PIAA football playoffs: 30 years in 30 days — Pine-Richland, QV, Jeannette win state gold in ’17

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Monday, December 3, 2018 | 4:12 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: 2017

The Site: Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey

The Champs: Pine-Richland, Archbishop Wood, Cathedral Prep, Quaker Valley, Southern Columbia, Jeannette

The Headline: Pine-Richland, Quaker Valley and Jeannette win state gold, Gateway is runner-up

The Lowdown: The 2017 PIAA finals were like a wedding. There was something old, something new, some passes were borrowed and some teams were left black and blue.

The old was Archbishop Wood and Cathedral Prep repeating in Class 5A and 4A and Southern Columbia winning its eighth state title in 2A.

The new came from the WPIAL with three first-time champions.

After two heartbreaking losses in PIAA title games in Hershey from 2003 and 2014, Pine-Richland reached the Class 6A state finals against defending champion St. Joe’s Prep on the arm and legs of quarterback Phil Jurkovec.

It wasn’t a full-fledged snow storm like 2003, but there was light snow on the field as the Rams bulled past the Hawks, 41-21.

Jurkovec soaked in the spotlight and played like a star.

The Notre Dame recruit ran for the first four scores then tossed a touchdown pass before allowing Jordan Crawford to be part of the scoring fun with a 12-yard score in the fourth quarter.

Jurkovec hit on 15 of 27 passes for 200 yards and a 25-yard scoring strike to Ben Jochem.

The senior signal-caller also led the Rams in rushing with 88 yards on 20 carries and touchdown runs of 1, 17, 13 and 6-yards.

St. Joe’s Prep had 406 yards total offense compared to Pine-Richland’s 400 yards was close, but while the Rams finished drives with points, their defense bent but did not break.

• There are few better stories in WPIAL football history then what happened when a perennial doormat starting to turn things around, had their coach walk off the job as training camp began and the teams PA announcer took over and led them to gold.

Hollywood would have a tough time scripting the 2017 Quaker Valley season.

The Quakers finished second behind Aliquippa in the conference, but after rolling past Derry and Seton LaSalle, avenged that loss by stunning the Quips in the WPIAL title game 2-0.

They beat Sharon in the PIAA semifinals by 20, and then it was a matchup with District 3 champion Middletown.

Jordan Taylor scored for Quaker Valley in the first quarter, and then Middletown tied it on a punt return midway through the second quarter.

The Quakers then took control with 21 points in the final 4:47 of the first half on a pair of Ricky Guss touchdown passes and a 42-yard interception return by Andrew Seymour.

Taylor and Guss added scoring runs in the second half as the game ended in true Hollywood fashion, in the snow with an improbable 41-24 victory for the Quakers.

“I want to know what one of you guys is going to help me write my screenplay?” said Veshio after the game as his players celebrated in the snow at Hersheypark Stadium. “It’s surreal. It’s incredible.”

• Jeannette was making its first trip to a state championship game PP: Post-Pryor.

Ten years after Terrelle Pryor guided the Jayhawks to their lone PIAA football crown, Jeannette got political in beating Homer-Center, 42-12.

Robert Kennedy delivered on his campaign promises by completing 5 of 9 passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns.

The Jayhawks quarterback also rushed for 114 yards on 18 carries with two more touchdowns.

Trailing 6-3 after one quarter, Jeannette took control in the second and third quarter with 32 unanswered points.

Seth Howard did it all for the Jayhawks. He caught a scoring pass, rushed for 55 yards and another touchdown and hit on 3 of 7 passes for 64 yards.

The Jeannette defense did the job, as well, holding the District 6 champion Wildcats to 163 total yards and limited Homer-Center running backs Jesse Lee and Mike McCracken (both rushed for over 1,000 yards on the season) to a combined 105 yards on 30 carries.

“This victory brought tears to my eyes,” Kennedy said after the game. “It’s a blessing to win.”

• Lots of points were expected in the PIAA Class 5A championship game between defending champion Archbishop Wood and WPIAL winner Gateway. The contest featured two high-scoring offenses led by a pair of standout stars.

There were plenty of points, but it was the Vikings doing all the scoring.

Archbishop Wood scored three touchdowns in a five-minute span in the first quarter, and then added three more touchdowns in a seven-minute span in the second quarter to cruise to a 42-0 halftime lead.

The Vikings added to their lead with the fourth touchdown run of the game by Nasir Peoples before Gators quarterback Brady Walker connected on a pair of second-half touchdown passes for the final score of 49-14.

It was a rough finish to Walker’s sparkling career as he connected on 12 of 26 passes for 257 yards and two touchdowns, but the Vikings picked him off three times.

Gateway star freshman Derrick Davis was held to 40 rushing yards on nine carries. He also had two catches for 13 yards. Travis Thompson was one of the few bright spots for the Gators with five receptions for 172 yards and touchdown grabs of 69 and 80 yards.

The Gators had no answers for Peoples, who rushed for 266 yards on 26 carries for the Vikings.

Don Rebel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Don at drebel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @TheDonRebel.

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