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PIAA “AAA” state championship game preview – Bishop McDevitt (13-2)

Written by: on Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

Last year at this time, we were talking about Bishop McDevitt as a “first-in-a-while” type of program, referencing its appearances in PIAA championship games. That same type of chatter can’t be applied this year, except when speaking in terms of hoisting PIAA gold.

For just the third time in District 3′s PIAA finals history, a program is making consecutive appearances in a title game. Manheim Central and Steelton-Highspire were the others.

This time around, however, McDevitt hopes it ends with a different outcome.

The Crusaders (13-2) face Philadelphia Catholic League power Archbishop Wood (13-1) for the PIAA AAA championship Friday at Hersheypark Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. Archbishop Wood, a member of the PIAA for only its fourth season, seeks its first state championship in that short span while McDevitt, who is making its third state title appearance, seeks its first crown since 1995, when it was a member of the AA classification.

Wood and McDevitt have rolled to a combined 25 victories since each of their most recent losses – Wood’s came in Week 1 and McDevitt’s in Week 3. But McDevitt’s roll has been especially impressive, considering the team was in need of some rapid maturation with some young players staring a brutal non-league slate of Gateway, Central Dauphin and Cumberland Valley square in the chops.

While the Crusaders showed some flashes of their potential, Gateway feasted (as Gators tend to do) on the blue and gold’s inexperience, forcing Alec Werner into three costly interceptions and stuffing McDevitt’s ground game in a 28-7 victory. A tight game (also a McDevitt win) came against Central Dapuhin, and Cumberland Valley edged the Crusaders on a last-second Lance Geesey field goal for a 3-0 decision.

After that gauntlet, the Crusaders haven’t looked back. Ironically, last season, McDevitt endured a 2-2 start to its season only to win 11 straight games before facing off against a powerful Allentown Central Catholic team who had run opponent after opponent out of the building. McDevitt only lost by a point. After a 1-2 start in 2011, 12 straight victories, and another berth against another juggernaut of a football team. Oh, the similarities.

McDevitt’s PIAA finals berth marks the Mid-Penn’s 10th appearance in a state championship game. In its five combined A and AA appearances, Mid-Penn teams are undefeated. But in the AAA and AAAA games, well, it’s been a different story. Those four games have yielded a 1-3 mark, with Cumberland Valley as the lone winner in 1992.

In AAA state title games featuring a District 3 representative, such teams are 1-4. Conestoga Valley lost the 1991 title game; Manheim Central dropped the 2004 and 2009 title games and McDevitt last year. The last time a particular geographic district dropped three consecutive AAA state finals occurred from 1998-2000, when the WPIAL saw Moon fall to Allentown Central Catholic and West Allegheny bow in consecutive meetings to Strath Haven.

But while it hasn’t necessarily been pretty for the District 3 AAA reps who have reached the PIAA title game, McDevitt brings with it a solid and respectable football team capable of challenging the Vikings.

The Crusaders, nine-time District 3 champions and winners of 501 total games in their program history, boast quite the offensive arsenal, starting with the aforementioned Werner, who has gone through a rapid maturation process over the last 14 weeks. Thrust into the spotlight after the graduation of Matt Johnson (Bowling Green), Werner has responded, throwing for a school-record 3,279 yards and 30 touchdown passes against only three interceptions. His season passing total ranks 10th in state history. Werner has also been a model of efficiency, completing 68.9 percent of his passes (217-of-315) and throwing only three interceptions over the last 14 weeks.

Beyond Werner, the Crusaders have a triumvarite of running backs – and they’ve stuck with it all season. Rashad Lawson (164 rush, 940 yards, 14 TD), Andre Robinson (111, 818, 16) and Darnell Holland (107, 645, 11) spearhead the ground game. Receivers Brian Lemelle (82 rec., 1,503 yards, 15 TD) and Shawn Seif (68, 890, 6) have had solid seasons again. Lemelle owns the McDevitt single-season record for receptions and receiving yards, and has more than 2,700 yards in that department for his career. Raki Nelson (3,132 yards) is McDevitt’s all-time receiving leader.

The skill has thrived with the progression of McDevitt’s offensive line, which features seniors Tyler Conde (6’4, 310), Kyrie Ross (6’1, 280), Pat Narus (6’5, 290), DeAndre Lawson (6’0, 255) and sophomore Jordan Mosley (6’1, 260). Tight end Tom Scully, also a senior, checks in at a healthy 6’3, 225.

Defensively, McDevitt has been anchored by blue-chipper Noah Spence, Pennsylvania’s Gatorade Player of the Year. Spence, who has 50 career sacks, is second on the team with 98 tackles. He’s also posted 12.5 sacks, 27 tackles for loss and blocked four kicks (three punts and a field goal). But the Crusaders’ defense is more than just No. 9. Mike Perloski, DeAndre Lawson and Tariq Spence round out the D-line; Maryland recruit Brock Dean, leading tackler Allen Holman and Nate Monroe complete the linebacking corps; and Maurice Geter, Khalid Carter, Holland and Miles Williams comprise the defensive secondary.

The Crusaders’ first string defense and reserves have combined to allow an average of 13.3 points per game. The first-string defense has only surrendered 17 touchdowns on the season.

Can McDevitt attempt to slow down Archbishop Wood’s steamrolling machine? Or will Wood continue with the throttle down, full-speed ahead?

Find out Friday night.

Rob Pugliese, color commentator for EPASportsRadio.com, has contributed some of the information appearing in this story.

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