PIAA football playoffs: 30 years in 30 days — Beaver Falls, Steel Valley claim 1st state titles in ’16
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: 2016
The Site: Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey
The Champs: St. Joe’s Prep, Archbishop Wood, Cathedral Prep, Beaver Falls, Steel Valley, Bishop Guilfoyle
The Headline: Class expansion is a draw as Beaver Falls and Steel Valley win first crowns while Central Catholic and Clairton fall
The Lowdown: Like it or not, the much discussed expansion of classifications took place in the fall of 2016 as the PIAA went from four to six classes.
The increase also forced the state to expand the finals from a two-day to a three-day event.
As it turned out, besides Beaver Falls and Steel Valley winning, the champions were all part of a private affair (see the list of champs above).
Beaver Falls captured the first state championship in its rich history with a 30-13 conquest of District 3 champion Middletown.
However, don’t let the final score deceive you as this game remained tight until the Tigers pulled away in the fourth quarter.
Neshaud Atkins scored on a 2-yard run to give Beaver Falls a 7-0 lead midway through quarter one.
Middletown quarterback Chase Snavely threw the first of his two touchdown passes late in the first quarter, but the point after touchdown kick was no good, and the Blue Raiders were in chase mode the rest of the game.
Malik Shepherd’s 28-yard run put the Tigers up 14-6 early in the second quarter, and it remained that way until halftime.
Each team scored in the final 70 seconds of the third quarter when Cody Long booted a 20-yard field goal for Beaver Falls followed 18 seconds later by a 69-yard Snavely scoring pass that made it 16-13 Tigers.
Derrell Carter raced 53 yards for a Beaver Falls score in the fourth quarter. The final points came on Shepherd’s 46-yard pick-6 for the Tigers.
The Beaver Falls defense held Middletown to minus-13 rushing yard and had five interceptions and a fumble recovery.
• If Steel Valley had a highlight film for the 2016 football season, it could simply title it “Men of Mercy.”
No other team in the history of Pennsylvania high school football did what the Ironmen did for as long as they did. Other teams finished with perfect 15-0 records, but nobody could match the dominance of the Ironmen, as every game they played went into the mercy rule.
The mercy rule started in Pennsylvania in 1998. The rule states the game clock runs continuously when a team goes ahead by 35 points or more in the second half.
The only time that meant anything to this Steel Valley team was having a good time as they destroyed opponents week in and week out.
It didn’t take long for Steel Valley to flex its muscles. Cornell Ford recovered a Southern Columbia fumble on the opening kickoff. On the next play, Ryan Harper hit Paris Ford on a short pass and a broken tackle later, Ford raced into the end zone on a 27-yard pass play 15 seconds into the contest.
Five minutes later, Southern Columbia would score on a 24-yard touchdown pass, only the third score given up all year by Steel Valley’s first-team defense.
The second drive for the Ironmen end with a red zone turnover, but the third drive increased the lead when Najheir West took a direct snap and raced 57 yards into the end zone to make it 14-7.
The Tigers were poised to tie the game, but a fourth-and-goal play at the 1-yard line was stopped, and Southern Columbia would never threaten again.
Steel Valley scored twice in the final four minutes of the first half on a West 5-yard run and a 15-yard rushing touchdown for Ford to put the Ironmen up 29-7.
West would add scoring runs of 37, 60 and an acrobatic 60-yard thriller in the second half. He ended up with 288 yards on 15 carries and five touchdowns. An injured DeWayne Murray added 86 yards.
Steel Valley won 49-7, handing Southern Columbia by far its worst PIAA title game loss as its record fell to 7-8 in championship games.
• Central Catholic was making a third trip to Hershey in four years, and it was the second time the Vikings were matched up with District 12 champ St. Joe’s Prep.
The Vikings fell to the Hawks, 35-10, in 2013, and the rematch didn’t go much better for the WPIAL champs three years later.
After a scoreless first quarter, the D’Andre Swift show began for St. Joe’s Prep. The Georgia recruit followed a Central Catholic fumble with a 34-yard jaunt into the end zone to give the Hawks the lead for good.
After a shanked punt, St. Joe’s Prep added to the lead with only 13 seconds left in the half on a 35-yard scoring pass.
Swift added a 1-yard run in the third quarter and a 6-yard score in the fourth as he ended up with 140 yards on the ground.
Justice Evans scored the lone Vikings touchdown on a 19-yard run on the final play of the third quarter that made the score 28-7 Hawks.
But Terrance Greene scored his second touchdown for St. Joe’s Prep on the first play of the fourth quarter, a 94-yard kickoff return as the Hawks would roll to a 42-7 triumph over the defending champs for St. Joe’s third state crown in four years.
• In the Class A finals, Bishop Guilfoyle finished a golden hat trick by blanking Clairton, 17-0, for a third straight PIAA championship and the second victory over the Bears in three years.
As surprising as it was to see Clairton lose, the shutout was the shocker. The last time the Bears were blanked was in a loss to Springdale in 2003.
Andre Irwin scored in the second quarter and Evan Chadbourn in the third with a field goal in between for the only scoring of the game.
Clairton had chances, but two interceptions and two fumbles did not help the cause in the Bears’ first loss of the season.
Star running back and Penn State recruit Lamont Wade was held in check in his final scholastic game, rushing for only 70 yards.
The Marauders’ defense limited Clairton to 193 total yards.
Don Rebel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Don at [email protected] or via Twitter @TheDonRebel.