What figured to be one final test for this talented bunch of Steel-High Rollers turned into just another day at the office in the PIAA Class 1A title game.
The District 3 champions simply outclassed WPIAL champion Fort Cherry. The Rollers were too big, too strong and too fast for the Rangers to handle Thursday afternoon at Chapman Field on the campus of Cumberland Valley High School.
Led by quarterback Alex Erby, the Rollers came out flying offensively and never let their foot off the gas the opening 24 minutes. Steel-High had its second consecutive state title wrapped up by halftime, leading by five touchdowns on its way to a commanding 42-8 triumph.
It was complete domination on both sides of the ball.
“I knew some things had to go our way in the early going. This is the first team we’ve faced this season, Steel-High, that I felt was complete from front to back defensively,” Fort Cherry coach Tanner Garry said. “We knew we were going to have a hard time against that defense. Their offense demands that you be where you are supposed to be every single time without fail, or they are going to take advantage of it. They are a hard team to prepare for, and they are very good at what they do.”
Steel-High came out on point, ran its first 10 plays from the script as planned and enjoyed a 14-0 lead less than seven minutes into this state title bout.
Erby completed his first 10 passes, was mixing and matching based on what the defense gave him, and had the Rangers’ defense completely guessing the rest of the way.
“This was all about preparation, and we have the weapons to spread the ball around and stretch a defense,” said Erby, who threw five touchdown passes and ran for a sixth TD. “That’s a good defense they have. And we put in the work and got ready, and it showed up in our execution. Our guys came out and put on a show today. We earned the right to celebrate our accomplishment. We put a lot into this game, one last time together.”
Steel-High kept the pressure on by adding three more touchdowns in the second quarter while the defense made it extremely difficult for Fort Cherry to even make a first down. It was a two-headed hammer that crippled the Rangers.
Erby completed 12 of his first 13 passes for 123 yards and two scores. And then the second quarter started. Yeah, he was in the zone. Erby went to intermission leading 34-0 with a stat line of 18 for 22, 275 yards and four touchdown passes with a 37-yard touchdown run thrown in for good measure.
And he departs as Pennsylvania’s record holder for single-season passing touchdowns (61), which he secured in his final game, career passing touchdowns and career passing yards.
Overall, Steel-High ran 37 plays in the first half for a staggering 392 yards. The Rollers averaged a difference-making 10.6 yards per play.
Time to hand out some postseason grades.
Quarterback: What a way for the record-setting United State Naval Academy recruit to go out, winning his third state title in four years as a starter and helping his team win back-to-back PIAA championships. Erby is one of the greats in Pennsylvania history, and his first half showed the next-level player he became. He completed 12 in a row to start the game, making it look so easy. The lefty’s first incompletion was a drop on a 52-yard TD pass that would have padded his already ludicrous numbers to start. He finished with 335 passing yards and five touchdowns. The numbers are one thing, it’s how he commanded and ran the offense that will be remembered most by me. It was nearly flawless. Grade: A+
Running back: This was going to be tough sledding for Ronald Burnette Jr. The hallmark of the Fort Cherry defense is the speed of its linebackers, who close down gaps and get to the ball in a hurry. And they played well. Last year the senior stole the show in the state title game to carry the Rollers across the line. Today he dug deep and ran extra hard just to accumulate 67 yards on 16 carries. There’s nothing wrong with 4.2 yards per carry. He never flashed or ran away from defenders, he just leaned hard and moved the chains several times when his number was called. Grade: A-
Wide receivers: The wealth of riches here at Erby’s disposal is borderline ridiculous. No high school secondary can cover this much talent. Durrell Ceasar and Jaieon Perry combined for 23 catches and 231 yards with one touchdown each. If that wasn’t enough, Nazier Fuller chipped in with two catches for 94 yards, and both his catches went to the house. There were two big-time drops that each would have gone the distance for touchdowns. But on this day those mistakes fell into the “who cares” category because they were running such great option routes and blocking downfield for each other. Nearly uncoverable. Grade: A+
Offensive line: It was a struggle to run the ball inside the tackles all day, but I will say the interior trio of Eugene Green, Devon Reid and Andrew Erby Jr. were on point when it came to pass blocking and not allowing a single pressure up the middle. That was so key for this offense. Erby had clean sightlines all day. And can we talk about Amari Williams at right tackle protecting the QB’s blind side? Never a hint of pressure from behind. Grade: A
Defensive line: Take a bow Kameron Chisholm, Andrew Erby Jr., Green and Samerus Rivers, ya’ll made life miserable on every front for the Fort Cherry offense. The Rangers didn’t have either the time or space to get anything they wanted going. And that extended well into the second quarter as the Rollers built a 34-0 halftime cushion. The pressure on pass attempts altered the course of this game because it removed that from the table. Grade: A+
Linebackers: Outside linebackers Williams and Angel Luciano turned into predators in this game. They were getting so much cover from the group in front of them they could just be homewreckers based on what they were seeing and reading. The inside calming presence of Taevon Legrande allowed his partners on the outside even more leverage to take chances and cut corners to make splash plays. Best overall effort of the season from this group? I think it might have been. Grade: A+
Secondary: The Rollers’ defense created four turnovers, but the secondary set the table with interceptions by star wideouts Perry and Ceasar to really limit the playbook for the Rangers. Only 21 passing yards allowed on the day. Keep in mind the Fort Cherry QB came in with more than 2,200 yards through the air. Nobody was open and it was too hot in his kitchen, forcing him to get the ball out in a hurry. Grade: A+
Special teams: Here’s a shocker: the Rollers didn’t punt. I will say everybody on the planet knew that fake punt late in the first quarter was NOT going to be a punt. And still they couldn’t stop Perry from picking up 19 yards. Why do I love those squib kickoffs for the Rollers? I just do. Kick coverage was average, and on this day that was good enough. The missed PAT just before the half delayed the mercy rule, but it also fell into the previously mentioned “who cares” category. Grade: A-