Harrisburg took the best punch Manheim Township could deliver in the District 3 6A championship game Friday night. The Cougars were wobbly and on the edge of being knocked out again by the undefeated Blue Streaks.
Two big-time blows, one seconds before the half and another less than 120 seconds into the third quarter that put 14 Township points on the board, put Harrisburg in a 28-7 hole on the road against a team that had already cracked the Cougars by 32 points earlier in the season.
When Harrisburg finally punched back, though, Township didn’t have an answer. How a contender responds to adversity in big games defines their championship pedigree.
The Cougars claimed their third consecutive district big-school crown in overtime with a furious comeback and a crazy, edge-of-your-seat finish to show their true championship pedigree.
Losing to Township earlier in the season, getting pushed to the brink of a massive upset bid by CD East and being forced to slog through a sticky game with State College gave the Cougars all the football ingredients to pull off such an epic comeback.
After getting cuffed to the tune of 66 points by the Blue Streaks in six quarters and change, Harrisburg’s defense stood up and made its voice relevant by pitching a shutout the final 22 minutes.
Harrisburg scored the final 21 points in regulation, including a TD pass from QB Shawn Lee Jr. to Elias Coke covering 4 yards with 23 seconds remaining and a desperation two-point conversion that the pair hooked up for.
But wait, it gets a lot crazier.
Overtime was epic in terms of the drama both teams faced. Harrisburg scored first then missed the extra point. The Blue Streaks’ path to victory was clear as day: score a touchdown, convert the extra point and a championship was theirs.
So Harrisburg had to slam the door shut in order to win. Of course, it wasn’t easy as Harrisburg’s defense had to face fourth down not once or twice, but three times on the final Blue Streaks’ possession.
Harrisburg’s mettle as a championship team faced every test imaginable Friday and the Cougars passed them all with complementary football and big-time contributions on both sides of the ball.
A state semifinal awaits with powerful WPIAL champion North Allegheny.
Can Harrisburg return to the PIAA Class 6A championship game and possibly win a state title? Sure, why not?
These Cougars can take a punch and are a difficult team to beat. That’s a championship combination.
Early season lessons pay off for Bishop McDevitt
Remember that early season tough schedule Bishop McDevitt played in 2023? The one where the Crusaders trailed in a couple games and had to rally against high quality opponents to post three non-conference victories to open the season?
The value proposition of enduring that gauntlet was in the memory bank for the Crusaders, and they relied on that experience to rally against a Manheim Central squad that brought its A-plus game to the table Friday night in the District 3 Class 4A title game at The Roc.
In fact, you could argue from start to finish over the course of 48 minutes the Barons were the better team and fully deserved to win. But after two months of playing on cruise control, the Crusaders managed to put together one quarter of the next-level quality football they are capable of, and Central didn’t have an answer.
Some might say the Crusaders escaped with a district crown. I think it was more of them getting their cage rattled and needing to remember what a competitive game looks and feels like. And they are talented enough where for one night a single quarter of excellence was enough. They know next week that won’t cut it.
McDevitt’s offense didn’t score until the fourth quarter. That alone tells you how good the Barons’ defense was on this night. But two touchdown passes covering 68 total yards in a span of 15 seconds was enough for the Crusaders to rally for a 23-17 victory.
Reminder, this is not the first time this McDevitt team has rallied from behind in the fourth quarter to win a game. They did it twice in the first three games.
At the end of the day, the McD defense surrendered only 107 total yards and 17 points. That’s doing their job. It had been so easy for this offense for so many weeks, a bump in the road is not a surprise, really.
Remember, defense can win championships and the Crusaders’ defense was critical to winning the state title a year ago. McDevitt might have rallied late to edge the Barons with two quick strikes from its offense. They don’t have that chance without this War Eagle defense showing up for 48 minutes.
It’s Alex Erby’s world, and we’re all just living in it
Rollers veteran quarterback Alex Erby, a United States Naval Academy commit and the No. 1 passer in Pennsylvania history, is playing at a level that makes it feel like it’s almost impossible for any Class 1A team in the state to stop him.
Mother Nature took a shot last week for a half, but once the torrential rain subsided he carved up the opposition with keen precision. This week, Lackawanna Trail brought a defense to the table that seemed capable of presenting some challenges.
Erby made that notion evaporate by halftime, guiding the Rollers to 29 points at the break against a defense that had not surrendered more than 21 points all season and was on a heater of five straight games surrendering six or fewer points.
The senior is showing how far he’s come in four years and playing another level that’s supremely impressive. He completed 21 of 26 passes for nearly 400 yards and four touchdowns. The Rollers had a pair of 100-yard receivers in this one in the form of Durrell Ceasar Jr. and Jaeion Perry. Plus, running back Ronald Burnette powered for 100-plus yards on the ground, including a 57-yard scamper in the second quarter that made it 22-0, and he nearly made it three Rollers with 100-plus receiving yards by kicking in 93 yards on four grabs.
This against a defense that nobody had shredded all season. The options and depth of weapons at Erby’s disposal are elite. His execution and understanding of how to make this offense lethal is uncanny and a testament to how far he’s progressed over four seasons.