PIAA football playoffs: 30 years in 30 days — McKeesport captures 1st state title in ’94
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: 1994
The Site: Mansion Park in Altoona
The Champs: McKeesport, Berwick, Mt. Carmel, Southern Columbia
The Headline: The ‘Port runs to Class AAAA state championship
The Lowdown: It had been 56 years between the first WPIAL championship won by McKeesport in 1938 and the second one in November of 1994, a 21-14 victory over Upper St. Clair.
The Tigers would only have to wait two weeks to add the school’s first state championship to their trophy case.
McKeesport capped off a perfect 15-0 season with a 17-14 triumph over District 1 champion Downingtown.
The victory made McKeesport the fifth different WPIAL Class AAAA team to win PIAA gold in the first seven years of the state playoffs. Penn Hills would make it six in eight years in 1995.
Downingtown jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter before McKeesport took the lead in the second.
Running back Jermaine Cromerdie ripped off a 51-yard run that set up a field goal.
After a Whippets fumble recovered at the Downingtown 27, McKeesport quarterback Bill Isbir ran 24 yards to the 3 where Glenn Allen scored on the next play to put the Tigers up 10-7.
Both defenses shined and it remained 10-7 until Downingtown running back and Penn State recruit Aaron Harris scored on an 8-yard run with 6:34 left to make it 14-10 Whippets.
Harris ended up with 121 yards rushing on 23 carries.
The Tigers answered with a nine-play, 67-yard drive that was capped by an Isbir 11-yard touchdown run that proved to be a golden score.
When you think of the 1994 McKeesport Tigers, you think of Brandon Short.
The future Penn State and New York Giants star linebacker was at his best in the biggest game, leading the Tigers in tackles and forcing two fumbles. He also made two big tackles in a key goal line stand for McKeesport.
“He’s a phenomenal player,” McKeesport coach George Smith said after the game. “But really, it was just another game for Short. He’s made big plays all year. That’s Brandon’s game.”
McKeesport winning was no passing fancy. The Tigers rushed for 238 yards and did not throw a single pass.
• It was a special year for the winningest program in PIAA football championship history.
Southern Columbia has captured eight PIAA crowns, and the first one came in ’94 at the hands of WPIAL Class A champ Western Beaver.
The Golden Beavers could not live up to their name as they lost 49-6.
Western Beaver was without leading rusher Ryan Mayo, who broke his arm in the team’s 42-0 rout of Riverview in the WPIAL championship game.
Six other Golden Beavers were injured in the 43-point loss to the District 4 champions.
Don Rebel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Don at [email protected] or via Twitter @TheDonRebel.