PIAA football playoffs: 30 years in 30 days — Defense leads Rochester to ’98 title
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: 1998
The Site: Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey
The Champs: Central Bucks West, Allentown Central Catholic, Mt. Carmel, Rochester
The Headline: Defense golden for Rochester while offense goes south for New Castle, Moon and Shady Side Academy
The Lowdown: The PIAA moved the football final to Hersheypark Stadium, the current home of the state championships now 20 years later.
But while four WPIAL teams reached the title games of the PIAA playoffs, only one was victorious at the sweetest place on earth in 1998.
Points were the key as Rochester won the Class A final 18-0 over rival Southern Columbia, while the other three WPIAL champions were outscored 110-14.
It was the fourth time in five years District 4 champion Southern Columbia won the east, setting up the first of five PIAA Class A title games between the Tigers and Rochester.
The Rams got defensive as they capped off a perfect 15-0 season with a whitewash of the Tigers that was all about the run game.
Rochester outrushed the bigger Southern Columbia team 241-82, holding the Tigers 203 yards under their season average on the ground.
The Rams wasted little time taking control, moving the ball 75 yards on nine plays on the opening drive, which was capped off by a Mookie Anderson 33-yard scoring run. Anderson rushed for a game-high 113 yards to eclipse 1,000 yards for the season.
That would be the only score until Rams quarterback Zach Harvey hit Brandon Matsook on a 20-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter. Brandon is the son of then-head coach Dan Matsook and the nephew of then-offensive coordinator and current Rochester head coach Gene Matsook.
Kirby Griffin’s 32-yard run with just over two minutes left in the game was the golden icing on the Rams state playoff cake.
“We had heard so much about Southern Columbia,” Dan Matsook said after the game. “We were just so determined to win this.”
• Moon played out of this world defense all season and that did not change in the Class AAA title game. Problem is Allentown Central Catholic beat the Tigers at their own game.
The Vikings captured their second title in six years with a 10-0 shutout of the WPIAL champion Tigers.
After a scoreless first quarter, Allentown Central Catholic scored the game’s only touchdown on a Tim McGorry 15-yard pass to Dominic Cardine.
A Jon Yudt 43-yard field goal with three and a half minutes left in the game accounted for the only other scoring in a defensive slugfest. The field goal was set up by the Vikings second blocked punt of the game.
Moon could only muster 101 yards of total offense, including just 24 rushing yards.
Tigers quarterback Pat Miller completed eight passes for 87 yards.
• Shady Side Academy entered the Class AA finals with a perfect record. But Mt. Carmel blew away any dreams of a state crown and an undefeated season.
Red Tornadoes running back Jon Veach rushed for 144 yards and scored three touchdowns while quarterback Nick Sebes rushed for 89 yards and two touchdowns and threw for 70 yards and a score in a dominating performance.
It was a tough day for Shady Side Academy quarterback Adam Frederick, who was 6 of 23 passing for 102 yards and two interceptions, plus he was sacked seven times.
The Indians didn’t get a first down until the final minutes of the second quarter and, by then, SSA was down 26-0.
Down 38-0 in the third quarter, Shady Side Academy avoided a shutout when Scott Booker threw a 63-yard touchdown pass to Maurio Medley.
How rough was it for the Indians? Ian Alexander led the team in rushing with 16 yards on four carries in the 44-7 loss.
• The final score in the Class AAAA title game was Central Bucks West 56, New Castle 7. It was then and still is now 20 years later the highest margin of victory in PIAA title game history.
The year before, the Bucks set a PIAA championship game record with 520 total yards in a 44-20 victory over Upper St. Clair.
Against New Castle, CBW set another record with 535 yards of offense led by then-junior fullback Dustin Picciotti, who rushed for 236 yards and five touchdowns.
Fourteen points in the opening quarter and 21 more in the second quarter built the Bucks lead to 35-0 by halftime.
New Castle rushed for 126 yards for the game, which was 8 yards less than Central Bucks West’s second-leading rusher, Dave Edwards, who gained 134 yards on only five carries.
The ‘Canes lone score came in the fourth quarter when quarterback Joe Cowart hit Corey Lemmon on a 26-yard scoring pass. Cowart finished the game by connecting on 13 of 17 passes for 170 yards.
Gordan Austin led New Castle on the ground with 54 yards on 12 carries.
The state championship would be the second of three straight for Central Bucks West.
Don Rebel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Don at [email protected] or via Twitter @TheDonRebel.