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December 08, 2016

Three local high school football teams set to compete for state titles this weekend

The PIAA is trying something new this year, moving from four classifications in football (A through 4A) to six (adding 5A and 6A). Three local teams will be in the state finals this weekend, which will be televised live from Hershey on Pennsylvania Cable Network.

As it turns out, all three local teams play in the largest classifications. They are:

Imhotep (4A)

When: Thursday, 7:00 p.m.

Opponent: Erie Cathedral Prep (13-0), who the Panthers rocked in last year’s 3A championship 40-3. Our Brian Hickey was there that night.

Outlook: Ever since losing to Archbishop Wood in the 2014 state playoffs, Imhotep hasn’t looked back. They ran the table at 15-0 last year, and before a 24-13 win over Bethlehem Catholic in the state semifinals, absolutely rolled over their competition this season. Excluding one forfeit win, the Panthers (13-0) have outscored opponents 540-53.

Imhotep’s star is safety Isheem Young, ranked 56th in his class nationally by ESPN. Young, who contributes on both sides of the ball for the Panthers, holds offers from basically everywhere.

Cathedral Prep, a longtime power who engaged in some epic title game matchups against Mike Pettine’s incredible C.B. West teams in 1999 and 2000, is led by quarterback Joe Mischler on offense and linebacker Matt Bauer (Notre Dame) on defense.

Archbishop Wood (5A)

When: Friday, 7:00 p.m.

Opponent: Harrisburg (11-3), which has won its three playoff games by a combined 85 points. Overall, the Cougars have won their last six games by at least three touchdowns. So yeah, they’re rolling. Defensive end Damion Barber is headed to Penn State.

Outlook: These two teams have a combined five losses and a tie, but they both come played difficult schedules. Harrisburg’s three losses came to state playoff teams, two of which compete in 6A, the classification with the largest enrollments. In Wood’s case, they went 0-2-1 against a brutal nonconference schedule that featured games against powers from Ohio, New Jersey, and St. Joe’s Prep (we’ll get to them in a minute). Many high school writers from around the state expect this to be a close game.

Since the rough start, nobody has come close to Steve Devlin’s team. Wood (10-2-1) has won its three playoff games by a combined 13 points. Running back Raheem Blackshear (Temple) and wide receiver Mark Webb (Georgia) are playmakers to look out for on the Vikings.

St. Joseph’s Prep (6A)

When: Saturday, 8:00 p.m.

Opponent: Pittsburgh Central Catholic (14-1), who the Hawks smoked 35-10 in Hershey back in 2013, a game in which they entered as fairly heavy underdogs. After a loss to St. John’s (D.C.) back in August, Central Catholic has rolled through its Pennsylvania schedule en route to a rematch with the Prep. 

The Vikings have a lot of top-end talent. Judging from, three players are headed to Pitt, two to Notre Dame, and one (guard C.J. Thorpe) is going to Penn State.

Outlook: This should be a very good game between a couple of powerhouse private school programs across the state from each other. PCC are the defending champs, while the Hawks (13-0, with wins against Wood, North Penn and New Jersey power Don Bosco Prep) won the two previous state titles.

The Prep is ranked No. 13 in the country by USA Today and No. 18 by MaxPreps. Running back D’Andre Swift, headed for Georgia, is the star attraction. Despite missing “the bulk of six games,” he managed over 1800 yards from scrimmage as a senior. Perhaps the injury was a blessing a disguise in keeping him fresh? Swift has been a man possessed in the playoffs, rushing for a combined 586 yards (!) in the Prep’s last two playoff wins, over Parkland and North Penn. 

Interestingly enough,  all five PennLive writers (who know way more about this than I do) picked Central Catholic. We will see…

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann