PIAA football playoffs: 30 years in 30 days — Hopewell runs to title in ’02

By: HSSN Staff
Thursday, November 22, 2018 | 3:03 PM

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: 2002

The Site: Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey

The Champs: Parkland, Hopewell, Mt. Carmel, Southern Columbia

The Headline: Hopewell lone champ as Woody High, Seton LaSalle and Rochester all fall

The Lowdown: The WPIAL celebrated the 15-year anniversary of the PIAA football playoffs by sending all four of their champions to the state title game for the fifth time.

The total results though were not so golden.

Only Class AAA champion Hopewell ran home with a state crown while the other three reps lost big and small in Chocolate Town.

The Vikings pounded the pigskin all season long, so it was no surprise that when the postseason came, the ground attack picked up.

Hopewell completed only nine passes in the playoffs and did not complete one pass in the team’s final two games.

“This might be boring football to a lot of people,” Hopewell coach Dave Vestal said after the Vikings beat Strath Haven, 21-10. “But to our kids, it’s beautiful.”

Hopewell grounded out 304 yards rushing with senior and future Penn State and NFL linebacker Paul Posluszny leading the way with 167 yards on 31 carries. Fullback Mike Bruce racked up 118 yards on 17 carries.

On the flip side, Strath Haven, making its fourth straight trip to the state title game, had averaged more than 300 yards per game coming into the contest, but the Vikings defense held the Panthers to only 74 yards on the ground.

Down 3-0, Hopewell marched 67 yards on nine plays with Posluszny scoring on a 3-yard run.

In the second half, Bruce scored on third-quarter scoring runs of 6 and 4 yards to seal the deal on the Vikings’ only state football championship.

• In the Class A final, Southern Columbia found out the fourth time was a charm.

Meeting for the fourth time in five years, the Tigers finally beat Rochester after losses to the Rams in 1998, 2000 and 2001.

Southern Columbia quarterback Mark Wojtowicz was 13 of 26 passing for 182 yards with two touchdown passes and one scoring run.

Rochester was held to 57 yards rushing after averaging 243 yards on the ground coming into the game.

The Rams also turned the ball over three times in the first half and fell behind 21-0 at the break.

Jamaur Law caught a 31-yard touchdowns pass from Jeff Peternel-Gitts in the third quarter for the Rams’ lone score.

The loss ended Rochester’s 17-game postseason win streak after the Rams won PIAA crowns in 2000 and ‘01.

• Seton LaSalle used a high-powered offense and an outstanding passing attack led by Anthony Doria to win a district championship and make it to the state finals.

But a powerful “red” wind was blowing and sacked the Rebels’ hopes of a first state championship, 18-13.

Mt. Carmel sacked Doria nine times and kept the Seton LaSalle offense in check.

The Red Tornadoes led 6-0 at the half and upped it to 12-0 before the Rebels finally cracked the scoreboard.

Doria’s 1-yard run cut the Mt. Carmel lead to five.

Mt. Carmel increased its lead to 18-7 in the fourth quarter when the Rebels went on an eight-play, 80-yard drive, capped by a Doria to Joe DelSardo 27-yard scoring pass with 3:35 left in regulation.

After missing the 2-point conversion and coming up empty on the onside kick, the Seton LaSalle defense did stop Mt. Carmel on fourth-and-1 to get the ball back with just over one minute left.

After two incomplete passes, Doria was intercepted on third down and the Red Tornadoes celebrated their fifth state title and kept an amazing run of even year championships going with crowns in 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000 and now 2002.

Doria finished the day completing 18 of 31 passes for 196 yards and a touchdown.

• Woodland Hills took the field one win from helping the WPIAL sweep the state championships in 2001. The Wolverines lost to Neshaminy in the Class AAAA finals.

In 2002, a Woodland Hills win in the Class AAAA title game over Parkland would have earned District 7 a split.

Once again, the Wolverines fell short of a perfect record, losing to District 11 champion Parkland, 34-12.

The story of the game was Trojans senior Austin Scott, who rushed for 251 yards and scored five touchdowns.

For the season, the Penn State recruit ended up with 3,853 yards and scored 53 touchdowns.

After Scott scored on the first play of the game, a 61-yard scoring run, Woodland Hills settled down and took the lead.

In the second quarter, Dennis Sellman threw a 68-yard scoring pass to Justin Oliver to cut the Trojans’ lead to one. Then Ryan Mundy returned a punt 49 yards for a score to give the Wolverines a 12-7 lead.

It was all Parkland after that as they scored the game’s final 27 points.

Chris Morgan led Woodland Hills on the ground with 103 yards, but it was a tough night for Sellman, who completed 5 of 13 passes for 102 yards and was sacked 10 times. The Wolverines had 10 total yards in the second half.

Don Rebel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Don at [email protected] or via Twitter @TheDonRebel.

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