PIAA football playoffs: 30 years in 30 days — WPIAL splits as North Hills, Duquesne win state titles in ’93
PIAA Football Playoffs: 30 Years in 30 Days:
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: 1993
The Site: Mansion Park in Altoona
The Champs: North Hills, Allentown Central Catholic, Dallas, Duquesne
The Headline: WPIAL splits as North Hills and Duquesne win while Blackhawk and Washington lose
The Lowdown: In the first five years of the PIAA championships, there were plenty of chills but not a lot of thrills. Only two of the 20 title games were decided by less than a touchdown. However, in 1993, the winning margin in the two wins for WPIAL champs North Hills and Duquesne was a combined four points.
In one of the coldest championship games in PIAA history with a wind chill factor below zero, North Hills pulled off a comeback for the ages to knock off 1991 Class AAAA champion Central Bucks West, 15-14.
Jason Williamson scored a pair of touchdowns for the Bucks, one on a 16-yard pass from Ben Snyder in the second quarter, then on a 1-yard run in the third quarter.
But the Indians’ comeback began in the fourth quarter when quarterback Eric Kasperowicz took to the air with the Indians ground attack shut down all night. North Hills ended up with 47 rushing yards.
Despite throwing into a strong wind, the senior led North Hills on a drive that ended when he snuck over from a yard out to cut the Central Bucks West lead to 14-7.
It looked like the Indians’ chances ended when a Kasperowiz pass was picked off and returned to the Indians’ 45-yard line with 2:16 left.
North Hills’ defense came up large, and three Bucks run plays gained only 3 yards. The Indians got the ball back at their own 20-yard line after a CBW punt with 1:52 left.
Kasperowiz was 4 of 13 passing for 35 yards through three quarters, but was on fire in the fourth, hitting on 9 of 11 tosses for 163 yards in the last quarter.
The big play on the drive was a 51-yard pass to future college and NFL great LaVar Arrington to the Central Bucks West 7-yard line. However, a run, a holding penalty and two incompletions set up a fourth-and-goal for the Indians at the Bucks’ 28-yard line.
Kasperowicz’s desperation heave looked like it might be picked off, but somehow fell into the hands of Chris Feola for a touchdown.
North Hills coach Jack McCurry decided to go for two and the win, and Kasperowicz delivered with a title-winning 2-point conversion run.
“He’s been our leader all year long,” McCurry said after the game of his quarterback and the current Pine-Richland head coach. “It’s fitting the ball was in his hands on the 2-point conversion to win or lose the state championship.”
• District 4 Class A champion South Williamsport had relied on defense to reach the state title game, allowing only 47 points all year while shutting out eight opponents.
Safe to say none of those teams had the skill, power and speed of WPIAL champion Duquesne.
The Dukes scored late to end a thrilling back-and-forth championship game that gave the WPIAL its first Class A state crown. Duquesne also became the first school to win a PIAA basketball and football title in the same calendar year.
There were four lead changes in the final quarter and three in the last four minutes.
Duquesne led 12-7 after three quarter on a pair of Kevin Price touchdown passes, one to Chris Morgan from 3 yards out, and the other was a 22-yard pass to Courtney Washington on fourth-and-7 in the third quarter.
After the Mountaineers reclaimed the lead on the second play of the fourth quarter, the Dukes answered with 4:42 left in regulation on a 40-yard run by Jade Burleigh that put the Dukes up 18-12.
South Williamsport only needed two minutes and change to re-take the lead with 2:23 to go in the fourth, 21-18.
Behind the throwing of Price, who threw for 146 yards, and the running of Burleigh, who led all rushers with 150 yards, the Dukes drove down and scored on a Morgan 1-yard run with 22 seconds left in the game to make it 24-21 Duquesne.
A couple of quick passes got the Mountaineers down to the Dukes 30-yard line, but time ran out as now closed Duquesne celebrated its only PIAA football championship.
• Blackhawk won four WPIAL Class AAA championships in a six-year span between 1991-96. During that time, the Cougars made it to the state championship game three times. However, the Cougars’ gold rush in each of those seasons ended in the district playoffs.
In 1993, Blackhawk fell to Allentown Central Catholic, 40-0.
The game was over by halftime as the Vikings scored 6 in the first quarter and 20 in the second quarter for a 26-0 advantage.
Allentown Central Catholic added two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
Rashonn Drayton and Jose Delgado combined for 242 yards rushing on 33 carries for the Vikings for the first of their three state crowns (1998 and 2010).
Blackhawk did very little on offense with five first downs, 52 rushing yards and 13 passing yards.
Tim McGraw led the Cougars with 27 yards rushing on nine carries, while quarterback Scott Weaver was 1 of 6 passing for 13 yards and had minus-7 rushing yards.
• It wasn’t a battle for first place in the NFC East; it was instead a matchup for the PIAA Class AA championship as Washington met Dallas.
Washington’s Steve Pirris played a key role early on in the game. He fumbled a punt deep in his own territory in the first quarter that led to the Mountaineers’ first touchdown.
The Little Prexies tied the game in the second quarter when Pirris scored on a 6-yard run.
That would be one of the few highlights for Wash High, though, as Dallas answered to take a 14-7 lead by halftime, then outscored the Little Prexies, 17-0, in the second half.
With several offensive linemen banged up, Washington could only muster 55 rushing yards, led by Jason Bainer, who gained 38 yards on one carry.
Quarterback Mike Bonus completed 6 of 27 passes for 50 yards and threw five interceptions, including a 14-yard pick-6 in the fourth quarter in the 31-7 loss.
Don Rebel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Don at [email protected] or via Twitter @TheDonRebel.