EXPLAINING OUR PICKS: The 4th Down Magazine crew picks all games involving Mid-Penn Conference teams, as well as Schuylkill-Colonial League games featuring former members of the now-defunct Twin Valley Conference. Now that we’re into the state semifinals, our pickers have gotten really bold and are predicting all the games. The predictions are meant for entertainment purposes only because, truth be told, these guys aren’t very bright. Three of them are former full-time sportswriters (dummies), and the other decided to start a high school football magazine despite the fact he already works a full-time job. But, dangit, they like to watch football, think about football, write about football, and eat. That last one isn’t related to picking football games unless you count the mustard on the keyboard. As always, enjoy, and don’t take it too seriously. Nobody here hates any program. Any perceived disrespect is a figment of your imagination. Except Sandrik, who absolutely DESPISES … (transmission interrupted) …
2022 STANDINGS AFTER WEEK 15Picker: Week 15 – Overall – Perfect Picks
Adam Kulikowski: 8-4 — 230-73 — 0
Andy Shay: 8-4 — 226-77 — 2
Andy Sandrik: 7-5 — 223-80 — 1
Geoff Morrow: 8-4 — 223-80 — 1
WEEK 5 PLAYOFF SCHEDULE
* Records in parentheses after school name; District and seed in parentheses before school name.
Friday, Dec. 2
PIAA CLASS 5A SEMIFINALS
Imhotep Charter 21, Upper Dublin 14
Andy Shay: Imhotep Charter 20, Upper Dublin 14: If you like defense in your high school football, then this is the game for you. From my chair, the speed of Imhotep on the defensive side of the ball tips the scale in this one.
Geoff Morrow: Imhotep Charter 21, Upper Dublin 7: The Imhotep defense should be called “Point Blank,” because it pretty much blanks teams and prevents them from scoring points. The Philly charter school has done it again and again and again and hasn’t surrendered more than a TD in a game since Sept. 16. Upper Dub is the only unbeaten team in 5A and has a D1 QB, but the Cardinals are also 0-3 all time in the PIAA semifinals.
Andy Sandrik: Imhotep Charter 27, Upper Dublin 14: A few minutes ago, I was looking online to jog my memory on which team it was that defeated Bishop McDevitt. It was these Panthers from Imhotep Charter. I think I’ll take them here then.
Adam Kulikowski: Imhotep Charter 33, Upper Dublin 27: While Imhotep’s defense draws plenty of attention – and for good reason – junior QB1 Mikal Davis has the Panthers’ offense humming along just fine. His steady hand racked up 1,600 passing yards and 18 TDs against just six picks.
Pine-Richland 34, Cocalico 12
Andy Shay: Pine-Richland 22, Cocalico 20: Two teams on an absolute tear since taking some early season hits. The quality of the Rams’ schedule and the opponents they have upended to get here has to be a factor at this level, right? The Eagles will have a say, though.
Geoff Morrow: Pine-Richland 38, Cocalico 23: If you would have asked back in September, and somebody told you these two teams would meet in the state semifinals, you’d be mocked. But the Rams and Eagles are proof slow starts don’t equal mediocre seasons. Difference for me is playoff experience, as P-R has two state titles (2017 and 2020) and multiple other deep runs, while Cocalico hasn’t won a state playoff game since 1994.
Andy Sandrik: Cocalico 23, Pine-Richland 20: If the playoffs went according to district seeding, Cocalico would already be a month deep into its offseason lifting program. But the Eagles just keep winning. Win or lose, they’ll be talking about this team in Denver for decades to come.
Adam Kulikowski: Pine-Richland 27, Cocalico 20: If the storybook season ends here for Cocalico, consider this the tip of a cap on a historic circuit.
PIAA CLASS 4A SEMIFINALS
Bishop McDevitt 35, Crestwood 0
Andy Shay: Bishop McDevitt 42, Crestwood 14: The Comets’ offense has produced just five touchdowns in the last eight quarters. That won’t be enough to keep pace in this game against a defense that has found another level and offense laden with quick-strike weapons.
Geoff Morrow: Bishop McDevitt 35, Crestwood 10: While the Comets have been opportunistic in the playoffs, living on the edge isn’t the safest place to be. Their best hope here is McDevitt, which hasn’t really been tested since losing to Imhotep Charter in Week 1 and is just 4-12 over its last 16 PIAA playoff games, comes out flat and allows the Mountain Top school to build confidence. No matter what, for a Crestwood program that has never won a state playoff game, it’s a tough “mountain” to climb.
Andy Sandrik: Bishop McDevitt 38, Crestwood 18: This is the state semifinals. Every team is good. So why do I feel like I’m shorting the McDevitt defense by predicting they’ll allow 18 points?
Adam Kulikowski: Bishop McDevitt 55, Crestwood 13: It is still amazing to me just how smooth the road has been for the Crusaders at this point. The talent and depth of this roster is just a sight to see … and you will for another week because the Crusaders should have an opportunity to hoist that coveted state championship trophy next week.
Aliquippa 31, Allentown Central Catholic 10
Andy Shay: Aliquippa 40, Allentown Central Catholic 7: Too big, too strong and too fast on the edges on both sides of the ball. Aliquippa is a complete beast, and the Vikings aren’t built to stand up to this very tall task over 48 minutes.
Geoff Morrow: Aliquippa 41, Allentown Central Catholic 21: There are similarities here. For example, both feature balanced offenses that can beat you multiple ways. And, even stranger, both entered this season with identical 16-7 PIAA playoff records. However, the Quips are defending champs and on a different level, while the Vikings last tasted state playoff success a decade ago. Tough to pick against the Quippin’ crew.
Andy Sandrik: Aliquippa 38, Allentown Central Catholic 13: The good news for the five-loss Vikings is there is absolutely zero pressure on their shoulders. The bad news is they have to play Aliquippa.
Adam Kulikowski: Aliquippa 45, Allentown Central Catholic 10: When you’re a multiple-score underdog as ACC is, you pull out all the stops to steal possessions and cause disruptions. Just hard to see a path that swings the tide enough to knock off the Quips.
PIAA CLASS 3A SEMIFINALS
Belle Vernon 21, Central Martinsburg 17
Andy Shay: Belle Vernon 27, Central Martinsburg 21: Vastly different approaches in this one offensively. Belle Vernon will look to pound it on the ground, and Central has a stud do-everything QB on whom to lean. Taking the ground game in this one.
Geoff Morrow: Central Martinsburg 28, Belle Vernon 21: No matter what, one of these teams is reaching its first PIAA championship game. While the District 7 champ Leopards, who are into the state playoffs for the first time since 1995, have been absolutely hammering foes since a 1-2 start, I like the Dragons here. Why? They lost by two scores to Penn Cambria in Week 3, then turned the tables with a 35-6 takedown of the same team in the playoffs. That’s the sign of a rock-solid turnaround.
Andy Sandrik: Belle Vernon 28, Central Martinsburg 20: As long as Quinton Martin is on the field, Belle Vernon has a good shot to advance. The junior is a blur to tackle in the running game, can catch passes and is a big threat in the return game.
Adam Kulikowski: Belle Vernon 24, Central Martinsburg 17: Nothing pairs better in the playoffs than a lockdown defense and a strong running attack. Belle Vernon possesses both.
PIAA CLASS 2A SEMIFINALS
Southern Columbia 42, Trinity 7
Andy Shay: Trinity 31, Southern Columbia 28: Really, really hard to pick against the Tigers at this level. They just line ‘em up and knock ‘em down in the state playoffs. T-Rocks have played at this competition level a few times already in 2022. As long as the stage doesn’t overwhelm them, I’m putting my “homer” glasses on and riding the wave.
Geoff Morrow: Southern Columbia 34, Trinity 20: I was very tempted to take the upstart Shamrocks, but history won’t allow me to do so. The Tigers have won 16 straight PIAA playoff games, are 59-16 overall in the state playoffs with 12 championships, and they’ve really turned up the volume after an almost human-like regular season. Trinity is having an outstanding season, arguably its best in school history, but it will need top-notch performances from offense, defense and special teams to reach the title game.
Andy Sandrik: Southern Columbia 33, Trinity 27: The only thing on this pick ‘em panel separating me from first place is my consistent inability to properly size up the Shamrocks. I do, however, know how to pick Southern Columbia games.
Adam Kulikowski: Southern Columbia 33, Trinity 31: I see paths to victory for both teams. At this point in the season, everyone on the field belongs. Some say the Tigers aren’t what they’ve been over the past several years. Yet here they are one step away from another state title bout.
Westinghouse 26, Steel Valley 7
Andy Shay: Steel Valley 36, Westinghouse 20: Any team that averages nearly 400 yards a game against a quality schedule always tickles my “pick a winner” ivory. The Ironmen have a larger stable of weapons, and I’m counting on that to be on full display.
Geoff Morrow: Steel Valley 38, Westinghouse 35: Not only are these the only unbeaten teams left in 3A, but here’s a wild stat: The Bulldogs have scored at least five touchdowns in every game, and the Ironmen have scored at least four touchdowns in every game. Neither side has a ton of playoff history, but SV does have a 2016 state championship to its name. Westinghouse, meanwhile, is aiming to become the first Pittsburgh City League team to reach the title game since 1997.
Andy Sandrik: Steel Valley 32, Westinghouse 24: The last time we heard about Westinghouse in Mid-Penn country, the Bulldogs were coming off a 39-18 pasting over Steel-High in Week 2. So we know Westinghouse belongs here, but can it hold serve against the mighty Ironmen?
Adam Kulikowski: Steel Valley 41, Westinghouse 17: Fun fact: Steel Valley’s rushing attack sports five gents who are averaging at least 10 yards per carry, including senior RB1 Cruce Brookins whose back-of-the-trading-card stat line includes 13.2 yards per carry, 1,625 yards rushing and 33 TDs.
PIAA CLASS 1A SEMIFINALS
Steelton-Highspire 28, Canton 21
Andy Shay: Steel-High 39, Canton 34: As you can tell, I fully expect to see plenty of points. Canton has a path to victory in this game through its defense, but the Rollers are more balanced than you think and find a way for those weapons to strike at the right time.
Geoff Morrow: Canton 30, Steel-High 28: The Warriors enter as the No. 1 team in Eric Epler’s Class 1A state rankings and have the confidence of knocking the then-defending champ Rollers from last year’s postseason. But Canton has never reached a title game, let alone won one, so getting over this hump will require a big psychological step. The explosive, three-time PIAA champion Rollers will be really fired up, but like some of my mates here, I expect this will come down to the final moments.
Andy Sandrik: Steel-High 41, Canton 33: Steel-High would love to win this by about a million points over the Warriors, who jettisoned the Rollers from the state playoffs last season. Something tells me, though, that this game could come down to the final play.
Adam Kulikowski: Steel-High 35, Canton 21: Rollers enter this one ready for the redemption tour. That doesn’t mean it will be easy, however. The Warriors have yielded more than 14 points just twice all season en route to a 12-1 record.
Union Area 46, Port Allegany 36
Andy Shay: Union Area 27, Port Allegany 20: The Scotties have roughed up and dropped a few games and found a way to win plenty of tight squeezes. The Gators bring plenty of offensive firepower to the table, but have they seen a defense at this level? If Port solves the Union defense early, they will take this one.
Geoff Morrow: Union Area 24, Port Allegany 21: No disrespect meant, but I think the general feeling is whoever wins this game will be underdogs next week against the winner of the other semifinal. That said, there’s plenty of fight here. The Scotties opened eyes last week with a shutout of favored Bishop Canevin, earning them their first WPIAL title and first PIAA playoff game. The Gators are a veteran bunch whose last and only playoff win came a decade ago. Could be a lot of fun.
Andy Sandrik: Port Allegany 27, Union Area 23: When I look over this Gators roster, I’m not seeing any superstars. And I mean that as a compliment. Port Allegany has gotten this far with balanced team play, and if it advances to the big game, it will be for that reason.
Adam Kulikowski: Port Allegany 31, Union Area 28: If there’s a play to be made late to preserve a Port Allegany victory, you can bet Blaine Moses will be in the action. Moses ate up opponents all season, registering more than twice as many tackles as any other Gator (132-63).
Saturday, Dec. 3
PIAA CLASS 6A SEMIFINALS
St. Joseph’s Prep 48, Garnet Valley 7
Andy Shay: St. Joseph’s Prep 27, Garnet Valley 24: Do I think Garnet Valley can win this game? I 100% can see the Jaguars knocking off SJP. I’m just not prepared to pick against the Hawks until somebody beats them in one of these games.
Geoff Morrow: St. Joseph’s Prep 42, Garnet Valley 30: The Hawks, who are now 23-2 all-time in PIAA playoff games with six state titles, won this matchup easily when they met in the same spot last year. However, the District 1 champ Jaguars are better than they were in 2021 and have really rallied around each other after the recent death of a beloved teammate, Bryson Hall. A win would still qualify as a monumental upset, but don’t be surprised if this is close deep into the fourth quarter.
Andy Sandrik: Garnet Valley 21, St. Joseph’s Prep 20: Never underestimate the very real energy that comes from a team fighting for a fallen teammate. There’s no doubt GV’s players will have No. 88, Bryson Hall, on their minds when they take the field against perennial PIAA contender St. Joseph’s Prep.
Adam Kulikowski: St. Joseph’s Prep 24, Garnet Valley 21: This time of year, experience in the biggest of games matters. Not sure there’s another team that better fits that edge than St. Joseph’s, whose gents have tasted PIAA’s finest moments seemingly since they could walk.
Harrisburg 27, State College 7
Andy Shay: State College 20, Harrisburg 14: Twice in a row, the Little Lions have traveled to the Cougars’ den on Market Street and came out victorious. I know the Harrisburg defense is in full lockdown mode, and the revenge tour is alive and kicking for the Cougars. State College has earned a chalk call. My expectation is a defensive battle.
Geoff Morrow: Harrisburg 19, State College 17: Since 2008, neither of these Mid-Penn Commonwealth rivals has won more than two games straight in the series. Guess what? The Little Lions have won the last two meetings, including last year’s state playoffs and this year’s regular-season game in Harrisburg. Cougars won’t allow State High to make it three in a row. It’s science (and defense).
Andy Sandrik: Harrisburg 30, State College 24: We have two Commonwealth Division teams scrapping for a berth in the state title game. My body is covered in goosebumps as I type. My gut instinct is telling me to trust the Harrisburg defense, which showed no mercy against Manheim Township last week.
Adam Kulikowski: State College 28, Harrisburg 27: Bruising force Malichi Hopkins left last week’s game early due to injury. His availability – or lack thereof – makes a huge difference in this one.
PIAA CLASS 3A SEMIFINALS
Neumann-Goretti 20, Wyomissing 17
Andy Shay: Wyomissing 28, Neumann-Goretti 14: How can you not trust the Spartans to be the methodical machine of a football team they have proven they are all season? Neumann-Goretti will ask some interesting questions of this Wyomissing team, but it’s earned the trust to find a way to answer them.
Geoff Morrow: Wyomissing 42, Neumann-Goretti 14: Like many, I thought last week’s Wyo vs. Danville game was the unofficial 2A state championship. And the Spartans escaped with a 21-19 triumph. Now they meet a team they beat 42-6 in last year’s semifinals. The Saints can make it closer this time around, but it’s a tall order to knock off the Berks County powerhouse.
Andy Sandrik: Wyomissing 21, Neumann-Goretti 20: Wyomissing would be wise to keep an eye on Shawn Battle, who had four TDs, including a pick-6, in last week’s blowout over Northwestern Lehigh.
Adam Kulikowski: Wyomissing 37, Neumann-Goretti 17: Spartans have given absolutely no reason to think that they will not continue to churn out the impeccable production they have all season on Saturday. Until proven otherwise, toss me a ticket on Wyo.