PIAA football playoffs: 30 years in 30 days — Central, TJ, Jeannette all claim gold in ’07
By: Don Rebel
Saturday, December 1, 2018 | 9:45 AM
The PIAA had been hosting state playoffs in all but one fall high school sport since 1976. Soccer, volleyball, tennis, golf, cross country and field hockey all crowned state champions once the district playoffs concluded.
The lone exception to the fall state playoff slate was high school football.
It wasn’t until 1988 when PIAA officials finally pulled the trigger on the idea of having a yearly state football playoff.
From George Novak and Woodland Hills losing in a mud pit to Bob Palko and West Allegheny finding the third time really was the charm to Neil Walker and Pine-Richland competing in a heartbreaking overtime loss in a snowstorm and to Tyler Boyd and the golden Bears of Clairton winning four straight state championships.
There have been a lot of thrills and heartbreak in three decades of state championship football. Leading up to the 2018 state finals, the TribLIVE High School Sports Network will look back at how WPIAL teams have fared in the PIAA championships with 30 years in 30 days.
The Year: 2007
The Site: Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey
The Champs: Central Catholic, Thomas Jefferson, Jeannette, Steelton-Highspire
The Headline: Central Catholic, Thomas Jefferson, Jeannette roll to gold, Serra silver
The Lowdown: The year 2007 was the calm before the storm in a couple of ways in the PIAA football landscape. It would be the last state finals without Clairton for the next half decade, and it was the last postseason before the Philadelphia Public and Catholic Leagues started to make their mark in a big way.
Central Catholic wrapped up a nearly perfect weekend for the WPIAL with the school’s third state championship and second in four years in a 21-0 shutout of Parkland.
It was the first of two PIAA crowns (2015) for then-first-year Vikings head coach Terry Totten.
Central Catholic jumped out to a 14-0 first-half lead thanks to the passing of Pitt recruit Tino Sunseri, who hit on 8 of 10 passes for 121 yards in the first half.
One of those passes was a 3-yard scoring completion to Brian Friend on the Vikings’ opening drive. Friend ended up with seven catches for 104 yards for the game.
Late in the second quarter, Andrew Taglianetti scored on a 12-yard run that capped of a quick 85-yard, five-play drive.
Jeff Knox was the leading rusher for Central Catholic with 118 yards on 15 carries, although 75 of them came on the game’s final score.
The Vikings finished the season a perfect 16-0 and capped it off with a tremendous defensive performance in which they held the District 11 champion Trojans to only 101 rushing yards.
• On a bitter cold night in the PIAA Class AAA title game, Thomas Jefferson coach Bill Cherpak did something uncharacteristic of him. No, he was still wearing shorts, but he was dialing up a passing attack instead of the normal ground game, and it led the Jaguars to a second state title in four years.
After moving to quarterback in the final game of the regular season, Thomas Jefferson’s Zach DeCicco threw 51 passes in six games for the run-oriented Jaguars.
But TJ opened things up in the finals against District 1 champion Garnet Valley, and it paid off handsomely. DeCicco ended up hitting on 10 of 17 passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns.
“We thought we could take advantage of some things they were doing on defense,” Cherpak said afterward. “But, to be honest, a lot of those pass plays were Zach making calls at the line.”
Nate Bota of Thomas Jefferson led all rushers with 143 yards on 10 carries and got the scoring started with a 23-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
After a field goal cut the Jaguars lead to 7-3, Thomas Jefferson struck late in the half when DeCicco hit Trevor Wildman on a 20-yard touchdown pass with 33 seconds left in the first half.
The Jaguars scored twice in the fourth quarter when Zach found his younger brother Brock DeCicco on a 15-yard scoring pass, and then Zach DeCicco scored on a 10-yard run.
Thomas Jefferson, which finished a perfect 16-0, racked up 468 total yards on offense while limiting Garnet Valley to 206 yards.
The 28-3 victory in 2007 was the first of back-to-back state crowns for the Jaguars, who beat Archbishop Wood in the 2008 finals.
• The Terrelle Pryor experience ended as it should have. The Jeannette standout closed out his career with WPIAL and PIAA gold after the Jayhawks destroyed Dunmore, 49-21, in the Class AA finals.
On the statewide stage, the Ohio State recruit and future NFL quarterback and wide receiver ran wild on the Bucks.
After both teams scored in the first quarter, Pryor scored on a 2-yard run with 87 seconds left in the first quarter to give Jeannette the lead for good at 13-7.
The Jayhawks turned a back-and-forth first quarter into a good, old fashioned rout by outscoring District 2 champion Dunmore, 22-0, in the second quarter.
The exclamation point on a big first half was a Jordan Hall 28-yard pass to Pryor as the Jayhawks rolled to a 35-7 lead at the break.
Pryor scored on two long touchdown runs of 49 yards in the third quarter and 41 yards in the fourth quarter to close out the Jayhawks scoring.
One of the most celebrated WPIAL careers ended with Pryor rushing for 209 yards on only 12 carries. He was also 3 of 4 passing for 83 yards and a touchdown.
“I just wanted to leave a landmark,” Pryor proclaimed afterward, “and I left a landmark on Hershey, I think.”
Hall rushed for 128 yards and a score, had 37 yards receiving and a touchdown, threw for 28 yards and a score and returned a punt 65 yards to pay dirt.
• The lone silver lining was in the Class A finals where Serra Catholic fell to Steelton-Highspire, 34-15.
Junior Jeremiah Young rushed for 292 yards and scored four touchdowns as the Steamrollers lived up to their name, winning the first of back-to-back state championships. Steelton-Highspire beat Clairton in the 2008 finals.
The Steamrollers jumped out to a 20-0 lead before Eagles quarterback T.J. Heatherington scored on a 30-yard run.
The next time Serra Catholic scored was just under four minutes left in the fourth quarter with the Eagles down 34-7 on a Chris Loving 10-yard run.
Only 14 passes were thrown by both teams on a blustery day for a combined 72 yards.
While Young was running wild for Steelton-Highspire, Isaiah Jackson led Serra Catholic with 67 yards. Loving rushed for 54 yards and a touchdown in the Eagles’ only PIAA football title game.
Don Rebel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Don at email@example.com or via Twitter @TheDonRebel.