By Adam C. Warner
The Empire State and the Garden State are already set for semifinal action this weekend, and in the Keystone State, some teams are vying for an elusive Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League title within their classification, while others are gunning for a district championship.
Binghamton Patriots (11-0) vs. Orchard Park Quakers (11-0), Nov. 22 at PAETEC Park: This Class AA semifinal matchup pits two undefeated powers together in what shapes up to be one of the best games of the year. The Patriots squeaked out a 28-20 win over Henninger last weekend but now face their toughest challenge of the season. Binghamton hasn't faced a team with a power rating over 70 and the Quakers enter at 97.00. Expect Patriots running back Jamar Smith to pound the ball early and often after last week's 306-yard performance. Meanwhile, the Quakers have a major playmaker as well in Jeff Tundo, who scampered for 210 yards and three touchdowns in last week's 34-12 win over Gates-Chili.
Monroe-Woodbury Crusaders (11-0) vs. New Rochelle Huguenots (10-1), Nov. 22 at Dietz Stadium: The Crusaders enter this AA semifinal game with some major momentum as the squad has reeled off 42 straight Section 9 victories and five consecutive Section 9 Class AA championships. Expect the team's balanced offense to put up some points behind back Chris Paolini, signal-caller Dan Scalo and Central Florida-bound kicker Jamie Boyle. On the other side, the Huguenots are coming off a sound 33-7 victory over La Salle Institute. In addition to having a capable offense, New Rochelle's defense has been devastating as of late, allowing just seven points in the last two games while limiting La Salle to just 102 yards of total offense.
Rye Garnets (11-0) vs. Hudson Falls Tigers (10-1), Nov. 22 at Dietz Stadium: Rye earned a spot in the state semifinals for the sixth straight year behind a dominating 35-6 win over a formidable Highland team last week. Expect the Garnets to feature a healthy dose of rushing behind Kyle Ramalho (115 yards and three touchdowns last week) mixed with a hard-hitting, ball-hawking defense. Hudson Falls running back Joe McMurry is a workhorse and will be key to igniting the Tiger offense. Last week, the senior rushed for 264 yards and three scores en route to his team's 54-20 mauling of Beekmantown.
Bath Haverling Rams (10-1) vs. Oneida Indians (10-1), Nov. 22 at PAETEC Park: The running back duo of Cody Hutcheson and Andre McCloud has played a key role in Bath Haverling's success in '08 and figures to do so again this weekend. The dynamic duo has made it difficult for any opposing defense to stop them. Their most recent victim was Lackawanna on Saturday as the two scampered for over 100 yards each. Meanwhile, while making their first-ever state playoff appearance, the Indians pose as a major challenge. Look for quarterback Ryan Kramer and wideout Brandon Miles to be headliners.
Other NYSPHSAA Semifinal Games:
Class C Semifinals
Saranac Lake vs. Croton-Harmon, Nov. 22 at Dietz Stadium
Elmire Notre Dame vs. Southwestern, Nov. 22 at Paetek Park
Class D Semifinals
Moriah vs. Tuckahoe, Nov. 21 at Dietz Stadium
Walton vs. Maple Grove, Nov. 21 at Paetek Park
Class A Semifinals
Burnt Hills vs. Nyack, Nov. 21 at Dietz Stadium
Corning West vs. Sweet Home, Nov. 21, Paetek Park
Non-Public Group IV Semifinals
No. 6 St. Peters Prep Marauders (7-2) vs. No. 2 Don Bosco Prep Ironmen (8-1), Nov. 21: The sixth-seeded Marauders pulled off a first round upset against No. 3 Red Bank last weekend to set up another postseason matchup with their archrival. Watch for quarterback Justin Perez to be a two-way threat for the Marauders and Greg Kohles and Sheldon Royster to be major playmakers on defense. Don Bosco enters the matchup after trouncing Paul VI, 65-6, last weekend behind five combined rushing scores from Dillon Romain and Tony Jones. You can count on the duo to have plenty of carries against St. Peter's in order to control the pace of the game.
No. 1 Bergen Catholic Crusaders (8-1) vs. No. 5 St. Augustine Prep Hermits (9-0), Nov. 22: Bergen Catholic faces an upstart St. Augustine squad this weekend in a tough non-public Group IV semifinal game. The Crusaders are flying high after stomping Seton Hall Prep last weekend, 36-14, behind a balanced attack. Rob Eckrote manages the offense well as quarterback, while John Mitchell, Doug Rigg and Anthony Marino will be his main targets. On the other side, the Hermits look to remain unbeaten and get to the state championship game with a win over their toughest foe yet. St. Augustine captured its first postseason win in 13 years last weekend over Notre Dame despite falling behind 14-0 in the first half.
District 6 Championship
Portage Area Mustangs (12-0) vs. Bishop McCort Crushers (11-0), Nov. 22: The Mustangs have blown teams away all season long thanks to their punishing and clock-consuming rushing attack, a unit that has averaged 350 yards per game. Portage won't surprise anyone with its rush-first philosophy, but quite simply, it works to perfection. Last week, the Mustangs rushed their way to the District 6 title game thanks to big days from Mike Sinosky and Tommy Burgan, who combined for 320 yards. Bishop McCort will have to shut down Portage's offense or else they will be running uphill all day. Quarterback Jack Schrey is a multi-threat option and will look to Dane Domonkos and Josh Seidel as options offensively to spark his side to a championship victory.
WPIAL Class A Final
Clairton Bears (12-0) vs. Monaca Indians (11-1), Nov. 22: Two defensive stalwarts meet face-to-face this weekend at Heinz Field for the WPIAL Class A Championship. Clairton proved last week that its second-ranked defense was up to the challenge against Rochester in a 16-0 victory, which was also the team's seventh shutout of the season. Monaca will have its work cut out for them. Clairton has allowed just 29 points in 12 games all season. RB Eddie Ball and QB Andrew Currington will lead the offense. Meanwhile, the Indians hope to break the trend and get back to the title game by implementing a balanced offensive attack behind running back Skyler Schultz and also Matt Bradford and Tony Reda, who have each taken snaps for Monaca since Brandon Gaydosh went down with an injury in week three.
WPIAL Class AA Final
Beaver Falls Tigers (12-0) vs. Aliquippa Quips (10-2), Nov. 22: Two rivals will battle it out on the gridiron this weekend for the WPIAL Class AA title at Heniz Field in Pittsburgh. The Tigers will look to establish their potent rushing offense headed by Cody Cook and Tony Omogrosso. Cook is comingoff a monser performance in the semifinals vs. Jeannette in which he tallied 313 yards on the ground and scored three times. If the Quips can limit the Tigers and get them off the field, they can certainly come away as victors. Aliquippa is certainly no stranger to the title game. This season marks the 19th time that the Quips will play for the WPIAL championship. RB Maurice Carter will be counted on to stretch the Tigers defense. The standout is coming off a three-touchdown performance in last week's 27-14 win over Shady Side.
District 4 Championship
Mount Carmel Tornadoes (12-0) vs. Montoursville Warriors (10-2), Nov. 21: Mt. Carmel is one step closer to a perfect season and will aim for the District 4 title this weekend, but perennial state power Montoursville will have a lot to say about that. Carmel's attack will likely feature quarterback Marcus Wasilewski and senior Matt Moroz. Moroz is on the heels of a three-touchdown performance in the semifinals. On the other side, Montoursville also brings in some momentum after steamrolling Athens, 42-7, last week. The Warriors will look to bring home their third district title in four years behind running backs Cody Haupt and Josh Cillo carrying the load on offense.
Berwick Area Bulldogs (10-2) vs. Wilson Warriors (12-0), Nov. 21: Opposing teams have known all season that Berwick features a stellar defensive unit capable of shutting down top teams. The Bulldogs drove the point home last weekend by coming away with a 3-0 victory in the District 2 championship. The Bulldogs will need a similar effort against undefeated Wilson this weekend in order to continue their season. Look for Brandon Welch and Ed Hoffman to be flying around the field. Meanwhile, Wilson notched its fourth shutout of the season in convincing style last week in a 34-0 win over Bangor. Warriors quarterback Tyler Smith will try to amplify the offense along with running backs A.J. Parker and Ray Mosby. Expect a close game between two heavyweights.
WPIAL Class AAA Final
Thomas Jefferson Jaguars (11-1) vs. Blackhawk Cougars (11-1), Nov. 22: Other than an out of state loss to Ohio juggernaut Glenville to start the season, the Jaguars have been downright lethal. The team's closest game came against Hopewell on Nov. 7, which was still a 35-16 trouncing. But the Jags should be wary this weekend in the WPIAL title game against Blackhawk (89.25 State Power Rating) at Heinz Field. Running back Brian Baldrige is by far the most potent weapon for the Jaguars and a must-contain player for Blackhawk. Baldrige ran for a career-high 382 yards and three scores last week to lead his team back to the title game. Meanwhile, Blackhawk will aim to counter with its big-play offense and physical defense. Quarterback Zack Hayward will look to continue his red-hot play as of late. The signal-caller threw for 236 yards and three scores last week. All the while, the Cougars haven't allowed more than 10 points since Oct. 10. Something will have to give this weekend.
District 11 Championship
Liberty Hurricanes (11-1) vs Freedom Patriots (10-2), Nov. 22: Two crosstown rivals meet once again, this time for a district championship. Emotions won't be any higher during this game, a true grudge match between two of the state's most talented teams. The Hurricanes are in the midst of an 11-game winning streak after dispatching Emmaus last week, 26-20. Look for Hurricanes quarterback Anthony Gonzalez to be the main catalyst for his side, both through the air and on the ground. Tailback Brandon Brader should provide Liberty with a second option against a daunting Freedom defense. The Patriots want nothing more than a victory over their arch-nemesis after falling to Liberty, 20-14, on Nov. 1. Running back Eduardo Mateo will attempt to drain the clock for his team and tire the Hurricanes defense early. Expect Ryan Tress to work some play action into the game to keep Liberty on its toes.
WPIAL Class AAAA Final
Gateway Gators (12-0) vs. Bethel Park (12-0), Nov. 22: While many prognosticators have penciled in Gateway to be WPIAL champs since August, an excellent Bethel Park team has emerged as a championship contender as well. Both teams are separated by just 1.21 points in the state power ratings, so expect this game to go down to the wire. Gateway is hoping to grab the title after falling to Pittsburgh Central Catholic last year in an overtime thriller. Gateway's formidable offensive attack features Brian Williams, Rob Kalkstein, Corey Brown and Dorian Bell, and it will take a giant performance to contain them. Meanwhile, Bethel Park plans on riding the coattails of standouts Erik Olson (QB) and Lyle Marsh (RB), who orchestrated a come-from-behind victory last week against McKeesport to land a spot in the finals at Heinz Field.
Catch Adam's regional breakdowns each week right here at FootballPower. You can reach him at email@example.com.