Penn Hills, Manheim Central can call on 7-on-7 matchup for PIAA Class 5A final preparation

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Wednesday, December 5, 2018 | 7:57 PM


Manheim Central and Penn Hills, two supremely talented offenses, ran into one another in June during a seven-on-seven passing camp at Penn State.

The final score was close, Manheim Central coach Dave Hahn remembers, but he can’t say for sure who won that battle in shorts and T-shirts.

“It sticks out in my head that the score was 28-26 with the way they keep score, but I don’t know if they won or we won,” Hahn said. “All I know is that it was back and forth, back and forth.”

“I think we were able to pull that one out,” said Penn Hills quarterback Hollis Mathis, trying hard to remember back to the summer. “That was a fun game. It’s fun to think about how we’ve both gotten way better.”

There’s suddenly added interest because now, six months later, those two teams will rematch at 7 p.m. Friday in the PIAA Class 5A championship at Hersheypark Stadium. Both teams are undefeated. Penn Hills (15-0) is the WPIAL champion and Manheim Central (15-0) won District 3.

Their memories from summer faded, but they’ll always remember Hershey.

“The only thing they’re going to be talking about is who wins this one,” Hahn said.

Penn Hills seeks its second state title and its first since 1995 — the team’s only other appearance. Manheim Central won a state title in 2003 and was runner-up in 2004 and 2009.

“We all know that 7-on-7 doesn’t really mean very much,” said Mathis, a 2,605-yard passer. “The pads have to go on. That means somebody has to get hit.”

The two offenses are similar in that they’re both well-balanced.

Penn Hills balances Mathis with 1,728-yard rusher Terry “Tank” Smith. Manheim Central features junior quarterback Evan Simon, a 2,446-yard passer, and senior running back Tyler Flick, a 1,735-yard rusher. The Lancaster County team has averaged 42.6 points per game and once scored 63 this season.

“They do a little bit of everything, so it makes them hard to prepare for,” Penn Hills coach Jon LeDonne said. “They go into a spread (formation), they go into a two-back, a short-yardage with two tight ends and three backs. You can’t pick up keys for certain formations and plays.”

Style-wise, LeDonne compared Manheim Township somewhat to Peters Township.

Simon (6-3, 200) is the state’s top-ranked quarterback recruit for 2020, according to Rivals.com. He already holds scholarship offers from Pitt, West Virginia and a few other FBS schools.

Hahn has coached at Manheim Central for 24 seasons — the past four as head coach — and considered Simon among the program’s best all-time passers.

“He’s the total package,” Hahn said. “Really good arm strength, he’s got the size for a Division I quarterback and he has the speed as well to go with it.”

Simon averages 174.7 passing yards per game with 26 touchdowns and six interceptions. He ranks second on the team in carries (109) and rushing yards (613). He threw for 373 yards and five touchdowns two weeks ago in a 48-14 victory over Cocalico.

Simon spreads the ball to four receivers who all have between 17 and 30 receptions. He passed for 182 yards and two touchdowns last week to defeat Upper Dublin, 34-12.

“The key is getting pressure on them,” LeDonne said. “I don’t know if they’ve seen much physicality from the competition they’ve played.”

Flick (6-0, 195) has topped 100 rushing yards nine times this season. His season-best was a 10-carry, 237-yard, four-touchdown performance Oct. 26, a 57-14 victory over Solanco.

The running back was sidelined last season when Manheim Central lost to Gateway in the PIAA semifinals, a 31-28 defeat on a late field goal.

“Flick has been a gem for us this year,” Hahn said. “He’s a typical Baron running back: tough, hard-nosed. He’s the type of kid who would like to run through you, not around you.”

To reach the championship, Penn Hills defeated two-time defending state champion Archbishop Wood in the semifinals. Knowing what he saw in June, Hahn said he wasn’t surprised.

“I knew, although Archbishop Wood was a good team, that Penn Hills was good,” said Hahn, who kept tabs on the Indians from a distance. “You kind of follow them throughout the season. You see what’s going on in the WPIAL and see what teams are rising to the top.

“You kind of saw it coming,” he added. “They’re a good team. It doesn’t surprise me at all that they’re there.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.

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