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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Picks and Predictions for the PIAA Semifinals

WEEK 15 (Playoffs Week 5)

RECORDS (Week 14 — Overall — Perfect Picks):

Andy Shay: 2-2 — 230-56 — 1

Geoff Morrow: 1-3 — 214-72 — 3

Andy Sandrik: 2-2 — 211-75 — 0

Adam Kulikowski: 2-2 — 197-89 — 1

Friday’s Games

PIAA Class 5A Semifinals

(3-1) Exeter Township vs. (7-1) Penn-Trafford, at Bald Eagle HS, 7

Andy Shay: Penn-Trafford 24, Exeter Township 21: What do the Eagles do for a second act after executing the biggest upset in Pennsylvania last week? This confident group will believe they can’t be beat. My guess is the Warriors’ defense will have the final say.

Geoff Morrow: Exeter Township 28, Penn-Trafford 24: It’s uncharted territory for both of these programs, and both are riding high after narrowly toppling favored foes a week ago. I can’t imagine Eagles RB Eric Nangle getting 41 carries again, so I think the Berks County outfit’s path to victory is led by PSU WR recruit Joey Schlaffer. The Warriors, though, will be ready.

Andy Sandrik: Exeter Township 33, Penn-Trafford 28: Exciting time to be an Eagle or Warrior. Both squads are first-time district champions, and one will be in the state finals for the first time. Expecting a banger from beginning to end.

Adam Kulikowski: Exeter Township 28, Penn-Trafford 24: Perhaps the only folks who gave Township a shot to beat Governor Mifflin were inside the Eagles’ locker room, yet here they are fighting another week. Kudos to those gents, but the business is not done, and this is a winnable game.

(12-1) Imhotep Charter vs. (1-1) Strath Haven, at Ridley HS, 7

Andy Shay: Imhotep Charter 28, Strath Haven 14: I know it wasn’t the best Cathedral Prep team compared to recent years, but for Imhotep to drill that Ramblers club by 35 and surrender only a touchdown last week is a clear tell.

Geoff Morrow: Imhotep Charter 34, Strath Haven 14: The number that stands out to me is the 6+ ppg allowed by the Philly school’s defense. Just 65 points allowed all season against some high-quality opponents, including Pittsburgh Central Catholic, DeMatha (Md.), La Salle College and, of course, Erie’s Cathedral Prep last weekend. The District 1 champs need to dip back into the magic hat like they did last week.

Andy Sandrik: Imhotep Charter 32, Strath Haven 17: Finding a way to slow down Imhotep RB Tre McLeod — who rolled up 278 yards and three TDs on just 13 carries last week — is a must if the Panthers hope to stay in this game.

Adam Kulikowski: Imhotep Charter 31, Strath Haven 13: Imhotep hasn’t given up more than 13 points all season. That doesn’t change this week.

PIAA Class 4A Semifinals

(1-1) Bishop Shanahan vs. (3-1) Bishop McDevitt, at Coatesville HS, 7

Andy Shay: Bishop McDevitt 20, Bishop Shanahan 7: This could be a battle of quarterbacks, and dual threat Cooper Jordan for the Eagles presents a lot of the same challenges the Crusaders’ defense faced last week. He is the engine that drives the engine for Bishop Shanahan. No wind, please.

Geoff Morrow: Bishop McDevitt 35, Bishop Shanahan 14: Obviously when you get this far into the season, any surviving team is worthy of its semifinal status. But one thing that worries me about the Eagles is, even in the impressive victory last week vs. Valley View, they surrendered a handful of big plays. That’s bad news vs. notorious “Big Play” McD.

Andy Sandrik: Bishop McDevitt 21, Bishop Shanahan 0: It takes a certain level of toughness to pitch a shutout in the freezing cold of the state quarterfinals, like McDevitt did in a 7-0 win over Lampeter-Strasburg last week. I think the Crusaders will do it again this week.

Adam Kulikowski: Bishop McDevitt 24, Bishop Shanahan 14: The Crusaders will be the first to admit that they didn’t play their best game last week against Lampeter-Strasburg. Still, for the 11th time in school history, they will take the field in a state semifinal. Barring 20 mph wind gusts, Jeff Weachter’s crew should play for a title in Chocolate Town. 

(4-1) Jersey Shore vs. (7-1) Aliquippa, at Central Cambria HS, 7

Andy Shay: Jersey Shore 27, Aliquippa 25: Why do I keep waiting for Jersey Shore to stumble and not meet expectations? I like where the Bulldogs are, and they are playing with a certain freedom that is hard to harness if you’re the Quips.

Geoff Morrow: Jersey Shore 26, Aliquippa 19: The 18-time WPIAL champion Quips — a Class 1A-sized school, mind you — are young and playing some outstanding football right now. The unbeaten Bulldogs, meanwhile, are eying a return trip to the title game. Difference for me is the Jersey Shore defense, which last week minimized what had previously been a devastating Meadville rushing attack and hasn’t allowed a second-half point all postseason.

Andy Sandrik: Jersey Shore 24, Aliquippa 21: I’ll respect any QB that can run for 1,000 yards in a season, and Jersey Shore’s Brady Jordan reached that milestone last week. He could very well eclipse 2,000 passing yards this week, too.

Adam Kulikowski: Aliquippa 24, Jersey Shore 21: The mighty men from Aliquippa sport a pair of offensive linemen — Tyrese Jones (6-7, 365) and Naquan Crowder (6-4, 345) — who have opened plenty of holes for their freshman lead back. Countering that brute force will be tough, even for a Jersey Shore defense that has played well against the run.

PIAA Class 3A Semifinals

(6-1) Central at (7-1) Central Valley, 7

Andy Shay: Central Valley 42, Central 14: A couple of unbeatens, but CV has so much firepower to deal with in addition to leading rusher Landon Alexander and his nearly 2,000 yards.

Geoff Morrow: Central Valley 37, Central 13: Considering Dragons QB Jeff Hoenstine has tossed a state-record 56 TD passes this year, predicting just two scores might seem like a stunner. However, the defending champ Warriors — now on a 25-game winning streak — aren’t your typical playoff squad. CV is deep, skilled, smart and precise. Oh, and it gets to play at home, too.

Andy Sandrik: Central Valley 38, Central 21: Just watched a few Landon Alexander highlights. I’m a believer. Can he continue this tear against Central? I say yes.

Adam Kulikowski: Central Valley 35, Central 20: Central QB Jeff Hoenstine set a state record for passing with 56 touchdowns this season, part of an outstanding stat line that also includes 3,355 passing yards. CV’s Landon Alexander etched his own name in the record books this year with a new school career rushing record. All this to say that while both teams have front-line stars, the edge I’m riding is the stronger supporting cast CV possesses.

(12-1) Neumann-Goretti vs. (3-1) Wyomissing, at Pennridge HS, 7

Andy Shay: Wyomissing 28, Neumann-Goretti 14: What has become clear about the Spartans is they can play any brand of football you want when it comes to their defense. And they know exactly who they are offensively, and it works. Reminder: Wyomissing beat Southern Columbia this season.

Geoff Morrow: Wyomissing 21, Neumann-Goretti 14: While I still think the Spartans are deserved favorites, two things concern me: 1. The Saints’ strength is in the trenches, and they stop the run. Wyo loves to run, obviously, but might actually need to throw a few passes this week. 2. This is a weird one, but this is the Spartans’ first Friday night game since Oct. 15. That’s a long time without playing under the lights.

Andy Sandrik: Wyomissing 24, Neumann-Goretti 21: I’m personally separated from Wyomissing by about 80 miles, but thanks to the magic of social media, I’ve been able to follow the Spartans more closely in recent years. I really think their championship caliber defense — which has allowed an opponent to break the 20-point barrier just once this season — could take them all the way.

Adam Kulikowski: Wyomissing 30, Neumann-Goretti 24: I’m siding with the gents from Wyo and that stellar defense they put on the field each week. Can anyone break a game open against that crew? I have serious doubts.

PIAA Class 2A Semifinals

(10-1) Farrell vs. (7-1) Serra Catholic, at Slippery Rock U., 7

Andy Shay: Serra Catholic 33, Farrell 29: The most impactful player belongs to Farrell, but I like the depth of the Eagles’ weapons and think that has a major impact on this game in the end. Key matchup for me is the Serra Catholic offense vs. Farrell defense. How that plays out will make the ultimate difference.

Geoff Morrow: Farrell 42, Serra Catholic 22: While the Eagles scratched off a surefire winning ticket last week by turning Beaver Falls over NINE times, it still feels like a mighty uphill battle to me against the District 10 powerhouse. The big boy Steelers from Pittsburgh nearly gave up as many points last week vs. Cincinnati as the high school Steelers have allowed all dang season.

Andy Sandrik: Farrell 35, Serra Catholic 30: It’s hard to pick against Farrell and its sizable RB, Anthony Stallworth, a Division I recruit who is two wins away from a third straight state championship.

Adam Kulikowski: — Serra Catholic 35, Farrell 33:  Serra sports a pair of 6-foot wideouts in Jayvon Holt and Terrell Booth–each of whom has more than 35 receptions and 600 yards. Pair them with a 1000-yard rusher and a gunslinger QB and you have an offense that could give Farrell fits. 

(11-1) Northern Lehigh vs. (4-1) Southern Columbia, at Lehighton HS, 7

Andy Shay: Southern Columbia 34, Northern Lehigh 14: Yeah, the Tigers don’t have the ridiculous depth in terms of weapons they’ve enjoyed in recent years. Just not sure Northern Lehigh has enough in the tank to upend this powerhouse. Pedigree and history matter.

Geoff Morrow: Southern Columbia 55, Northern Lehigh 20: Since getting thumped by Wyomissing two months ago, the Tigers have been outright petulant, not exactly playing nice with others. In short, they’ve smoked everybody since. The Bulldogs have been tough and scoring in bunches, but I’m having a hard time imagining the defense making enough stops to keep up.

Andy Sandrik: Southern Columbia 35, Northern Lehigh 21: When I was a football-crazy kid — and eventually a player — the legendary program in the state was Central Bucks West. I think the Tigers have more than earned the right to carry that same level of mystique.

Adam Kulikowski: Southern Columbia 45, Northern Lehigh 24: Gavin and Garrett Garcia are absolute studs for the Tigers. Older bro Gavin needs just 129 stripes to move into third place all-time in career rushing yards in Tigers history — he currently has 2,147 yards this season and 6,947 career yards. Garrett, a sophomore, already has his name etched in the record book with a school-best 183 tackles this year. Yep, they are pretty good.

PIAA Class 1A Semifinals

(7-1) Bishop Canevin vs. (9-1) Redbank Valley, at North Hills HS, 7

Andy Shay: Redbank Valley 23, Bishop Canevin 21: I’m taking the Bulldogs’ talent at quarterback and depth at receiver in this one. Not usually a favorable matchup for a District 9 team playing the WPIAL champion. Is this the upset pick?

Geoff Morrow: Bishop Canevin 30, Redbank Valley 25: Could be one of the more entertaining games this weekend. I’ll take the Crusaders, who’ve been wrecking foes and last weekend mercy-ruled their way to school’s first WPIAL title since 1990. The Bulldogs, impressively, are the first District 9 school since 2013 to reach the state semifinals. Unrelated side note: My college roommate became a math teacher at Redbank Valley after graduating IUP, and I haven’t heard from him since.

Andy Sandrik: Bishop Canevin 18, Redbank Valley 14: Coin flip all the way for me. Going with the Crusaders just out of respect for the WPIAL.

Adam Kulikowski: Redbank Valley 21, Bishop Canevin 14: With two teams that should be evenly matched, give me the QB who has a 60% completion percentage, nearly 2,000 passing yards and 28 TDs. That’s Redbank Valley’s Bryson Bain.

(6-1) Bishop Guilfoyle vs. (4-1) Canton, at Altoona HS, 7

Andy Shay: Canton 21, Bishop Guilfoyle 14: Everything tells me BG is the team better equipped for this game. But give me the Warriors and their magic carpet ride through the postseason. Canton has been in back-to-back highwire games and came out on top.

Geoff Morrow: Canton 27, Bishop Guilfoyle 21: Like Steel-High a year ago, the Warriors feel like a team of destiny. That’s, of course, partially because they held off the Rollers two weeks ago before going OT to knock off Old Forge last week. The Marauders are always tough, though, and rebounded quite nicely after a 1-2 start to the season.

Andy Sandrik: Canton 28, Bishop Guilfoyle 14: Why not Canton? The unbeaten Warriors are coming off a down-to-the-wire win in OT over Old Forge and are two weeks removed from dispatching defending state champ Steel-High.

Adam Kulikowski: Canton 34, Bishop Guilfoyle 21: Yes, it is a bit cliché, but defense really does win championships — and the Warriors have all the tools on D to slow any offense.

Saturday’s Games

PIAA Class 6A Semifinals

(6-1) State College vs. (7-1) Mt. Lebanon, at Altoona HS, 1

Andy Shay: Mt. Lebanon 31, State College 10: Physically, I think the Little Lions will be just fine in this tilt. Their limitations on offense will show up, though, and Mt. Lebanon is a very explosive and balanced offense that can really stretch a defense and get it out of its comfort zone.

Geoff Morrow: Mt. Lebanon 35, State College 17: As much as it pains me to pick a team nicknamed the Blue Devils now that we’re officially into basketball season, I can’t deny the workmanlike, championship-caliber feel of this WPIAL outfit. Meanwhile, State High’s Matt Lintal is the Coach of the Year, right? This was NOT an impressive Little Lions team that lost four of five games heading into Week 10. Yet here it is, knocking on the door of a state championship. I feel like SC is more comfortable as the underdog, too.

Andy Sandrik: Mt. Lebanon 28, State College 14: You know how I know the Mid-Penn Commonwealth Division is one of the best in the state? The sixth-place team from the division, State College, is playing for a berth in the state championship. That’s how I know.

Adam Kulikowski: Mt. Lebanon 37, State College 21: For almost three quarters last week, it looked like we would be writing about Harrisburg’s chances in this semifinal matchup against Mt. Lebanon. Then the big men up front took over for the Little Lions. Dominant fourth-quarter performance by those dudes. It will take another such effort to keep practicing another week.

(1-1) Garnet Valley vs. (12-1) St. Joseph’s Prep, at Ridley HS, 7

Andy Shay: Garnet Valley 30, St. Joseph’s Prep 27: I’m looking for lots of fireworks and plenty of points. SJP has flourished in these high-level state playoff games, and it is due to lose one of them every now and again. I think GV has the ingredients to make it happen.

Geoff Morrow: Garnet Valley 44, St. Joseph’s Prep 33: This is and isn’t unfamiliar territory for the Hawks. On one hand, the Philly school is seemingly always in this game — and it’s comfortable winning, reaching the state finals in seven of the last eight seasons. On the other, Prep carries a rare underdog label (barely). The Jaguars have been monsters this year in every facet. Nobody’s played them within two TDs yet. That probably changes Saturday night, but I still expect the District 1 champs to punch a ticket to Hershey.

Andy Sandrik: St. Joseph’s Prep 33, Garnet Valley 28: There aren’t many rosters equipped to handle the luxury of one-way players, but SJP is deep and will be fresh when this close game reaches crunch time.

Adam Kulikowski: St. Joseph’s Prep 28, Garnet Valley 27: OK, so the over/under on future NFL players on this team might not be as high as in recent years. But that hardly means there aren’t enough dynamic weapons for Prep to play for the right to hoist another one of those giant chocolate bars next week.

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