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PIAA “AAA” State Championship – Manheim Central Preview

Written by: on Thursday, December 17th, 2009


Believe it or not, Manheim Central’s 45-27 victory against West Allegheny Friday night snapped a playoff drought for Manheim Central. Prior to that victory, Manheim Central had been without a PIAA playoff victory since 2004, when it defeated Berwick 16-13 at Shamokin High School. Central’s two state playoff games since then – the 2004 “AAA” state final against Thomas Jefferson and a 2005 “AAA” Eastern Final against Pottsville – both ended in losses.

The win set up a showdown many folks, and even the PIAA, really, had hoped would come to fruition. Manheim Central (15-0) will take on perennial District 4 “AAA” power Selinsgrove (15-0) Friday night in Hersheypark Stadium for the whole bag of marbles in the “AAA” classification. Kickoff of this highly-anticipated title tilt is set for 7 p.m.

Manheim and Selinsgrove do have a playoff history against each other. Back in 2000 and 2001, when the Barons were in the midst of winning 10 straight District 3 “AAA” titles and the Seals were the up-and-coming “AAA” power, both teams met in the “AAA” quarterfinals. Manheim won 51-35 in 2000, holding a 30-14 halftime lead, and 36-0 in 2001.

Those meetings really are only relevant for those that like to use distant statistics or logic in making present assessments and predictions. Otherwise, those two meetings mean next to nothing.

Since the early 2000s, Selinsgrove has established itself as a contender in the “AAA” landscape, and went toe-to-toe with the WPIAL on several occasions in the western half of the bracket. And, since then, Manheim finally got over the hump that was the Eastern Finals, winning a PIAA title in 2003 in double overtime.

Manheim Central’s all-time record in the PIAA playoffs now stands at 11-12. A victory against Selinsgrove would bring that record to an even .500 mark, and also serve as the Barons’ 469th victory in school history, 303rd in head coach Mike Williams’ career, and 216th since the start of the 1992 season.

That’s right. Since the start of the 1992 season, Manheim Central is 215-28 overall. That’s a winning percentage of .884. The Barons have only felt defeat 59 times and tied 3 other games under Williams’ reign, which began back in 1981. Williams’ .835 career winning percentage ranks 3rd among the 10 members of the state’s 300-win club, behind only Jim Roth and Mike Pettine.

Manheim used to be known for its Veer offense. Back in the spring, George Curry told me that Central’s Veer used to drive him nuts, because the Barons always ran it very effectively. MC has evolved over the years, and now runs a spread-out, run-and-gun style offense, but it’s hummed along to the tune of 40.6 and over 400 yards per game.

Senior quarterback Justin Gorman directs the show. He’s a dual-threat quarterback, and a very good one at that. At times, he made West Allegheny’s defense look slow, gouging the Indians’ defense for 147 rushing yards and 179 yards through the air (on only five completions). Gorman has run for 1,113 yards and thrown for 2,161 on the season and has accounted for 38 total touchdowns (19 each, rushing & passing). He’s Manheim Central’s first 2,000/1,000 quarterback in program history, and fourth such quarterback in the state this season, joining Brandon Nosovitch (Allentown Central Catholic), Ben Dupree (Susquehanna Township) and Aaron Achey (Eastern Lebanon County).

Gorman is joined in the backfield by battering ram Joe Gruber. Gruber ran for more than 800 yards as a junior, and he’s followed that campaign up with a 1,507-yard, 22-touchdown performance this year. Add in Gorman, and you’ve got Central’s first 1,000-yard backfield rushing duo since 2003. And that year, Central won its lone PIAA title.

When Gorman decides to air things out, he’s got a plethora of targets to choose from. Dan Trafford entered the Western Finals with 577 yards and a quintet of touchdowns. Dakota Royer, a standout athlete who will play at Penn State last year, only caught one pass against West A., but it went for a 73-yard touchdown. Royer now has 29 rec., 608 yards, and seven touchdowns. Derek Hart has also had a solid season, adding over 20 receptions and 300 receiving yards to the Baron corps.

Defensively, Manheim Central has been slightly torched the last two weeks, allowing a combined 56 points to Susquehanna Township and West A. But an athlete like Ben Dupree and a running back like Mike Caputo can have a way of doing that. Central’s bend, don’t break defense has six shutouts to its credit and held eight opponents to eight points or less.

Lowen Johnson and Brett Barber each have more than 100 tackles. Gruber, Trafford, and fellow defensive terrors Dan Hanselman, Eric Drake and John Fair each have between 71 to 93 tackles this season. Fair might not be available this week against Selinsgrove. Casey Ebersole has a team-best six interceptions, and Royer has posted eight sacks.

Manheim’s offensive line, comprised of Blake Kreider, Joe Weaver, Shawn Buller, Rob LaPorte and Peter Ireland, form the biggest offensive line in Baron history. The quintet averages 270 pounds per man, and two of the trenchmen, LaPorte and Weaver, check in at 310 pounds.

Is this Manheim Central team destined to become the second District 3 program to finish a season 16-0? Seven other programs have reached the 16-0 mark since 2004. Does Central even its state playoff record at the expense of Selinsgrove, who has gone 113-21 since 2000?

Find out Friday night.

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