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Sunday Morning QB: Harrisburg’s defense up to the challenge; Trinity finding new ways to win and a look at the playoff picture

Down the stretch they come in the 2023 high school football season, and Harrisburg grabbed the Mid-Penn Conference spotlight in Week 8 with a stunning road victory.

The one-loss Cougars going on the road to State College and winning does not qualify as stunning. What makes the result coach Calvin Everett’s troops posted Friday night stunning was the manner in which it was accomplished.

Harrisburg dominated the Little Lions from start to finish in a 20-0 victory where the only close element of the game was the scoreboard.

Defensively, a week after getting run over and around by CD East’s ground game in a wire-job victory over the Panthers, the Cougars’ defense responded by pitching a shutout against an offense that came in averaging 42.1 points a game.

I’m becoming a bigger and bigger fan of Cougars quarterback Shawn Lee Jr. The lethal dual-threat signal caller’s game is reaching new levels with each passing week it seems this past month. Lee powered an offense that rolled up nearly 500 total yards, throwing for 193 yards and piling up an additional 153 on the ground.

Harrisburg is in the driver’s seat to add another Mid-Penn Commonwealth championship banner to its ledger with this victory. More lofty goals and aspirations for this team are legitimate, but stacking up the small victories like this one matters in that process.

Trinity’s defense stepping up for offense

It has been a grind for coach Jordan Hill and the Trinity Shamrocks since losing those back-to-back heartbreakers early in the season.

Star running back Messiah Mickens has been limited since suffering an injury in Week 3 against Wyomissing. The sophomore Penn State recruit continued to play most weeks, but it was clear he was operating in a massively limited capacity.

The rubber met the road this week, and the T-Rocks sat Mickens out for rival Camp Hill. Looking at the big picture, getting Mickens healthy is the only chance Trinity has of making a postseason run.

Because of all the noise surrounding the injury to Mickens and how it will impact Trinity, what’s been lost in that shuffle is what the Shamrocks’ defense is doing to help this team stack wins.

Friday night was another example of a wild finish for Trinity, its third game in eight weeks decided inside the final minute. And this time it was the Shamrocks who came out on top.

Camp Hill appeared to take the lead 15-14 on a two-point conversion with 44 seconds left, but it was flagged for ineligible man downfield on the play. Given a second chance, the Trinity defense went on the attack and Lions QB Drew Branstetter’s desperation heave under pressure into the end zone didn’t connect.

With an offense struggling to provide the balance coach Hill is looking for because of Mickens’ injury, this Trinity defense has been the workhorse —︱surrendering only 68 points the last five games. Allowing fewer than 14 points per game makes it more difficult to lose.

And remember the formula for postseason success in Pennsylvania is the ability to run the ball consistently for balance and have a defense that travels and can limit points on the board.

Resting Mickens as much as is needed down the stretch is a necessary and gutsy call by Hill. It’s clear, though, the bigger picture is what Hill has his eye on.

Susquehanna’s growth during season means division is in play

Susquehanna Township might have struggled out of the gate this season, but veteran coach Joe Headen’s gang is on fire right now. As I watched them a week ago, you could see the progress this team had made from even two weeks prior.

Northern had every right to be feeling frisky despite its 2-5 record when it welcomed the Indians to Bostic Field in Week 8. The Polar Bears knocked East Pennsboro from the ranks of the unbeaten last week.

The Indians made sure Northern didn’t have a chance to make it two upset victories in a row by dominating pretty much from start to finish in a 42-10 victory.

What is striking about where the Indians have come is they are playing complementary football. The offense has evolved into an explosive juggernaut, and defensively they are making it difficult to operate in tight spaces and force teams to be one dimensional.

And remember, the 6-2 Indians are nearly 8-0 with a pair of one-point setbacks on their ledger.

Winning the Colonial Division outright is now possible for two reasons. First, the Polar Bears helped the cause by knocking off East Pennsboro; and second, the Indians will welcome the Panthers to Roscoe Warner Field for a Week 9 winner-take-all game.

District 3 playoffs: Where Mid-Penn contenders stand

With the postseason only two weeks away, time to dig into the District 3 Power Rankings and see what it looks like for the Mid-Penn Conference.

As of today, the Mid-Penn would have almost half of its 32 members — 15 across the six PIAA classifications — receive an invitation to the postseason party. That’s an impressive number in my book.

Three of those — Steel-High, West Perry and Bishop McDevitt — are currently No. 1 seeds. McDevitt and Steel-High are no surprise, but the unbeaten Mustangs checking in as the Class 3A No. 1 seed is unexpected.

There are a few bubble teams to keep an eye on in the next couple weeks. Big Spring is just outside of the Class 4A cut line at No. 11 with a 4-4 record. The Bulldogs probably need to win out to assure receiving an invitation.

Lower Dauphin is just inside the Class 5A cut line at No. 10 but has dropped back-to-back games and is trending in the wrong direction. One win for the Falcons might be enough, but it’s a dicey proposition. Gettysburg is the first team out in Class 5A and most likely needs two wins to make it. And the Warriors still have to play previously mentioned Susquehanna Township.

Cumberland Valley, despite all its struggles offensively this season, has found more offense the last couple weeks and currently sits at No. 8, the final spot, in Class 6A. If the Eagles make the postseason — CV plays State College and Altoona to close out the regular season — it would be a monumental accomplishment for coach Josh Oswalt’s young squad.

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