. in Hersheypark Stadium
CHEAP PLUG: I’ll be providing live updates from this one, along a small army of other online outlets spanning Central Pennsylvania. As always, I appreciate your patronage. The fun will begin at 6:45 p.m.
WINNER GETS: Since the District 3 championship game also serves as a quarterfinal matchup in the PIAA Class AAA playoffs, Friday’s winner advances to the state semifinals, where they will face either WPIAL champion West Allegheny (13-0) or District 10 kingpin Erie Cathedral Prep (12-0) at a site and time to be determined.
Courtesy of PAHelmetproject.com
ABOUT MANHEIM CENTRAL: The Barons are back in the District 3 championship game for the first time since 2009, when they captured their 16th title with a 35-29 triumph over Susquehanna Township. Central advanced to the state championship game that season, falling 10-7 to Selinsgrove.
To reach this year’s final, the Barons had to survive a rematch with L-L League Section 2 runner-up Cocalico. Their second victory over the Eagles was even more convincing than the first, as Central rolled to a 42-20 triumph in front of a capacity crowd in Manheim. Marc Royer rushed for 250 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 30 attempts, while QB Colin Fry passed for a pair of touchdowns and rushed for another. The Barons scored on five of their six first-half possessions and held off Cocalico’s determined comeback attempt in the second half, aided by four Eagle turnovers. After a crucial fumble recovery inside their own 10 late in the fourth quarter, the Barons slammed the door when Royer broke loose for an 84-yard touchdown run that put the game out of reach. Central racked up 500 yards of offense, including 384 on the ground, and held Cocalico to 360 total yards.
The victory was not without cost, though. Central lost two key players to injury on back-to-back plays in the second quarter. First, WR Dan Wiederrecht was shaken up when he landed awkwardly on his back while attempting to haul in a pass in the back of the end zone. He left the game and was carted back to the locker room, returning on crutches for the second half.
Manheim Central QB Colin Fry’s status for Friday night is up in the air after he suffered a shoulder injury against Cocalico. (Mark Palczewski/LNP)
One play after Wiederrecht’s injury, Fry called his own number on an option run and landed badly on his right elbow. He suffered an apparent shoulder injury, and watched the second half with an ice pack slung to his arm.
Wiederrecht is expected back on Friday, but Fry’s status is questionable. If he can’t go, the Barons will turn to backup Tony Staffieri, a 6-0, 175-pound junior. Staffieri has gotten a healthy amount of first-team reps this season; he spelled Fry for a series or two every week for the first half of the regular season, and saw plenty of playing time in the final stretch, when Central was Mercy-Ruling everyone in sight. Staffieri has rushed for 218 yards and five touchdowns, and gone 8-for-13 for 123 yards and three TDs through the air. He may actually be a little quicker than Fry on option runs, but he’s untested as a passer.
If Wiederrecht is absent, Central will turn to Matt Carter, a 6-1, 165-pound senior who has caught three passes for 30 yards in limited action this year. Carter had a pair of interceptions against Cocalico while subbing in for Nick Brubaker (concussion) at safety.
No matter who’s playing quarterback, Central’s game plan will likely remain the same. The
Marc Royer rumbles for a handful of his 249 yards against Cocalico. (Mark Palczewski/LNP Photo)
Barons will try to establish their ground game, behind the potent backfield duo of Royer and Ian Hanselman. Royer eclipsed the 2,000-yard plateau with his strong effort against Cocalico; he has 2,020 yards and 24 touchdowns on 207 attempts. He’s the speed guy out of the backfield, while Hanselman, a 6-1, 220-pound battering ram, provides the power. He’s rushed for 1,100 yards and 20 touchdowns on 137 attempts.
Wiederrecht (26-558, six TDs) is Central’s leading receiver, but he’s not the Barons’ only option. Senior wideout Andrew Seiverling has 21 catches for 269 yards and four scores, while tight end Taylor Geib has 24 grabs for 412 yards and five TDs, including a gorgeous 46-yarder against Cocalico last Friday.
Central’s Spread offense has generated 628 points (48.3 per game) and 5,483 yards (421.8 per game) this season. The Barons’ defense, meanwhile, has held opponents to 127 points (9.8 per game) and 2,842 yards (218.6 per game).
Courtesy of PAHelmetproject.com
ABOUT BISHOP McDEVITT: The Crusaders are back in the championship game for the fourth straight year after dusting Conrad Weiser 49-21 in last Friday’s semifinals. McDevitt has captured three straight district crowns and 10 titles overall. The Crusaders dusted Cocalico 29-14 in 2010, Lampeter-Strasburg 28-14 in 2011 and West York 21-10 last season (after defeating Lancaster Catholic 27-7 in the semifinals).
Against Conrad Weiser last week, McDevitt got a fantastic performance from junior quarterback Nick Marsilio, who completed 10 of 14 passes for 178 yards and four touchdowns and added a 16-yard TD run. RBs Andre Robinson (11-96) and Rashad Lawson (10-78) added touchdown runs for McDevitt, which racked up 370 total yards. Weiser managed 285 yards (244 on the ground), but turned the ball over four times.
Bishop McDevitt junior Andre Robinson is being recruited by several big-name college programs, including Penn State. (Pennlive.com photo)
Robinson and Lawson are the main cogs in McDevitt’s explosive offense, which averages 418.4 yards per game and has put up 565 points this season (43.4 per game). Robinson, a 5-10, 205-pound junior, has rushed for 1,809 yards and 24 touchdowns on 204 carries. He’s reportedly received scholarship offers from Boston College, Pitt, Maryland, Syracuse, Northwestern, Virginia Tech and Penn State (he was sighted in Happy Valley on Saturday, watching the Nittany Lions fall to Nebraska). Lawson is a 5-7, 190-pound senior. He’s rushed for 996 yards and 17 TDs on 131 carries.
Marsilio, a 6-3, 185-pound junior, is in his first season as a starter. He’s completed 137 of 225 passes for 2,078 yards and 26 touchdowns. His top targets are 6-0, 185-pound sophomore Kobay White (44-854, 14 TDs) and 5-9, 180-pound junior Tyrone Gibson (32-441, four TDs).
The Crusader defense has given up 240.2 yards and 17.5 points per game, with 24 forced turnovers.
THE PICK: This is the game Central Pennsylvania football fans have been clamoring for. The possibility of a Central-McDevitt showdown in the district final has been buzzed about since August, and now it’s a reality. Fans in Hershey Friday night should be in for a treat.
Who you favor in this matchup probably depends on what part of the district you hail from. Both teams seem to be pretty even physically, although the Crusaders appear to have more explosive potential on offense — even though the Barons have the better statistical numbers.
McDevitt partisans will point to their team’s advantage in strength of schedule. Seven of the Crusaders’ 10 regular-season opponents made the District 3 playoffs, and two of them — Cumberland Valley and Lower Dauphin — will meet in the Class AAAA championship game on Saturday (McDevitt beat LD 24-14 and knocked off CV 27-7). The cumulative record of McDevitt’s regular-season foes stands at 66-46.
Central, by comparison, faced only four district playoff teams in the regular season. And the cumulative record of its opponents (45-62) is much less impressive.
The big question for Central will be the status of Fry, Wiederrecht and Brubaker, who suffered a concussion against Susquehanna Township in the quarterfinals and missed last week’s semifinal. Fry seems to be the least likely to play. But if Central can’t get Royer and Hanselman going against McDevitt’s defense, the question of who is under center for the Barons will likely become moot. Staffieri is a capable backup and should be able to run the show. The biggest question about him will be his impact on the passing game. Central doesn’t need a ton of passing yards, but it will have to throw the ball enough to keep the Crusaders honest.
I think the outcome will actually be decided on the other side of the ball. Central’s defense will have to hold up against McDevitt, blunting the Crusaders’ big-play potential. The Barons will have to force McDevitt to be methodical, and will probably need a turnover or two.
If they can do that, and string together a couple of long, time-consuming drives, they’ll boost their chances of pulling this off.
OK, QUIT STALLING. WHO’S GOING TO WIN? All year long, I’ve been telling anyone who would listen I thought Central would beat McDevitt in a head-to-head matchup. Early in the second quarter of last week’s game against Cocalico, I felt even more confident as I watched the Barons grind the Eagle defense into the dust, building a seemingly insurmountable 28-7 lead.
Then came the injuries to Wiederrecht and Fry, one after the other, during a nightmarish sequence late in the second quarter. Now, everything is up in the air.
Central was going to have its hands full with McDevitt, even if the Barons were at full strength. If their starting quarterback and their No. 1 receiver are out — along with one of their starters in the secondary — picking them to knock off the three-time defending district champs is even more difficult.
I’m sorely tempted to pick the Barons, anyway. But without knowing whether they’ll be at full strength, I just can’t bring myself to do it. I’ll take Bishop McDevitt.