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Indians can’t slow down Gruber, Gorman, Barons; Manheim Central advances to 3rd PIAA championship game

Written by: on Saturday, December 12th, 2009

ALTOONA, Pa. – Manheim Central had always been on the cusp of making a trip to Altoona in the middle 1990s, only to fall in Eastern Finals to Berwick, in heartbreaking fashion.

So the Barons’ first trip to Altoona, ever, and first meeting against West Allegheny would end in vain, just like first meetings with Berwick, Strath Haven, Allentown Central Catholic, and Thomas Jefferson, right?

Wrong.

Manheim Central (15-0) tied a school record for wins in a season thanks to monster nights from Justin Gorman and Joe Gruber to pull away from a pesky West Allegheny (12-3) team, 45-27, from Mansion Park Stadium.

With the victory, Manheim Central will face Selinsgrove (15-0), a 28-0 winner over Archbishop Wood in the PIAA “AAA” state championship game in Hershey next Friday. Manheim last met Selinsgrove in 2001, and won via a mercy rule, 36-0, at Shamokin High School.

Manheim Central boss Mike Williams didn’t jump to call the win a dominating one.

“It was dominating because our special teams let us down a little bit,” the veteran Barons’ boss said. “But every time they scored, we didn’t miss a beat and had an answer for them.”

Manheim jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first quarter on a Taylor Groff 25-yard field goal. But West Allegheny answered right back, with talented junior running back Mike Caputo. His one-yard run made it 7-3.

Manheim answered right back. Quick-as-lightning field general Justin Gorman’s 14-yard run gave Manheim a 9-7 lead, and the Barons extended that margin to 16-7 shortly thereafter on a Joe Gruber 3-yard run. The Gruber touchdown was set up by a bad snap on a West Allegheny punt, which Manheim gained possession from just five yards from paydirt.

Manheim missed an opportunity to take a 22-7 lead right before halftime when Gorman was intercepted in the end zone, and West Allegheny capitalized on that missed opportunity in the third quarter. Jared Buck’s first pass completion of the game went to Aaron McKinney from 15 yards out, and West A. sliced its deficit to 16-14.

Groff’s 23-yard field goal, his 12th of the season, extended the Manheim lead to 19-14, and after a Derek Hart interception, that lead ballooned to 26-14 when Gorman (5-of-9, 173 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT) hit Casey Ebersole (3 rec., 97 yards) on a 49-yard touchdown pass on a fly pattern down the home sideline.

“I’m a much smarter coach when he’s out there,” Williams said of Gorman.

West Allegheny came roaring right back. Mike Caputo (27 rushes, 100 yards, 2 TD) scored on a 2-yard run to make it 26-21, but Manheim Central answered right back on its next possession with a Gruber (31 rush, 158 yards, 3 TD) 20-yard scoring run to make it 32-21.

West A. was not done. Buck (10-of-20, 165 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT) hit Ben Simmen (5 rec., 95 yards, TD) on a 9-yard pass to slice the Baron lead to 32-27, but the Indians’ two-point pass failed.

Manheim put the game out of reach on its next possession. Gorman hit Penn State recruit Dakota Royer on a 73-yard touchdown pass, his only catch of the game, to extend Central’s lead to 38-27. Gruber capped the scoring binge with a 14-yard run with 1:42 left in the game.

Indian head coach Bob Palko said that Manheim wasn’t any quicker than his team’s previous opponent, Erie Cathedral Prep. But, he did offer this morsel.

“Was their (MC’s) quarterback pretty doggone good? Yes,” Palko said.

Williams said that the Gruber and Gorman duo is the best backfield tandem he’s ever had.

“They say defense wins championships,” Williams said. “But I think we did a pretty good job tonight against their defense.”

The Barons’ third semi-final victory in school history is a big one, right, Coach?

“Any time you win a game to get to the state championship, it’s huge,” Williams said. “It certainly ranks right up there.”

NOTES: The 45 Manheim Central points were the third most scored in the history of the Western Finals, trailing only Thomas Jefferson (49, 2008) and Aliquippa (56, 1988). Manheim improves to 3-9 all-time in PIAA semi-finals, and became the first team to win both an Eastern and Western semi-final.

In addition to his 173 passing yards, Gorman ran for 147 yards on 15 carries. That gives him 2,165 passing yards and 1,113 rushing yards. Gorman is the fourth 2,000/1,000 quarterback in the state this season, and the sixth such quarterback since 1996.

Manheim Central outrushed West Allegheny, 316-113, and amassed 22 first downs to the Indians’ 12. West Allegheny also committed 10 penalties for 84 yards, to Manheim’s 4 for 44 yards.

The 45 points gives Manheim Central 609 for the season – the third-highest output in school history, behind only the 2005 edition (658 points) and its 1994 offensive juggernaut (682 points, the District 3 standard).

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