PIAA football playoffs: 30 years in 30 days — Penn Hills, Farrell earn titles in ’95
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: 1995
The Site: Mansion Park in Altoona
The Champs: Penn Hills, Berwick, Bishop McDevitt, Farrell
The Headline: Penn Hills runs to Class AAAA title, Farrell wins in shutout while Burrell is blanked
The Lowdown: The four runners-up in the 1995 state title games had a tough time scoring in Altoona. The four combined for only 20 points, and two of them were shut out.
Points were not an issue for WPIAL Class AAAA champion Penn Hills.
The Indians won their first WPIAL football championship in 23 years last week with 28 unanswered points in a 28-18 victory over West Allegheny. In 1995, it was 21 straight points scored by Penn Hills that earned them a first state championship, 35-14.
The Indians had two runners rush for more than 100 yards and totaled 307 yards on the ground while limiting Lower Dauphin to 63 rushing yards.
Victor Strader led Penn Hills with 143 yards on 24 carries while DeWayne Thompson ran for 133 yards on 27 carries.
The ground attack for the Indians was so effective, quarterback Len Gilmer only threw the ball twice, completing one pass for 11 yards.
Thompson and Strader scored first-half touchdowns that were matched by a kickoff return and 35-yard scoring pass by the District 3 champion Falcons that left the score tied, 14-14.
But then Thompson went on a golden scoring run for the Indians, with touchdown runs of 1 and 12 yards to go along with a 32-yard interception return for a score.
Both Thompson and Strader rushed for more than 1,600 yards for the season, a campaign that ended with a 15-0 record and a third straight state crown for WPIAL Class AAAA teams.
Penn Hills was the sixth different WPIAL team in the highest classification to win a PIAA championship in the first eight years of the state playoffs, following in the footsteps of Central Catholic, Upper St. Clair, North Allegheny, North Hills and McKeesport.
It would also be the last state crown in Class AAAA for a WPIAL team until Central Catholic won nine years later in 2004.
“These kids could live to be 100 years old, and they’re never going to forget this night,” Penn Hills coach Neil Gordon would proclaim afterward.
Penn Hills’ defense was dominant, limiting Lower Dauphin to only four first downs and 116 total yards on offense.
• There was little offense in the Class A championship game between defending champion Southern Columbia and WPIAL champion Farrell.
Southern Columbia looked like a good bet to repeat as Class A champ as it was unbeaten and had one of the top offenses in the state, scoring less than 30 points in a game only once — and it was 29 points.
But the Tigers hadn’t played a defense like Farrell’s.
The only score of the game came late in the first quarter courtesy of the Steelers’ Stan Kennedy.
First, he recovered a Southern Columbia fumble at the Tigers’ 40-yard line. Then, five plays later, Kennedy swept left and scored on a 26-yard run to put Farrell ahead 6-0.
In the second quarter, the Steelers drove to the Southern Columbia 3-yard line, but a fourth-down run by Demarco Wilder was stopped 1 yard shy of the goal line.
Southern Columbia was limited to nine first downs, 158 rushing yards and 11 passing yards.
Statistically, Farrell wasn’t much better with eight first downs and 189 yards of total offense. But the Steelers earned the 6-0 win.
Stan Kennedy led the Steelers on the ground with 51 yards and a touchdown, while quarterback Anthony Pegues connected on 4 of 12 passes for 78 yards.
Farrell would go on to repeat WPIAL and PIAA championships in 1996.
• District 3-AA champion Bishop McDevitt spread out the scoring with a touchdown in each quarter while shutting down Burrell in a 29-0 whitewash.
The Crusaders made sure the Bucs stopped near, the line of scrimmage that is.
Burrell rushed the ball 29 times for only 33 yards. John Horwatt was the Bucs’ leading rusher with 18 yards.
The Crusaders drove 63 yards on their first possession, which ended on a 10-yard touchdown run by Tommy Mealy.
Mealy also scored on a 13-yard run in the second quarter.
Burrell’s best chance came in the second quarter when Jason Gregg blocked a Bishop McDevitt punt and Jason Carpenter recovered at the Crusaders’ 21-yard line.
But the Bucs went backwards as Seth Hornack lost a yard on first down and then quarterback Kevin Horwatt was sacked twice, forcing Burrell to punt.
Kevin Horwatt finished hitting on 3 of 7 passes for only 17 yards for Burrell.
Bishop McDevitt quarterback Jordan Scott, on the other hand, was 12 of 20 passing for 216 yards and a pair of second-half touchdown passes.
Don Rebel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Don at [email protected] or via Twitter @TheDonRebel.