PIAA football playoffs: 30 years in 30 days — South Fayette, North Catholic victorious in ’13
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: 2013
The Site: Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey
The Champs: St. Joe’s Prep, Archbishop Wood, South Fayette, North Catholic
The Headline: South Fayette and North Catholic claim first state gold while St. Joe’s Prep also wins first PIAA title by rolling over Central Catholic
The Lowdown: They say the first title is always the best. If true, that made the 2013 PIAA championships special as three teams, including a pair of WPIAL champions, claimed their first state crowns.
District 12 Class AA champion Imhotep Charter had already established itself as a statewide basketball power, but the Panthers became the first Philadelphia Public League school to reach the football finals.
Their success prompted a Philadelphia television station website to predict this result: Imhotep 50, South Fayette 6.
Well, they were correct when they said the 2013 Class AA title game would not be competitive.
South Fayette dominated all aspects of the game and rolled to a 41-0 whitewash in a game delayed 24 hours by heavy snow in Hershey.
The Lions opening drive lasted 14 plays and covered 64 yards, ending with a Brett Brumbaugh to Justin Watson 6-yard scoring pass.
The second time South Fayette touched the ball, the drive was a tad quicker, but just as lethal. Brumbaugh hit tight end Logan Sharp on a 53-yard touchdown pass, completing a one-play drive.
Brumbaugh connected with Watson on a 64-yard scoring strike early in the second quarter. The dominant first half concluded with a Conner Beck 46-yard interception return with 28 seconds left in the second quarter as the Lions led 35-0 at the half.
Brumbaugh, the record-setting junior quarterback, connected on 18 of 25 passes for 299 yards and three touchdowns.
J.J. Walker and Grant Fetchet also scored on touchdown runs of 4 and 9 yards.
“No one expected us to win,” South Fayette coach Joe Rossi said afterward. “Everybody said they were a great football team, but when you play with your heart, and play with these kinds of seniors, it’s something special.”
• Special was one way to describe the most recent PIAA football championship game to go to overtime.
Having ended Clairton’s five-year dominance of WPIAL Class A, Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic wanted to follow in the Bears’ footsteps on the grand PIAA stage, as well.
Both the Trojans and District 2 champion Old Forge were making their first trip to the state finals, and it would be a memorable one.
Defense ruled until the Devils scored in the final minute of the first half to go ahead 7-0.
It stayed that way until North Catholic tied it with 7 minutes left on a P.J. Fulmore 16-yard pass to Jerome Turner to tie the game at 7.
Old Forge had a chance to win it in regulation, but a 29-yard field goal with 3 seconds left was no good.
The Devils scored first in overtime on a pair of 5-yard runs by Brandon Yescavage.
The Trojans answered on a Fulmore 10-yard run. North Catholic coach Bob Ravenstahl decided to go for the win and again it was Fulmore who fought and scratched his way over the goal line for the state title-winning 2-point conversion in a 15-14 victory.
“I would have let my kids down if we didn’t go for two,” Ravenstahl said after the thriller. “I just felt confident. I don’t think they expected anything else.”
Fulmore rushed for 109 yards on 33 carries. He was the definition of workhorse for the Trojans.
The senior carried, caught or passed on 39 of North Catholic’s 46 offensive plays.
• Every dynasty begins somewhere, and for St. Joseph’s Prep, the state gold rush began in 2013 and continues into 2018.
The first of three championships was a 35-10 victory over Central Catholic.
Central Catholic was dominant in 2013, winning all 15 games leading up to the state title game in which they outscored opponents 657-92, with seven shutouts.
But the Vikings ran out of gas in the fourth quarter against the District 12 champion Hawks.
St. Joe’s Prep scored first on a Chris Martin touchdown pass late in the first quarter.
It took only two minutes for Central Catholic to respond and tie the game at 7 after a J.J. Cosentino 1-yard run.
Mitchell MacZura connected on a 29-yard field goal for the only points of the second quarter as the Vikings enjoyed a 10-7 lead at the half.
Martin connected on a 59-yard scoring pass as the Hawks took the lead for good early in the third quarter.
Then St. Joe’s Prep put it away with a big fourth quarter in which it scored three touchdowns, including another Martin scoring pass, in a span of seven minutes to make it look easy.
The Hawks were led by Martin’s 192 passing yards and 202 rushing yards.
Luigi Lista-Brinza led the Vikings on the ground with 129 rushing yards.
Two lost fumbles and two interceptions did not help the Central Catholic cause as they dropped to 3-2 in PIAA football finals.
Don Rebel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Don at [email protected] or via Twitter @TheDonRebel.