TIPPING THE SCALES: Central Dauphin wins D3’s first AAAA state title in 20 yearsWritten by: Josh Funk on Saturday, December 17th, 2011
HERSHEY, Pa. – At the beginning of the season, Central Dauphin head coach Glen McNamee said he was worried only about getting better each day.
Because the Rams focused on the little things, it was able to take one giant leap Saturday night – a leap into the history books that neither the 54 players wearing green and white or the Central Dauphin community will ever, ever forget.
Behind Drew Scales’ 280 all-purpose yards, which included a 74-yard touchdown reception on a pass from junior quarterback Brandon LaVia, Central Dauphin (15-1) hit enough big plays to win its first ever PIAA AAAA football championship and District 3’s first crown in the state’s largest classification since 1992 with a 14-7 victory over North Penn (13-3) from Hersheypark Stadium.
The Rams claimed District 3’s 12th PIAA football championship, only the third among the region’s AAA and AAAA schools. District 1, meanwhile, fell to 10-9 in PIAA championship games, with the most recent victory coming in the 2004 AA title game, when Lansdale Catholic defeated Grove City. North Penn fell to 1-1 in state title games, winning in its first appearance in 2003.
McNamee took over as Central Dauphin’s head coach in the 2006 season, and winning state gold just six short seasons later was a great reward.
“In my 10 years of being a part of the Central Dauphin program, I’ve fallen in love with the Central Dauphin school community,” McNamee said. “Everything in the CD school community was on display tonight. It was great for the school.”
One of the key components to the Rams’ success was the offensive line, but, at the start of the season, that facet of the Central Dauphin football team was being viewed as a weak link. Only one full-time starter, senior Zach Wilk, returned, and McNamee and company, as well as offensive line coach Steve Stoner, had to break in a new group of trenchmen.
“We were focused on improving each day and then trying to get better each week (during the season),” McNamee said. “Tonight was the end and the line played its best.”
Wilk, who grew several inches and added more than 20 pounds between his junior and senior seasons, found it hard to describe the feeling.
“Words can barely describe how it feels to be a state champion,” Wilk said. “Togetherness and family were themes of this football team, and through the entire summer and season we (the linemen) were very close.”
North Penn head coach Dick Beck, however, found a way to describe Central Dauphin’s first home run – the 74-yard touchdown pass from LaVia to Scales with 7:25 left in the second quarter.
“The quarterback made a perfect throw,” Beck said. “That was an excellent ball and a perfect strike. No. 5 (Scales) is a (heck) of a ball player. I thought he may have been the difference in the ball game for them (CD) tonight.”
Scales also made another big play after the Knights had managed to tie the game at 7 with a 5-yard run from James Fielder with 10:09 left in regulation. Scales took the ensuing kickoff back 47 yards before Adam Hollinger ripped off a 36-yard run to the North Penn 2. Junior battering ram Zayd Issah scored on a 2-yard run on the next play, and, with 8:08 left, Central Dauphin had regained the lead.
And it didn’t relinquish it, either. North Penn couldn’t quite get its offense in gear all night long, and
couldn’t break through the Rams’ rugged defensive front seven for the remainder of the game. The Knights’ aerial assault also struggled to find its footing on the snow-slicked gridiron. Senior field general Corey Ernst, the first career 4,000-yard passer in North Penn’s program history, threw for a meager 62 yards on a 7-of-15 night.
“We couldn’t seem to get over the hump,” Beck said. “We knew they were a good football team. Give them credit. They made plays when they had to.”
Central Dauphin ground out 265 yards on the ground, using a mix of sweeps and traps and draws using the three-headed monster of Scales (109 yards), Hollinger (79 yards) and Issah (58 yards). LaVia needed only to complete 2-of-9 passes for 74 yards this night, but he didn’t throw an interception.
While the Rams gave up size to North Penn, Wilk noted it didn’t give up anything in terms of athleticism and physicality.
“Playing (WPIAL champion) North Allegheny helped us to prepare for tonight,” Wilk said. “We came out going low and North Penn didn’t get lower than us. NA helped us get ready for North Penn a lot.”
Scales’ performance may have stood out, but McNamee noted it was more than just one player who helped make the Rams click.
“Go back and watch the film and you’ll see a whole team of competitive kids,” McNamee said. “(The state championship) is a great holiday moment and something the community is going to remember for a long, long time.”
Photos provided by Matt Topper and Mike Zortman
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