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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Making the Grade: Steel-High 33, West Perry 12

Steel-High is best known for its high powered and explosive offense with senior quarterback Alex Erby pulling the strings.

Friday night on the road in Elliottsburg, the offense brought some heavy artillery to the table against West Perry in the winner-take-all battle of unbeatens for the Mid-Penn Conference Capital Division title.

But it was the Rollers’ defense that ended up having the biggest impact on the final outcome by slamming the door on the Mustangs’ offense in the red zone.

Erby threw four touchdown passes, ran for another and the Rollers’ defense allowed only one touchdown in a tense, physical and penalty laced 33-12 victory that made Steel-High champions of the Capital.

Six times the Mustangs offense ventured inside the Steel-High 25-yard line in the first three quarters. Twice West Perry kicked field goals, they missed another field goal from 42 yards, scored one touchdown on a 1-yard plunge by QB Marcus Quaker and twice the Rollers made big-time interceptions in the end zone.

The scoreboard after three quarters revealed a tight 20-12 Rollers lead. But Steel-High blanked the Mustangs in the second half, and Erby’s third touchdown pass sealed the deal.

Time to hand out some grades.


Quarterback: Erby is a polished veteran who owns the state passing yards and touchdown records. His chops at this level are unquestioned. What stood out in this game was his utter command and control of the offense despite at times utter chaos going on around him with penalties negating big play after big play. He never blinked, kept going about his business and was simply a master of his craft. West Perry had no answer. He was the best player on the field. Grade: A+

Running back: Man is Ronald Burnette Jr. a handful as the Rollers’ RB1. He was forced to show his full arsenal against the West Perry defense, and it was joy to watch him work. He can grind inside the tackles but also has the vision and quickness to make somebody miss in tight quarters and get into space quickly. His only trip to the end zone was called back by a penalty, but he eclipsed 100 yards. He’s a valuable pass catcher out of the backfield, as well. Grade: A

Wide receivers: Here’s what stands out about the full arsenal of receivers the Rollers deploy. First, they are big and understand how to use that size to make themselves available targets. But even more impressive is their ability to make catches. I didn’t see one drop or anything close to a drop. And how fast they go from catch to yards after the catch is an art. They are impressive. Grade: A

Offensive line: For starters, only one sack allowed and Erby wasn’t under much stress all game. That is a big win for this group. Run blocking was a little more hit and miss. On this night, Burnette was their friend and covered up some of their misfires in the run game. He was that good. Too many holding penalties well after the play that cost them two touchdowns. Grade: B

Defensive line: Simply stated, these gentlemen wrecked the game for the Rollers. They got out-schemed a few times in the first quarter, but once they adjusted they took over control of this game. And it was dominating, which is not easy to do. Grade: A+

Linebackers: They had a bit of a rough ride in the first half, with the inside-outside running game of West Perry making more hay than their defensive coordinator probably liked. They made a great adjustment in the second half and put Amari Williams as a shadow of sorts on the Mustangs QB so he didn’t carve them up. His work was next-level stuff. Grade: B+

Secondary: Take a bow, Rell Ceasar Jr. and Jaieon Perry. Those interceptions they made in the end zone were not only great coverage, but showed a high football IQ by getting their heads around at the exact right time to make a play on 50-50 balls. And both interceptions changed the momentum. Neither was easy and each was as good as you’ll see at the high school level. The run support from this group was outstanding all night, as well. Grade: A+

Special teams: The Rollers punted only once, and of course Erby bombed a long one. Gave up some return yards on kickoffs, but that’s not unexpected, really. Two extra points were blocked, and that needs to be cleaned up because those one-pointers will matter down the road. Overall it was not too bad, though. Grade: B+


Quarterback: It was a long night for Marcus Quaker as the Rollers slowly figured out how to limit the damage he can inflict. The deep throws that ended in Rollers interceptions in the end zone were not bad throws. They were intended to be high-arcing 50-50 balls with the expectation his guy makes the play. On this night, the other guys were just better. Grade: B-

Running back: The Mustangs went into this one a man down with senior Caleb Gutshall not in uniform. That impacted the 1-2 punch inside West Perry relies on. Brad Hockenberry ran hard and was not easy to get to the ground at times, but he isn’t a focal-point-of-the-offense type of back. The Rollers knew he was going to get the ball, too. Overall the absence left a void that couldn’t be filled and that showed. I’m still a Hockenberry fan, though. Love what he brings to the table. Grade: B

Wide receivers: I’d like to say the receivers lost a couple 50-50 battles in the end zone that hurt the Mustangs, but that’s not what happened. The Rollers’ DBs just made sick plays. Ian Goodling was limited in his impact, but this offense doesn’t function well if he’s priority No. 1. No drops or mistakes, and they do block those WR screens well . Grade: B

Offensive line: Really good start by the lads up front as some of those holes early were big. And they were physical and pushed some buttons by battling right up to the whistle. That was fine. They were at a huge size disadvantage, though, and in the second half that showed up big time when the guys across from them took over the game. Grade: C+

Defensive line: For me, this was where the biggest surprise had to come from for West Perry to have a shot at springing the upset. And it just didn’t happen. They were pretty weary to start the second half. Steel-High rushes that went for 2 or 3 yards in the first half became a 10-plus carries the second half. Again, the Rollers’ o-line was much bigger, so the battle was an uphill climb. Grade: B

Linebackers: The ask of this group was always going to be a big one, and for the better part of three quarters I think they were up to the task. Trent and Brad Hockenberry were flying around and making plays all over the place. And remember, they were a man down. Best unit overall for the Mustangs on this night. Grade: A

Secondary: Goodling is a returning All-State defensive back because he’s just a fantastic two-way player on the defensive side of the ball. And against this level of competition, that showed. Too many open receivers, though. The throws looked easy for Erby, and that couldn’t happen consistently if West Perry was to have a shot. Grade: C+

Special teams: Goodling made field goals of 34 and 35 yards look easy and also connected from 27 yards out to open the second half to cut the score to 20-15. But a chop-block penalty on the Mustangs moved the kick back 15 yards, and he missed left from 42 yards out. That was a tough pill to swallow. The kickoff coverage was outstanding by any standard. Grade: B

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