Central Valley caps undefeated season with PIAA Class 3A championship

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Friday, November 27, 2020 | 6:35 PM


HERSHEY — The second-half clock usually moves lightning quick for Central Valley games, but this time the Warriors insisted it felt excruciatingly slow.

Regardless, the celebration was worth the wait.

Working to hold a fourth-quarter lead, unlikely hero Brandon Graham made two late interceptions and Central Valley relied on its strong running game Friday night to defeat Wyomissing, 35-21, in the PIAA Class 3A football final at Hersheypark Stadium.

A year ago on the same field, Central Valley was heartbroken when its fourth-quarter lead vanished. This time, with a strong finish, the Warriors finally celebrated their first state title in team history.

“We left something here last year, and our guys said: ‘We’re not leaving. We refuse to leave this field until we get what we want,’” Central Valley coach Mark Lyons said. “And I think that fourth quarter showed it.”

This wasn’t a “mercy rule” win like their first 11 this season, but that didn’t matter at all.

Landon Alexander rushed for 120 yards and two touchdowns and Amarian Saunders scored twice on short runs for Central Valley (12-0), which trailed 14-7 at half. All four rushing touchdowns came in the second half.

“The main thing we wanted was a W,” Alexander said. “We could have won by a point, a field goal. We just wanted a W. That’s all that mattered.”

Central Valley held the ball for more than 8 minutes in the fourth quarter, taking its time on a pair of touchdown drives. The last was a 10-play, 66-yard drive that lasted nearly 5 minutes. The Warriors led 35-21 when Alexander crossed the goal line on a 4-yard run with 2:32 left.

Finally, painful memories from last year began to fade. The Warriors had held a 14-0 lead over Wyoming Area in the 2019 championship but allowed touchdowns on three consecutive fourth-quarter possessions.

There were some uncertain moments this time, like when Wyomissing returned a kickoff 75 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, cutting Central Valley’s lead to seven with 7 minutes left.

But the Warriors answered with the long touchdown drive.

“I don’t know where to start with the emotions that are going through me right now,” Lyons said. “I always thought it would be a great feeling, but I never could imagine how much of a great feeling.”

Central Valley also was the state runner-up in 2014.

The most unlikely fourth-quarter hero was Graham, a senior who wasn’t on the roster a year ago. He joined the team at the urging of his friends and became a starter last week after a teammate was injured.

About 7 minutes apart in the fourth quarter, Graham intercepted Wyomissing quarterback Zach Zechman twice.

“It feels amazing,” Graham said. “I know how hard those guys worked last year and they came up short. I’ve been close with all of them since I was young. They’re like family to me. It feels good.”

The fact that Wyomissing was throwing in the fourth quarter was a win for Central Valley. The District 3 champion uses a wing-T offense and likes to run the football, but was held to 116 yards on 46 carries.

Central Valley quarterback Ameer Dudley completed 5 of 11 passes for 93 yards and threw a 17-yard touchdown to Jayvin Thompson in the second quarter. But for the most part, the Warriors ran the football. They finished with 235 yards on 42 carries.

“It’s a bittersweet feeling,” Dudley said of the win. “High school football is over, but I don’t have to cry about it for the next week. I might cry on the way home, but I won’t cry talking about what I could have done and should have done.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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