A year ago, Bill O'Brien and his staff invaded HersheyPark Stadium to take in the action, marking the first time O'Brien was able to attend a PIAA finals weekend as head coach of the Lions. The Lions figure to be well represented at the Concrete Jungle again this year.
The action begins Friday at 1 p.m. with the A title game and concludes with Saturday night's AAAA clash. All games are scheduled for the turf field at HersheyPark Stadium, and will be carried statewide by the Pennsylvania Cable Network. We take you through the who's-who of players and teams in FightOnState.com's PIAA finals preview.
Class A: District 2 Old Forge (14-1) vs. District 7 North Catholic (15-0), 1 p.m.
A year ago, Clairton and Dunmore provided FBS talent to check out, which isn't necessarily the case this year. But make no mistake: there will be plenty to watch.
It starts with Old Forge, who has an offensive guard in Ryan Paulish who was a frequent visitor to the Beaver Stadium sidelines in 2013. The 6-foot-4, 290-pound senior may have the opportunity to walk-on at Penn State, but is likely to go the FCS route as Colgate, among others, has offered. On the other side, Class of 2015 athlete P.J. Fulmore has received interest from the Lions following an Advanced Skill Camp last June. He'll line up under center after taking over the quarterback reigns mid-season.
Both programs have, for the most part, steamed through their competition over the course of the season and playoffs, and it's hard to argue that the two best A teams aren't meeting in Chocolatetown.
The Pick: Both programs are making their first state title game appearance. While District 2 hasn't had a state title winner since 1989, we'll give Old Forge the nod here, 17-10.
Class AAA: District 3 Bishop McDevitt (14-1) vs. District 12 Archbishop Wood (12-2), 7 p.m.
The game generating the most buzz from the high school football community and pundits alike comes Friday night, where the Crusaders and Vikings will do battle as two of the most powerful teams in the state.
Bishop McDevitt will make the short drive to Hershey after it avenged a 2012 semifinals loss to Erie Cathedral Prep last week. Wood heads to Hershey fresh off a dominating 42-14 win over Berwick. Fittingly, both programs have a host of FBS recruits worth keeping an eye on.
Starting with the Crusaders, head coach Jeff Weachter's offense runs, literally, on the strength of junior running back Andre Robinson, who counts Penn State, Rutgers, Maryland, Northwestern and Pittsburgh among a host of suitors. The junior has amassed 2,276 yards and 29 touchdowns to date, but is far from the only recruit the Crusaders have to offer, as Class of 2016 receiver Kobay White has turned plenty of heads, including Penn State's. He's joined by tackle Anthony Long and defensive back Joe Joe Headen as prospects from the school who have visited University Park at one time or another.
For Wood, the duo of offensive tackle Ryan Bates and interior linebacker Jake Cooper headlines coach Steve Devlin's group. State is right in the mix for Bates' services, as the junior has visited PSU four times throughout his recruitment, has an offer, and has long reported the Lions in his top group with South Carolina. Cooper, meanwhile, has been in State's crosshairs for some time, but it has yet to extend a verbal offer. Duke, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Temple have, though. The Vikings have an intriguing athlete in Class of 2015 prospect Jarrett McClenton, who Penn State has also looked into. Devlin also has Class of 2014 offensive lineman Deion Oliver and defensive end Chris Gary, but both are drawing mostly FCS interest. Class of 2016 quarterback Tom Garlick is a name to file away in the memory bank, as well.
The Pick: Many, including this writer, did not pick Bishop McDevitt to topple Prep last week. While it may be tempting fate, Wood has demolished nearly everyone it has faced. The Crusaders should offer a stiff test, but the pick is Archbishop Wood 35, Bishop McDevitt 28.
Class AA: District 12 Imhotep Charter (12-2) vs. District 7 South Fayette 15-0, Noon
Saturday's opening matchup packs the potential to be the highest scoring game of the weekend. The three inches of snow expected for the mid-state area Saturday could impact that, though.
South Fayette rides to Hershey on the arm of junior quarterback Brett Brumbaugh, who Penn State receivers coach Stan Hixon visited during the end-of-season evaluation period. He's the only current FBS prospect for the Lions, and began his recruitment with offers from Akron and Temple. That said, the key to victory for the District 7 champs may be its run game, as Imhotep absolutely has the athletes to play man coverage in the passing game Saturday.
The Panthers no longer have the services of stan-out running back David Williams (he's now at South Carolina), but corner DeAndre Scott has followed in his FBS footsteps as a lock-down corner, as has lineman Aaron Ruff. Scott will head to Arizona State to continue his college career, and Ruff to Temple, but Imhotep has some underclassmen ready to pick up the slack. One is four-star junior running back Nas Bonner, a 5-foot-10, 180-pound speedster who claims offers from Connecticut, Indiana, UMass, Rutgers, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Another is 6-foot, 180-pound receiver D.J. Moore, who has yet to gain his first offer but is starting to get noticed.
The Pick: Brumbaugh needs just 116 yards to break the WPIAL single-season record, and we expect him to get it (and more) Saturday afternoon. The Lions are also familiar to the big stage, having reached the title game in 2010. But we'll take Imhotep and Scott to keep him off balance and make a few big plays of its own. Imhotep Charter 27, South Fayette 21
Class AAAA: District 7 Pittsburgh Central Catholic (15-0) vs. District 12 St. Joe's Prep (11-3), 6 p.m.
If the snow falls as it is expected to in Hershey this weekend, it should have fully blanketed the carpet by the time this one kicks off. But will it cool down Central Catholic's J.J. Cosentino?
The Florida State commit and Vikings signal caller has thrown for 771 yards and 13 touchdowns, guiding Central Catholic to a spot in Scout's high school top 50. It checks in at No. 22, jumping 15 spots after toppling District 3 foe Lower Dauphin 45-0 in last week's semifinal.
Cosentino will be tested by St. Joe's Class of 2015 corner John Reid, who has serious Penn State interest, and double digits offers from the likes of Big Ten champ Michigan State, Miami, Notre Dame and the Lions. The four-star prospect is joined by junior offensive tackle John Runyan Jr. — the son of the former Philadelphia Eagles lineman — who is committed to Michigan. Athlete Olamide Zaccacheus is another junior to watch.
The Pick: Simply put, this one comes down to keeping Central Catholic's fine-tuned offense off the field if St. Joe's is to have a shot. The weekend closes with Central Catholic taking the gold, 35-21.