PIAA football playoffs: 30 years in 30 days — McKeesport, Franklin Regional, South Park celebrate titles in ’05
By: Don Rebel
Monday, December 3, 2018 | 12:08 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: 2005
The Site: Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey
The Champs: McKeesport, Franklin Regional, South Park, Southern Columbia
The Headline: McKeesport, Franklin Regional and South Park state champs, but Duquesne thumped in Class A
The Lowdown: For the third time in five years, all four WPIAL football champions advanced to the state title game. For the second time in that same span, District 7 could brag about three state champs and one runner-up.
Eleven years after winning WPIAL and PIAA titles in 1994, McKeesport pulled off the golden twin titles again with a dominating performance against District 11 champion Liberty.
The game didn’t start well for the Tigers. An early turnover led to a short field and an early touchdown for Liberty.
Before getting hurt in the second quarter and sitting out the rest of the game, Travis McBride came up big on defense for McKeesport with a 56-yard pick-6 to tie the game.
Then, after the Tigers’ kickoff and in a span of three plays, McKeesport took the lead for good. Kamryn Keys intercepted a Hurricanes pass, and two plays later, Tigers quarterback Dan Kopolovich raced 45 yards for a touchdown.
McKeesport blew the game open in the second quarter on scoring runs by Kopolovich from 1-yard out and Aaron Coleman from 9 yards to go along with a Kopolocich to Anthony Becoate 30-yard scoring strike to make it 35-7 at the half.
In the third quarter, Kopolovich and Warren Waite both scored on 17-yard touchdown runs as the mercy rule kicked in on the way to a 49-10 triumph for McKeesport.
The Tigers flex-bone offense churned out 384 yards on the ground, with Kosonovich leading the way with 148 yards on 19 carries and three touchdown jaunts. Waite ran for 105 yards on 10 carries and a score.
• A few weeks after stunning Thomas Jefferson to win the WPIAL Class AAA title, Franklin Regional was at it again as the Panthers closed out a remarkable postseason run with a 23-13 victory over Pottsville.
What made the Panthers’ run to state gold so incredible is the obstacles they overcame.
In the WPIAL finals, starting quarterback Brad Phillips was hurt but reserve signal caller Lenny Gallo stepped right in and played well in leading Franklin Regional past defending state champ Thomas Jefferson.
Then, early in the game against Pottsville, star running back Robby Armstrong went down with a knee injury.
No problem for the Panthers as they seemed to thrive on the next-man-up mentality.
“All year long, it’s just been someone else stepping up on this team,” Franklin Regional coach Greg Botta preached after the game. “The sign of a good team is character and resolve.”
Armstrong had rushed for 2,224 yards, but when he left, Lee Howatneck led the way for Franklin Regional with 99 yards on 19 carries. Gallo continued his sparkling play with 72 yards on 14 carries.
Franklin Regional dominated the first half, putting up 202 yards of total offense while holding Pottsville to 35 total yards.
The Panthers scored two touchdowns and kicked two field goals to lead 20-0 after two quarters. Gallo scored on an 11-yard run and receiver Mike Schilling scored on a 15-yard double-reverse scoring run.
After the Crimson Tide scored to cut the Panthers’ lead to 13, Franklin Regional kicker Glen Halperin booted his then-title game record third field goal to extend the lead to 23-7.
Pottsville scored one more time and had other charges, but the Franklin Regional defense was stout when it needed to be late in the game.
That Panthers defense limited the Crimson Tide run game to 24 yards on 27 carries and a total of 107 yards total offense for the game.
• After a slow start, South Park picked it up in the second half for a perfect ending to a 16-0 season with a 28-17 win over Wilson.
District 11 champion Wilson jumped out to a 14-0 lead before quarterback Connor Dixon got South Park on the board with a 5-yard scoring run with 1:35 left in the second quarter.
However, the Warriors booted a field goal as time expired to take a 17-7 lead into the locker room.
It was all South Park in the second half, starting with a Tyler Scruggs 36-yard scoring run late in the third quarter.
Wilson tried to answer on its next drive, but D.J. Lenehan’s pass was picked off by South Park’s Craig Price in the end zone.
The Eagles claimed their first lead on the next play with less than a minute gone in the fourth quarter when Dixon hit Brandon Detwiler on an 80-yard touchdown pass.
“We felt coming into the game that if they were going to press us with man-to-man coverage, we were going to hit one of those passes,” South Park coach Tom Loughran stated after the game.
Dixon sealed the deal on state gold with a 1-yard run with 1:34 left in the game as South Park capped off an impressive comeback and the school’s second state championship, eight years after the first one.
South Park outgained Wilson on the ground 188-61 thanks to a big day from Scruggs, who rushed for 165 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.
D.J. Lenehan had a huge day passing the ball for the Warriors, hitting on 27 of 52 passes for 346 yards, but threw no touchdown passes.
Dixon threw for 210 yards and a score for the Eagles.
• The Class A state title game was a matchup of Duquesne’s speed against Southern Columbia’s power. The result was a powerful statement delivered by the newest member to the PIAA four-peat club.
The Tigers crushed the Dukes, 50-19, for the school’s fifth state championship.
The game was close in the first half.
Elijah Fields scored three touchdowns as the Dukes trailed 20-19 at the half.
Fields caught touchdowns passes of 79 and of 29 yards from Durrell Dunn with only 9 seconds left in the half, plus he galloped 59 yards for a score.
But the Dukes had no answers for Tigers fullback Henry Hynoski, who rushed for 271 yards on 35 carries. His efforts put him over 2,000 yards rushing for the season.
Southern Columbia scored four touchdowns and added a field goal in a dominant second half, including two more scores from Hynoski.
The Tigers rushed for more than 200 yards in the first two quarters, then added another 300 yards on the ground in the second half for a record 509 yards rushing for the game.
Don Rebel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Don at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @TheDonRebel.