Players will earn five points per game ball. 4th Down will feature the player with the highest point total heading into the PIAA semifinals. We may even throw in a little swag for the overall winner.
4th Down Staff's Game Balls:
Tommy Friberg, QB, State College: We’re fairly confident that you don’t make any type of postseason run without a confident quarterback running the show. Sure, there are exceptions from time to time, but State College, circa 2017, is not one of them. Friberg might not have incredible numbers in relation to other Class 6A QBs that remain in motion. What he does bring to the Little Lions’ table is an efficient, hard-nosed approach that fits perfectly in Matt Lintal’s system. Plus, Friberg seems to rise to the occasion. Take Friday’s 6-10 sub-regional scrape with Erie High, for example. Friberg connected on 12 of 15 pass attempts for 234 yards and 3 touchdowns, forcing the Royals to exit their first postseason after a 48-12 setback at Clarion University. The win put the Little Lions into the PIAA Round of 16 opposite District 2 champ Delaware Valley Friday at Danville.
Todd Rothermel, head coach, Newport: That’s right, we’re settling on new ground here by sending a game ball toward Rithermel, Newport’s terrific coach. Why? Well, where to begin. How about Newport’s graduation ceremony in June? That’s when 5,100-yard passer Noah Heimbaugh, power-back Eli Goodling, versatile Noah Reich, and a dozen other Buffaloes snared their diplomas and left the football program with some big holes to fill. Rothermel, yet again, proved he can construct a contender under any guidelines. Even though Newport’s wild 31-game winning streak inside the Tri-Valley League was upended by Line Mountain, and the Buffs’ were denied at least a share of its fourth straight league title, Rothermel kept the troops engaged and it paid off big. On Saturday, Newport won its first District 3 football title, downing York Catholic -- the Irish slammed the Buffs 51-21 in 2016 -- 26-7 in the 2A finale. Next up is Dunmore Friday at Susquehanna Twp. High School.
Charlie Katshir, WR-DB, Cumberland Valley: You could argue that Katshir’s work off the ball is equally important to Cumberland Valley’s success. Because of his big-play ability, defenses have been forced to locate No. 2 on the field at all times. That was true again Friday, although CD East had a difficult time avoided Katshir’s “reach” all night at Chapman Field. When the dust settled in this District 3 Class 6A quarterfinal, Katshir had delivered five receptions for 119 yards and a pair of touchdowns. In addition, the Penn State recruit picked off three passes, halting any chance for the Panthers to keep the Eagles in sight. Cumberland Valley advanced to the semifinal round opposite Hempfield via its 62-9 victory over the Panthers.
Michael Bullock's Game Balls:
Ethan Rode, RB, Newport: Flashing an old-school approach, Rode lugged the football 36 times for 197 yards and three touchdowns as Todd Rothermel’s Buffaloes (10-1) claimed their first District 3 Class AA football crown with a 26-7 victory over defending champion York Catholic at Boiling Springs’ Bud Ecker Field. Rode scored on a 9-yard run in the first quarter — staking the Buffs to an early lead they’d never relinquish — then added a pair of 1-yard touchdowns in the fourth as Rothermel’s bunch pulled away. The 5-10, 185-pound sophomore also caught one pass for 20 yards for the Buffs, who rolled up 278 yards on the ground while limiting York Catholic (8-3) to 79 total yards. Rode, however, was injured in the 3-AA final, putting his availability for next weekend’s state opener against Dunmore (12-0) at Susquehanna Twp.’s Roscoe Warner Field in doubt.
Dylan Rabuck, RB, Williams Valley: Getting his most work since the second week of the regular season, the 6-0, 195-pounder responded by carrying the football 31 times for 303 yards and a pair of scores as the Vikings (12-0) popped Tri-Valley 26-6 and repeated as the District 11 Class A champions. Rabuck cranked out a 66-yard score in the opening quarter as Tim Savage’s club wheeled to a 12-0 lead, but he added a 57-yard touchdown run in the third quarter as Williams Valley restored some order and took an 18-6 lead. Rabuck, who has totaled 2,700-plus rushing yards and 41 touchdowns in 12 games, also had one TD run and another long run wiped out by holding penalties. Rabuck’s latest burst in Williams Valley’s closest game of the season — he carried 32 times in a Week 2 success at Juniata — propelled the Vikings into a state opener opposite Old Forge.
Jake Wolfgang, WR, Williams Valley: Back in action since suffering a knee injury in Williams Valley’s Week 9 rout of Tri-Valley, Wolfgang’s return was a big plus as the Vikings trimmed those same Bulldogs 26-6 in the District 11 Class A title game. The 6-4, 185-pound senior hauled in a 19-yard touchdown toss from quarterback Levi Engle to open the scoring in the first quarter — the only pass Engle completed all night — then punctuated the Vikings’ second straight 11-A championship by returning an interception of a Logan Yoder pass 60 yards to make it 26-6. Wolfgang’s defensive contributions stood out as Savage’s bunch limited Tri-Valley to 98 total yards. On deck for the Vikings (12-0) will be their state opener against Old Forge (11-1) Friday night in Lehighton.
Andy Shay's Game Balls:
Adam Houser, RB-DB, Shippensburg: Two weeks in a row for me giving Houser a call. He was the best two-way player on the field in the District 3 playoff loss to Bishop McDevitt. You knew in the second half he was the first option in both the run and pass game and the Crusaders still had a very tough time keeping him in check. Houser finished with 6 grabs for 140 yards, including a 66-yard catch-and-run that led to a touchdown, and added 40 yards on the ground. He also made five solo tackles on defense and kept the Crusaders from breaking off at least three long runs with stellar solo tackles.
Nazir Burnett, WR, Bishop McDevitt: When the talented junior went up high to snare a 50-50 ball on an 87-yard TD pass, that was the moment it was clear Burnett is becoming a legitimate future FBS wide receiver. I know the guy guarding him was much shorter than Burnett, but there’s an art to soaring and high pointing the ball that can’t be coach. Burnett is much more than just a deep-ball threat. His route running on the slant is becoming lethal. He torched Shippensburg for 204 yards on 6 catches with a touchdown in the Crusaders victory. He is the most clutch big-play receiver in District 3.
Jared Plessinger, QB, Cumberland Valley: There is a perfect number for a quarterback in the Wing-T offense when it’s putting points on the scoreboard. Plessinger’s 7 of 9 for 179 yards and three touchdowns is dead solid Wing-T perfect for a quarterback. No surprise the Eagles hung 62 points on CD East with those numbers. Plessinger has put together a solid season, despite missing a game because of a suspension. His touchdown passes of 23, 28 and 42 yards back up a rushing attack that piled up 336 yards. If he completes 7 of 10 passes the rest of this postseason, the Eagles will be almost impossible to beat.
Geoff Morrow's Game Balls:
T'nyis Becker, WR; Nazir Burnett, WR; Chase Diehl, QB, Bishop McDevitt: The dude AShay handed off a game ball to Burnett as well... evidently we're both spying the prolific Crusaders passing game. All juniors, Diehl (6-foot, 205), Becker (5-foot-10, 185) and Burnett (6-foot-2, 175) each established a career high in yardage in a 43-22 District 3 Class 4A quarterfinal victory over Shippensburg. Diehl completed 14 of 22 passes for 416 yards and three scores. He'd never previously surpassed 300 yards passing in a single game, though he now has 21 touchdowns vs. just one interception in McDevitt's last seven games (all wins). Burnett caught six passes for 204 yards and a TD, and Becker had five catches for 153 yards and a TD. Becker also returned a kickoff 85 yards for a score after Ship's first score in the the third quarter. Crusaders (9-2) need to cut down on the fumbles, but, goodness, this is one explosive offense right now.
Noah Alejandro, RB; Trent Fries, LB; Payton Morris, QB, East Pennsboro: With usual star RB Onasis Neely not quite 100 percent (but still very much the focus of Susquehannock's defense), the Panthers rolled into the District 3 Class 3A semifinals on the strength of great balance, with some outstanding individual efforts as well. Alejandro, a 5-foot-9, 180-pound senior, gave the running game a different look by rushing eight times for a career-high 147 yards and three scores. Morris, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound senior, mixed 14 of 17 passes to five different receivers for 125 yards and a TD, while also rushing for 18 yards and another score. And Fries, in addition to two catches for 20 yards as a tight end, was a beast on defense with seven tackles, a sack and another TFL, drawing praise from the Warriors' coach as unblockable after East Penn's 45-14 victory.
Ronald Kent Jr., WR/DB; Micah Parsons, RB; Yahmir Wilkerson, QB, Harrisburg: Not exactly a surprise, but the Cougars again rolled a quality foe, walloping Exeter Twp. 46-14 in a District 3 Class 5A quarterfinal. Wilkerson, a 6-foot senior, attempted just nine passes but completed five of them for 291 yards and four touchdowns (two to Shaquon Anderson-Butts covering 123 yards), adding 26 yards on two carries. Parsons, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound top-level recruit, was unstoppable yet again with six carries for 102 yards and two scores, plus a 65-yard catch-and-run screen pass TD. And Kent, a 5-foot-10, 160-pound senior, took his lone reception 71 yards for a score while also intercepting a pair of passes on the defensive side.
Jake Adams' Game Balls:
Jose Lopez, RB, Middletown: Not surprised at all by the 14 carries and 189 yards, or the four touchdowns he had in a 42-7 win over Bermudian Springs. On the year, the lead back of the Blue Raiders’ vaunted two-headed running attack has 1,630 yards and 22 touchdowns, averaging 9 yards per touch. He scored four straight TDs for Middletown on Friday night and was his typically dominant self. As long as he’s rolling, the Raiders will be dangerous throughout the rest of the playoffs.
Brandon Clark, WR, State College: The Little Lions didn’t have much to worry about in a 48-12 thumping of Erie in the District 6 Class 6A championship, but Clark’s performance on the receiving end of crisp Drew Friberg passes was impressive. He score SC’s final two TDs, but was impactful even with the game not so out of reach. In all, he finished with 119 yards on six receptions. He now has more TD grabs (12) than the rest of the team (nine) and littles the Little Lions with 38 grabs for 627 yards.
Malachi Young, QB, Steel-High: Five touchdowns. Five. On a cold Saturday at Boiling Springs. It’s a District 3 record for the gunslinger in a 68-42 shootout win over Fairfield in the Class 1A championship. Young threw for 217 yards (9-of-12 passing) and rushed for 13 more. Young has been one of the more accurate passers in the Mid-Penn Conference, completing more than 60 percent of his throws in 2017 despite a dip the previous two weeks to just north of 50 percent. The Rollers have been, well, rolling all season thanks to his arm in many ways. His five TDs Saturday were from 53, 67, 13, 20 and 5 yards out.