EXPLAINING OUR PICKS: The PIAA district football playoffs are upon us. And after an entertaining regular season in the Mid-Penn Conference and Colonial-Schuylkill League, the 4th Down Magazine team is here to take its best cracks at the winners from Round 1 through the championships.
This year’s group of experts includes veteran reporters Andy Shay and Andy Sandrik, as well as 4th Down owner and manager Adam Kulikowski.
Here’s who we think will win each game when the playoffs kick off Friday night. Stick with us all the way through the PIAA state championships in December.
Picker: Week 10 — Overall — Perfect Picks
Adam Kulikowski: 18-3 — 191-56 — 2
Andy Sandrik: 17-4 — 189-58 — 0
Andy Shay: 17-4 — 179-68 — 1
* Records in parentheses after school name; District and seed in parentheses before school name.
In this edition of our weekly 4th & Goal podcast with Jake Adams and Andy Shay, we’re diving into the brackets; identifying which lower seeds might make some noise; who has the toughest road ahead; which matchups are the best this week and more. Plus we are joined by Big Spring’s Zachary Mell.
DISTRICT 3 CLASS 5A FIRST ROUND
FRIDAY, NOV. 3
No. 8 Hershey 28, No. 9 Exeter Township 27
Andy Shay: Exeter Township 35, Hershey 21: The Eagles are a running team that thrives on also pulling off a couple big hits in the passing game. Lots of pressure on a Trojans’ defense that has been much better the second half of the season. Not sure Hershey has the firepower to keep pace.
Andy Sandrik: Exeter Township 33, Hershey 24: Exeter Township would have been a much higher seed if it hadn’t ended its regular season with two losses after starting 8-0. Hershey will certainly be the underdog here, but the Trojans have the pieces to make this a competitive contest.
Adam Kulikowski: Exeter Township 28, Hershey 24: This is a tricky matchup for the Trojans, who will have to contend with a club surrendering just 16.9 points per game.
No. 5 Ephrata 14, No. 12 Lower Dauphin 13
Andy Shay: Ephrata 34, Lower Dauphin 20: Was a rough final month for the Falcons, dropping three of the final four games, and that lone win came in overtime. Ephrata has too much balance and firepower for the Falcons to hold at bay over four quarters. Mountaineers averaged nearly 400 yards a game offensively against a quality schedule.
Andy Sandrik: Ephrata 30, Lower Dauphin 21: This is one of those games where Lower Dauphin will need a near-perfect effort just to hold serve with Ephrata. Maintaining that pace for four quarters is going to be hard to do, especially against a Mountaineers squad that does nothing except stack up yards and points.
Adam Kulikowski: Ephrata 28, Lower Dauphin 14: The balanced attack of the one-loss Mountaineers will present a stiff challenge to the Falcons, who are making their first playoff appearance since the Tommy Klock-era in 2015.
No. 7 South Western 21, No. 10 Greencastle-Antrim 3
Andy Shay: South Western 30, Greencastle-Antrim 21: What it took for the Mustangs to get from where they were, 2-3 at the halfway point and riding a three-game losing streak, to the No. 7 seed will help them tremendously here. The Blue Devils might be here a year early, but they earned this shot.
Andy Sandrik: South Western 33, Greencastle-Antrim 21: This game is a big ask for the Blue Devils, who will be challenged with stopping Mustangs’ RB Austin Rollman, who needs less than 60 yards to hit 1,000 for the season.
Adam Kulikowski: South Western 33, Greencastle-Antrim 28: The Blue Devils have not won back-to-back games since Week 4. The chalk is on South Western’s side, but an X-factor like wideout Carter McCauley, who has the ability to blow the top off a defense, can push the underdog Blue Devils into the next round.
No. 6 Conestoga Valley 40, No. 11 Dover 9
Andy Shay: Conestoga Valley 34, Dover 20: The Buckskins have played only three teams that finished above .500, and they were 1-2 in those games. So they haven’t exactly played a “testy” schedule. The only three quality teams on Dover’s schedule — South Western, New Oxford and Dallastown — were all losses for the Eagles. This is a real toss-up game.
Andy Sandrik: Conestoga Valley 35, Dover 28: A matchup between two teams each averaging more than 30 points. If you’re struggling to pick a winner, you should at least be able to take the “over” with confidence.
Adam Kulikowski: Conestoga Valley 41, Dover 21: Jayden Johnson will have a huge say in the outcome of this tilt. The versatile running back sits just shy of 1,000 stripes on the season and also is a weapon in the passing game with nearly 400 more yards. If, and it is a big if, Dover can slow him down, its odds of victory improve. Smart money is on CV.
DISTRICT 3 CLASS 4A FIRST ROUND
FRIDAY, NOV. 3
No. 8 Milton Hershey 29, No. 9 Eastern York 23
Andy Shay: Milton Hershey 39, Eastern York 26: The firepower the Spartans can unleash when they are hitting on all cylinders is more than the Golden Knights, who have been pretty solid defensively, bring to the table. Milton Hershey wants to play a shootout and make Eastern York try and keep up. A tight, low-scoring affair favors the Golden Knights.
Andy Sandrik: Milton Hershey 36, Eastern York 21: There are few teams in this postseason with more dark-horse potential than Milton Hershey. Spartans have all the tools they need to make a big run. Or they could get knocked out this week, you just never know.
Adam Kulikowski: Milton Hershey 34, Eastern York 20: Siding with the more battle-tested gents. Last-second victories like the ones against Susquehanna Township and Lower Dauphin tell me this group won’t be rattled in high-pressure moments.
No. 7 Elco 34, No. 10 Big Spring 7
Andy Shay: Elco 30, Big Spring 27: Couple of teams who will do all their damage on the ground and stick to their plan. Both teams have played a schedule with some superior squads at the top end, so neither has a real advantage. One of those “who wants it more” kinda games.
Andy Sandrik: Elco 28, Big Spring 25: I think the Raiders deserve to be slight favorites, but there’s nothing more scary than a team like Big Spring — who just barely got here — that has nothing to lose.
Adam Kulikowski: Big Spring 34, Elco 32: The Bulldogs just squeaked into the postseason, but take them lightly at your own risk. This is a feisty group that has the makeup to pull off a mild upset in Round 1.
DISTRICT 3 CLASS 3A QUARTERFINALS
FRIDAY, NOV. 3
No. 4 Schuylkill Valley 45, No. 5 Littlestown 21
Andy Shay: Schuylkill Valley 27, Littlestown 21: Taking the chalk here in a game where the differences between the two clubs is marginal at best. They have won and lost in very similar fashion. Maybe favoring the L-L League a little here?
Andy Sandrik: Schuylkill Valley 24, Littlestown 17: There aren’t many games that will make me stare blankly at my laptop screen for a half hour, but this is turning out to be one of them. This is the epitome of a matchup between four- and five-seeds.
Adam Kulikowski: Schuylkill Valley 35, Littlestown 14: Prior to last week’s loss to Lancaster Catholic, the Panthers were riding an eight-game winning streak.
No. 3 West Perry 42, No. 6 Bermudian Springs 21
Andy Shay: West Perry 42, Bermudian Springs 20: The Mustangs could have used a week off with all their injuries, but fate was not kind to them. But I actually think getting back on the field after Week 10’s adversity is what they need. Did West Perry have its eye on the wrong prize? This game will reveal a telling answer because the Mustangs are a solid two- or three-touchdown favorite here.
Andy Sandrik: West Perry 40, Bermudian Springs 21: The Eagles has evolved since starting the season 0-3, and they bring a steady senior QB to the table in Tyson Carpenter. This won’t be an easy game for the Mustangs, but that’s something they should get used to in these playoffs.
Adam Kulikowski: West Perry 38, Bermudian Springs 24: A stellar season earned the boys in green a home playoff game. We’re about to find out how much is left in the tank after a physical battle for the Capital Division crown in Week 10 against Steel-High.
DISTRICT 3 CLASS 2A SEMIFINALS
FRIDAY, NOV. 3
No. 4 Camp Hill 35, No. 1 Annville-Cleona 14
Andy Shay: Annville-Cleona 35, Camp Hill 20: The Dutchmen average 52 running plays and five passing attempts per game, so the Lions know what will be coming. But after a long season, stopping a shove-it-right-at-you running offense is not in their wheelhouse. If they get the lead and make A-C chase, it could be interesting.
Andy Sandrik: Annville-Cleona 30, Camp Hill 21: As much as I like to pick Camp Hill to spring upsets, the Dutchmen present a very real matchup problem for the Lions.
Adam Kulikowski: Annville-Cleona 28, Camp Hill 21: Lions will bring plenty of fight to this battle. Stopping the Dutchmen’s three-headed rushing attack is a tall task for any team, however.
No. 2 Trinity 28, No. 3 Delone Catholic 3
Andy Shay: Trinity 49, Delone Catholic 14: I’m not sure how much has changed for both teams since they shared the same turf 10 weeks ago. The T-Rocks have been building for a second season run, and the adversity of the regular season will be a huge benefit.
Andy Sandrik: Trinity 38, Delone Catholic 21: The Shamrocks have been a tough team to predict at times, but I think their schedule has them more than ready for this moment.
Adam Kulikowski: Trinity 45, Delone Catholic 20: It feels like the Shamrocks have been steadily building toward this moment for weeks. It’s here, and Trinity is ready to rise the occasion against a club they handled easily (49-12) in Week 1.
DISTRICT 3 CLASS 1A CHAMPIONSHIP
SATURDAY, NOV. 4
No. 2 Halifax at No. 1 Steel-High, 1 p.m.
Andy Shay: Steel-High 55, Halifax 0: I hope the Rollers respect that the Wildcats are going to show up and take on this zero-chance-of-a-win game. At least work on cleaning up some of those sloppy penalties, right? Only identifiable weakness Steel-High has.
Andy Sandrik: Steel-High 56, Halifax 0: Congrats to Alex Erby on his commitment to Navy. That’s the biggest news in what should otherwise be a week without surprises for the Rollers.
Adam Kulikowski: Steel-High 55, Halifax 6: The Wildcats produced their best season in years. Their reward? A Saturday thumping by the defending state champions.
DISTRICT 4 CLASS 2A QUARTERFINALS
FRIDAY, NOV. 3
No. 4 Line Mountain 42, No. 5 Towanda 23
Andy Shay: Line Mountain 34, Towanda 21: This one comes down to depth at the skill positions, and I think there’s a lot of equality at the QB position. I think the depth at RB and WR belongs to the Eagles, and that will be enough to overtake Towanda.
Andy Sandrik: Line Mountain 35, Towanda 20: The Eagles have come a long way since their 1-2 start, rattling off seven straight wins. Make that eight, after this weekend.
Adam Kulikowski: Line Mountain 28, Towanda 14: Versatile dual-threat QB Rylie Vanderpool poses the biggest challenge to the Eagles’ aspirations to advance, but it’s one Line Mountain should be equipped to handle.
DISTRICT 6 CLASS 6A SEMIFINALS
FRIDAY, NOV. 3
No. 3 Altoona 26, at No. 2 Mifflin County 8
Andy Shay: Altoona 28, Mifflin County 0: Mountain Lions have been pushed harder in the Commonwealth, and that takes its toll. Still, when the playing field has been fairly level talent-wise, they have performed. Was an easy W over the Huskies earlier this year, and that won’t change here.
Andy Sandrik: Altoona 32, Mifflin County 7: Did you know Mifflin County is 1-4 in home games this fall, including a 35-0 loss to Altoona in Week 3? All signs point to a comfortable win for the Mountain Lions.
Adam Kulikowski: Altoona 28, Mifflin County 7: The Mountain Lions easily handled Mifflin County earlier this season. While I don’t see the Huskies getting shut out in this postseason rematch, closing the gap on a 35-0 whipping is a tall task.
DISTRICT 6 CLASS 4A CHAMPIONSHIP
FRIDAY, NOV. 3
No. 1 Juniata 37, No. 2 Bellefonte 0
Andy Shay: Juniata 41, Bellefonte 14: Combined, these two small schools are 7-13 overall entering this battle for a trophy. Each has played a quality schedule, but a pair of one-point victories is all 2-8 Bellefonte brings to the table. Is that enough to win this game? Doesn’t seem so, but who the heck knows, right?
Andy Sandrik: Juniata 36, Bellefonte 19: If there’s one thing Juniata has taught us this season, it’s to never count a team out, even if it’s down. The Indians would also be wise to heed this message when facing the two-win Raiders.
Adam Kulikowski: Juniata 34, Bellefonte 14: While the Indians enter this postseason frey on a two-game skid, they are by far the more battle-tested squad. That pays dividends in the postseason.
DISTRICT 11 CLASS 2A SEMIFINALS
SATURDAY, NOV. 4
No. 3 Catasauqua at No. 2 Williams Valley, 7 p.m.
Andy Shay: Williams Valley 40, Catasauqua 34: This feels like a very close game all the way in my book. The Vikings have the best player on the field, but the Rough Riders have much more diversity and depth in what they do offensively. Vikings are the pick, but I think Catty has more avenues to victory.
Andy Sandrik: Williams Valley 42, Catasauqua 32: We’re not really allowed to root for teams, but I will certainly cheer for the historical career of Alex Achenbach to continue for at least one more game. What a ride it’s been for this kid and this team.
Adam Kulikowski: Williams Valley 45, Catasauqua 24: We write about Achenbach nearly every week in some fashion, but this lad ranks in the top five in rushing yards in all of Pennsylvania this year. As he goes, so do the Vikings.
DISTRICT 11 CLASS 1A SEMIFINALS
FRIDAY, NOV. 3
No. 2 Marian Catholic 14, No. 3 Tri-Valley 6
Andy Shay: Tri-Valley 9, Marian Catholic 8: Bulldogs enter the playoffs with only one win in their last four games. That lone victory, however, was a 16-6 triumph over Marian Catholic. Don’t expect much to change in such a short period of time, and I think points will be even more difficult to come by. I could see a field goal deciding this one. If you like your football old school, this is going to be pure nirvana. Love this matchup!
Andy Sandrik: Marian Catholic 23, Tri-Valley 16: The Colts have to like their chances of scoring a revenge victory, and home-field advantage has to give them an advantage in what I see as a 50-50 game.
Adam Kulikowski: Tri-Valley 20, Marian Catholic 14: We had a sneak preview of this matchup back in Week 9, a 16-6 Bulldogs victory. Who makes the best adjustments in a tilt that figures to be a tight battle to the final whistle?