ProfessorBriggs.com Playoff Preview: Quarterfinals
Written by: Billy Splain on Thursday, November 23rd, 2017
(Statistical Information Courtesy of Professor Briggs’ archives, The Herald, D9Sports.com and Erie Times-News. Quotes from Bob Greenburg interviews)
WEEK FOURTEEN FOOTBALL PREVIEWS
Mercer County Statistics
For the second straight year, Mercer County is sending three teams into the state playoffs as local teams have advanced in Classes 1A, 2A and 3A. Farrell, Wilmington and Sharon will all be playing out of District 10 this week in the state quarterfinal round. Farrell will face Ridgway/Johnsonburg in Class 1A Friday night at Clarion University. Saturday, it’s Wilmington’s turn to head to Clarion as the Greyhounds face Clarion High School in Class 2A.
Sharon, meanwhile, heads to Penns Manor High School to face District 6 champion Forest Hills in a 3A clash.
CLASS 1A PIAA QUARTERFINALS
Farrell vs. Ridgway/Johnsonburg, 7:00 p.m. at Clarion University
For the second consecutive season, Farrell will meet District 9 champion Ridgway/Johnsonburg in the Class 1A quarterfinals. Farrell opened PIAA play last week with a come-from-behind 34-19 win over Northern Bedford County. Ridgway, meanwhile, slipped past top-seeded Curwensville, 9-7, in the District 9 title game.
Farrell (10-2) trailed 19-18 at halftime last Friday but outscored the Black Panthers, 16-0, in the second half to give head coach Jarrett Samuels his 100th victory. Farrell pulled ahead, 26-19, on a six-yard run by Christian Lewis in the third quarter. Junior Jourdan Townsend then sealed the win with a 65-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
“Our guys really came together in the last 24 minutes of that football game,” Samuels said. “We did face some adversity in that first half but that was a good team (Northern Bedford). Our guys showed great character.”
Lewis led Farrell with 154 rushing yards, giving him four 100-yard efforts this season. He now has 1,221 rushing yards and needs 48 yards to pass West Middlesex’s Clayton Parrish for the Mercer County lead. He also ranks fifth locally with 116 points.
Townsend had four receptions for 103 yards. Townsend has eight 100-yard receiving outings this season, which ties the Mercer County record set by Sharon’s Ziyon Strickland two years ago. Townsend already surpassed Strickland’s single-season Mercer County record for receiving yards (1,213) this year as he has 1,263 yards on 54 catches. Townsend’s 20 touchdown catches match the District 10 record that Conneaut’s Henry Litwin set two years ago.
Senior quarterback Isaac Clarke has also closed in on a prominent record as he now has 28 touchdown passes this year. Grove City’s Kameron Patterson set the county mark with 32 touchdown passes last season. Overall, Clarke has thrown for 1,981 yards while completing 101 of 153 (66 percent) attempts. He has been intercepted only once all season. That pick came September 29 at Class 5A Meadville.
Clarke leads Mercer County in touchdown passes, yards per attempt (12.9) and pass efficiency (233.9). He is second in the county in yardage and completion percentage.
Farrell averages a county-best 43.9 points per game, along with an area-high 9.8 yards per play. Farrell averages 362.2 yards per game. Farrell’s 11 turnovers are the second-fewest in the area.
Defensive end Josh Nix helped lead last week’s win with 2.5 quarterback sacks. He leads the team with 4.5 sacks while middle linebacker Tymir Green (who scored two touchdowns against Northern Bedford) has a team-leading 131 tackles. Townsend has four interceptions and has returned each of them for touchdowns.
Defense played a major role in Farrell’s 20-7 win over Ridgway last year. The Steelers held the Elkers to 32 offensive yards and five first downs. Lewis ran for 79 yards and a touchdown while Elijah Harper intercepted a pass.
Defense carried Ridgway to the D-9 championship last week at DuBois High School’s E.J. Mansell Stadium. Ridgway forced three turnovers and allowed only 188 yards total, with 85 coming on one play. Aaron Hinton’s 32-yard field goal with 9:49 left in regulation put Ridgway ahead to stay.
For the season, Ridgway has allowed 105 points, an average of 8.8 points per game. The Elkers allow only 161 offensive yards per game on average.
Ridgway averages 247 rushing yards per game. Senior Neil MacDonald leads Ridgway with 1,091 rushing yards. He also leads the team with 20 receptions. Quarterback Johnny Mitchell has thrown for 809 yards and 11 touchdowns. He has also been intercepted 17 times this season. Mitchell opened Ridgway’s scoring last week with an 18-yard touchdown run and now has 501 rushing yards for the season.
“They have really good skill and they’re fast,” Samuels said. “The quarterback is a playmaker. He’s very fast and can scramble on you. Their overall team is a year better than last year. Defensively, we have to be able to stop their running and passing attack. They’re balanced this year. Last year, they weren’t as balanced. We really have to bring our ‘A-game’ Friday night.”
Ridgway (9-3) entered the D-9 playoffs as the No. 2 seed. In the semifinals, Ridgway downed No. 6 Coudersport, 47-6. Ridgway’s three losses have been by a combined 11 points. The Elkers fell to Brockway (24-21), Curwensville in the regular season (14-11), and Kane (19-14). Ridgway competes in the Allegheny Mountain League’s South Division, along with Bradford, Brockway, Curwensville, Elk County Catholic and Kane.
Farrell is 13-6 all-time in the state playoffs. The Steelers won Class A state titles in 1995 and 1996 while earning state runner-up in both 1990 and 2015. Clairton, which has been eliminated from the District 7 tournament, is the only team in the have defeated Farrell in the western region (2008, 2009, 2010, 2016) playoffs.
The Farrell-Ridgway winner will play the District 7 champion, either Imani Christian or Jeannette, in the state semifinals.
The game will be heard on Sports Radio 96.7.
CLASS 2A PIAA QUARTERFINAL
Wilmington at Clarion, 1:00 p.m. at Clarion University
Wilmington’s reward for winning the District 10 Class 2A championship is a road game against District 9 champion Clarion (12-0). Clarion High School plays its home games at Memorial Stadium.
Both teams recorded comeback victories last week. Wilmington (12-0) trailed Greenville, 13-0, after one quarter in last week’s District 10 Class 2A title game. Wilmington pulled to within 13-10 by halftime and then scored 21 straight points in the second half.
Each of Wilmington’s four starting offensive backs scored touchdowns in the win. Senior halfback Bryson Verrelli scored on the final play of the first half, helping Wilmington cut the deficit to three. Junior halfback Cameron Marett put Wilmington ahead for good with a four-yard touchdown run in the third period. Junior quarterback Robert Pontius (one yard) and senior fullback Jack Patton (29 yards) sealed the win with touchdown runs in the fourth quarter.
Patton ran for 160 yards on 16 carries and took over the team lead in rushing with 889 yards. Verrell has 868 yards and a team-best 16 rushing touchdowns while Marett has 820 yards and 15 scores. Not surprisingly, Wilmington leads Mercer County in rushing, averaging 285.8 yards per game as a team. The Greyhounds also lead the area in yards per carry (8.1) and rushing touchdowns (58).
The Wilmington backfield trio has at least an outside chance of becoming what is believed to be the first trio of county backs to all rush for 1,000 yards in a season.
The “Hounds Hammer” defense gave up 83 total yards on two touchdown plays in the first quarter against Greenville but then limited the Trojans to 94 yards the rest of the night. Wilmington allows only 4.8 points and 143.4 yards per game. In addition, Wilmington holds foes to 2.4 yards per carry and 78 rushing yards per game, tops in Mercer County in both stats. Wilmington also has a county-best 20 interceptions.
Last week, Clarion rallied for a 20-14 win over District 5 champ Chestnut Ridge in the opening round of the PIAA Tournament. The Bobcats trailed 14-0 at halftime but charged back over the final 24 minutes. Senior Colton Rapp’s third touchdown run of the night broke a 14-14 tie with 1:06 left in regulation, completing the comeback.
Rapp ran for 92 yards on 18 carries, helping Clarion finish with 173 rushing yards as a team. Quarterback Spencer Miller went 12 of 16 for 168 yards.
Like Wilmington, Clarion features a balanced rushing attack. Rapp leads the Bobcats with 965 yards while junior Logan Minich has rushed for 908 yards. Miller has rushed for 577 yards. He has also thrown for 937 yards and eight touchdowns. Minich leads the team with 231 receiving yards on nine catches. Keeven Weaver leads Clarion with 21 receptions.
“They have a quarterback that can throw and he’s a good runner,” Wilmington head coach Terry Verrelli said. “They definitely want him with the ball. They have good running backs.”
Linebacker Zak Bauer, the Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year, has a team-high eight sacks this year. Miller has five interceptions. Clarion forced four turnovers last week.
“Defensively, they are aggressive,” Verrelli said. “They want to come up and knock you down at the line of scrimmage. They’re kind of like Greenville.”
Clarion captured the District 9 title two weeks ago with a 28-21 win over top-seeded Kane. The Bobcats are 21-2 in their last 23 games.
The winner will play either Washington or Steel Valley in the state semifinals next week.
CLASS 3A PIAA QUARTERFINAL
Sharon vs. Forest Hills, 1:00 p.m. at Penns Manor High School, Clymer, Pa.
Sharon (9-3) makes its first trip to the state quarterfinals since 2010 when the Tigers meet District 6 champion Forest Hills (11-1) Saturday afternoon. Sharon also faced Forest Hills in the 2010 PIAA quarterfinals, dropping a 21-7 decision.
Last Friday night, Sharon captured its first state playoff win since 2001 by rolling past Karns City, 67-17, at Clarion University. Sharon used a balanced and explosive offensive attack in posting its highest-ever postseason point total. Sophomore quarterback Lane Voytik threw for 233 yards and four touchdowns while junior running back Jordan Wilson charged through the Gremlins for 163 yards and three scores.
Senior wide receiver Ziyon Strickland caught six of Voytik’s nine completions for 154 yards and two touchdowns. Sharon’s deep receiving corps also received a boost with the return of sophomore C.J. Parchman. Parchman, who had been out due to injury since midseason, caught two touchdown as well.
“We were able to get all phases of the offense going,” Sharon head coach Jim Wildman said. “We got Jordan Wilson going. He had a great night. The offensive line was very consistent.”
Voytik leads Mercer County with 2,122 passing yards and 148 pass completions. Strickland has a county-record 72 receptions this year for 1,087 yards. He is the first District 10 receiver to have three 1,000-yard seasons. Strickland needs 51 yards to become D-10’s first 4,000-yard receiver.
Tight end Frank Shaffer (25 catches), wide receiver James McKinney (21) Parchman (12) and 6-foot-5 wide receiver Tristan Ballard comprise one of western Pennsylvania’s deepest groups of receivers. Wilson has rushed for 995 yards. He gained 1,334 yards last year as a sophomore.
Defensively, Sharon forced Karns City four turnovers and also produced a touchdown when Brady Ortiz returned a fumble 68 yards for a touchdown. Ballard intercepted two passes.
“We played well defensively,” Wildman said. “We were able to stop the run and make them do some things that they were a little bit more uncomfortable with, and that is throw the ball. We made some great plays, putting pressure on the quarterback, and some guys in the back end made some great plays on the ball.”
The Tigers now have 25 takeaways on the season. Sharon has allowed one touchdown pass and intercepted 18 passes. Opponents are completing only 45.4 percent of their pass attempts.
That pass defense will be tested by Forest Hills quarterback Adam Cecere. The 6-4, 220-pound Cecere has thrown for 2,213 yards and 19 touchdowns this year. He threw for 243 yards and three touchdowns last week in the Rangers’ 32-25 win over Huntingdon in the District 6 title game. He has added 422 rushing yards this year.
Senior Jon Long has caught 57 passes for 1,089 yards and nine touchdowns. He had season-highs in catches (8) and yards (144) in the title game victory over Huntingdon. Long also leads the Rangers with 611 rushing yards. Overall, Long has 2,025 all-purpose yards.
“He probably is the guy that you have to stop,” Wildman said of Long. “They’re big along the front. They will be bigger than us but I think we match up with them on the perimeter pretty well.”
Middle linebacker Eric Elgin leads the defense with 129 tackles, including 11 for loss. Nick Peritin has a team-leading seven sacks. Long has five interceptions.
Forest Hills won its 10th all-time District 6 title last week. It is Forest Hills’ first D-6 title since 2010. The 10 titles are second-most in District 6 history, behind only State College (16). Tyrone and Hollidaysburg also have 10 titles each.
Sharon is 13-8 all-time in the state playoffs while Forest Hills is 5-7. Both Forest Hills and Sharon played for state titles in 1994. Forest Hills fell to Mount Carmel in the Class AA title game, 20-14, in double overtime. Sharon dropped a 27-7 decision to nationally-acclaimed Berwick in the Class AAA title game.
The winner faces District 7 champion Quaker Valley in the state semifinals.
The game can be heard on News/Talk 790 WPIC.
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