That was one miserable cuss of a Friday evening to close out the 2021 regular season.
Rain and wind is a deadly combination, and that was not just your garden variety rain. This was almost sideways at times. Offenses were impacted, running the ball was critical and turnovers were practically guaranteed.
Before we get to the playoffs and how Week 10 impacted the final results when the brackets are officially announced Monday by District 3 (the official final power rankings were released Saturday, but the brackets aren’t published until Monday), let’s just take a look at a few tidbits that stood out.
Because I was unable to attend a game in person Friday night, I settled in to watch the Milton Hershey vs. Red Land game on the gold turf at Henry Hershey Field. Will I get hateful communication if I say out loud that for no particular reason I’m not a fan of the gold turf? I don’t hate it, but it’s just not my cup of tea for some reason.
It was a joy to watch Spartans senior running back Dion Bryant, who has done so much for this team in 2021, have a record-setting night. The senior, who is going to make some lucky FCS school very happy at the next level, went off in the driving rain.
Bryant rushed for a school record 468 yards on a staggering 39 carries with SEVEN touchdowns. Once he cleared the line of scrimmage it was nearly impossible to catch him or bring him down. He averaged 12.0 yards per carry and did all his damage after Milton Hershey fell behind the Patriots 14-0 early.
Bryant is an FCS-level back all the way, will get my nomination and vote for All-State and colleges should be knocking at his door to obtain his services. He posted more than 800 rushing yards over the final two games. And he allowed the Spartans to celebrate on their new gold turf for the first time this season.
As you could probably tell if you’ve listened to any of our YouTube “The Preview” videos the last couple weeks or read anything I wrote about the Thundering Herd, I was pulling for Carlisle to find a way into the District 3 Class 6A field.
I saw the Herd in Week 1 against Mechanicsburg and liked a lot of what I saw. It was clear the talent and skill they had in place would develop and evolve, and it has. The defense had some holes, but over the course of nine more games they filled in the gaps. For a program that has been coughed around for so many years, I wondered whether they would find that internal belief — which is different than confidence — to understand they were good enough and belonged. And the Herd found that critical ingredient. It was a process, but they found it.
The Thundering Herd are the team nobody in Class 6A wants to square off against in the playoffs. They will show up and believe. It appears that team will be Commonwealth Division foe Harrisburg, a rematch of a game in which the Cougars cruised to a 34-14 victory, according to District 3’s final power rankings released Saturday night. That was five long weeks ago for a Herd squad that won four of its last five, including a very mild upset of CD East in Week 10 to close out the season.
Carlisle did something extra special in my book to upset the Panthers — they rallied from a 14-0 deficit in the second quarter to post the 28-20 triumph. Climbing uphill against the Panthers down two scores is a tough ask. The Herd had a response. Special teams and a blocked punt for a touchdown to get on the board lit the fire.
Jeremiah Hargrove, a versatile weapon, was forced into single duty at running back and responded with 140 yards on 17 totes with three touchdowns. Those are heady numbers against a physical and aggressive CD East defense. His yards tell you everything you need to know about where this offensive line is these days.
Cumberland Valley won’t make the Class 6A playoffs with a 5-5 record, but the Eagles and the rebuild of this program under Josh Oswalt is heading in a direction most fans should like after CV torpedoed Central Dauphin’s playoff aspirations with a 24-17 victory over the Rams.
Central Dauphin, with the loss, fell to just below the yellow line, dropping from No. 6 to No. 9, and their 2021 season is done.
Eagles running back JD Hunter had 148 yards and two scores, and QB Isaac Sines had a long TD run covering 55 yards and kicked a field goal. And in a game with no passing yards, the CV linebackers were on point and played a huge role in the win.
It is indeed a very strange year when neither Central Dauphin nor Cumberland Valley are part of a big-school playoff field. Very, very strange.
Big Spring struggled offensively for two reasons, the driving rain and more importantly Middletown’s defense, and fell 7-0 to the surging Blue Raiders. The loss didn’t totally derail a fine season for the Bulldogs. For the second time in school history, it appears Big Spring will be playoff bound.
Wyomissing and Boiling Springs are still the top dogs in Class 3A, but there are warning signs flying all around Middletown that scream you do not want to play this team right now. That’s all I’m going to say about that.
Congratulations to the Harrisburg Cougars for claiming the Commonwealth Division title outright by blanking Chambersburg. The road-warrior Cougars clinched the title, appropriately, on the road. The only blemish on their impressive schedule was a loss at Governor Mifflin in a game they took on short COVID-19 notice.
Hands down the biggest surprise in 2021 for the Mid-Penn is Lower Dauphin. The Falcons had won only three times in their previous 26 games, including 0-10 in 2019 and a one-win campaign a year ago. So getting to 6-3 AND qualifying for the postseason is stunning.
LD finished with a comfortable double-up of Palmyra thanks to RB Jacob Kauffman’s 226 yards on 27 carries and a couple touchdowns. The Falcons, and the weather, kept the game in a sandbox that LD thrives in. And the Falcons made it pay off.
Cedar Cliff star running back Jontate Morris capped a stellar comeback season after losing the 2020 campaign to injury by rolling up 228 yards and three more touchdowns to go along with a pick-6 on defense as the Colts easily dispatched Mifflin County 35-0.
Waynesboro used a couple of Nick Brill interceptions to hold off Northern and claim the No. 2 spot in the Colonial by shutting out the Polar Bears 6-0. Shippensburg completed its second undefeated season in three years by taking care of Greencastle-Antrim in a Thursday night game. Going 10-0 twice in that short of a span might sound easy, but it is a lot harder than it looks.
The one score that stands out as a shocker from Week 10 is East Pennsboro 43, Mechanicsburg 0. The Wildcats took the field controlling their own destiny in terms of securing a playoff spot. However, when you factor in the Jekyll & Hyde that is the Panthers this season, this result should really not be all that big of a surprise. East Pennsboro has been nothing but wildly inconsistent week-to-week, producing some stunning results and then making you wonder how that happened the very next week? It was just their journey this year.
Susquehanna Township came oh so close to that elusive first win in 2021 against West Perry, falling by three points. The playoff-bound Mustangs were pushed to the limit by the ‘Hanna Tribe. Only 230 yards and three scores from RB Trent Herrera prevented West Perry from heading into the playoffs with back-to-back losses. Looks like the Mustangs will get Middletown to open the postseason party.
Juniata comfortably claimed the Liberty Division crown with a 6-0 mark by drilling would-be title contender Susquenita 52-20. The Blackhawks had a shot at grabbing a piece of the title with a win. The 20 points surrendered is a season-high for the Indians, but most of them came in mop-up time as Juniata pushed this game to the mercy rule by halftime.
Here are the playoff teams from the Mid-Penn Conference after District 3 released the final, official power rankings Saturday night: Class 1A: No. 1 Steel-High; Class 2A: No. 3 Upper Dauphin and No. 4 Susquenita; 3A: No. 2 Boiling Springs, No. 4 West Perry and No. 5 Middletown; Class 4A: No. 1 Bishop McDevitt, No. 8 Northern and No. 10 Big Spring; Class 5A: No. 3 Shippensburg, No. 5 Waynesboro, No. 6 Cedar Cliff and No. 11 Lower Dauphin; Class 6A: No. 2 Harrisburg, No. 3 CD East and No. 7 Carlisle.
Bring on the second season.