PIAA semifinals preview: Quaker Valley puts bye week to good use
The question: Have you had a chance to study Quaker Valley?
Sharon coach Jim Wildman’s answer: “Well, we haven’t had 13 days, but Sunday morning we started looking at them.”
Yes, Wildman has a bone to pick with the WPIAL.
When Quaker Valley and Sharon meet Friday night in a PIAA Class 3A semifinal, the Quakers will be well-rested compared to their Mercer County opponent. Thirteen days will have passed since Quaker Valley won its WPIAL championship at Heinz Field, a bye-week quirk that came at a good time, Quakers coach Jerry Veshio said.
Sharon has six days between games.
“If I had a choice between playing every week as opposed to having a bye week, I’d take the bye week,” Veshio said. “It’s a chance for these young men to recuperate a little bit and recover mentally. This is a grind of a season when you go this far. It’s certainly exciting to go this far, but it takes a tremendous toll on a young athlete’s body and mind. I think that week off was really beneficial for us.”
Quaker Valley faces District 10 champion Sharon at 7 p.m. Friday at North Hills’ Martorelli Stadium.
The extra week gave Quaker Valley a chance to recharge emotionally from its historic victory at Heinz Field. The Quakers won their first WPIAL football title in their first championship appearance, and they did so with the first 2-0 score in WPIAL championship history.
“We did practice every day except for Thanksgiving, but we went really light,” Veshio said, “only helmets and shoulder pads, never more than about an hour-and-a-half or so. We did rest up a bit and refocused.”
The bye-week was created last season by the WPIAL board of directors, which wanted to hold four football championships at Heinz Field. To make that happen, the WPIAL scheduled the Class 3A final for Week 12, to coincide with the Class 6A, 5A and 4A championships. All four classifications were limited to eight-team WPIAL playoffs.
However, the three largest classes (6A, 5A, 4A) enter the state playoffs in Week 13 (the PIAA quarterfinals), so the WPIAL champion doesn’t have a bye after Heinz Field. The WPIAL Class 3A champion doesn’t join the state playoffs until Week 14 (PIAA semifinals), so it receives a week off.
Beaver Falls received the bye week last season and ultimately won the state title.
“I don’t like to dwell on it,” Wildman said. “We haven’t mentioned it to our kids. They know what it is. We can only control what we can control. We can’t control who we play. We can’t control where we play. We can’t control what the weather’s going to be like, which locker room we’re going to be in and all that stuff.
“We just know we’re going to play and they’ve had twice as many days to heal up and get ready. Whether that’s fair or not, you’ll have to ask somebody to give you an answer that makes sense in the PIAA.”
PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi compared the bye week to the week off some regions have before the state wrestling tournament. It’s possible the bye week could be eliminated when the PIAA drafts new football brackets this winter, but Lombardi didn’t believe the WPIAL schedule quirk necessarily created an unfair advantage.
“It’s not something that hasn’t occurred in one sport or another,” Lombardi said. “But the football steering committee will review it, we’ll look at it and see what the districts want to do.”
Sharon (10-3) vs. Quaker Valley (12-1)
7:30 p.m. Friday at North Hills’ Martorelli Stadium
WPIAL champion Quaker Valley could be called a surprising state title contender, but so too can Sharon. The District 10 champion graduated a 3,000-yard passer and lost two of its first three games, but made a late-season run to the state semifinals.
Sharon defeated District 6 champion Forest Hills, 45-25, in the quarterfinals last Saturday.
“At the end of Week 3 we were 1-2,” Sharon coach Jim Wildman said. “And if someone would have told me then we’d be in the western final, I’d have lost your house and mine.”
Sharon starts six underclassmen on defense and seven on offense, but that includes junior running back Jordan Wilson and sophomore quarterback Lane Voytik. Voytik has thrown for 2,481 yards and 28 touchdowns this season. Wilson needs 34 yards to reach 3,000 for his career.
“They’re a formidable football team,” QV coach Jerry Veshio said. “They have a really talented running back; he’s a very thick, stout kid. He’ll run you over if you don’t watch out. They have two receivers who have some great skills, and their quarterback is pretty good. They’re kind of Aliquippa-like with regards to personnel.”
Middletown (13-0) faces Conwell-Egan (7-6) on Saturday in West Chester in the other Class 3A semifinal.
Pine-Richland (14-0) vs. Manheim Township (12-1)
1 p.m. Saturday, Mansion Park Stadium, Altoona
Pine-Richland knew it would draw the District 3 champion in the semifinals, but Manheim Township isn’t the D3 team most expected. The Blue Streaks, who didn’t enter the state rankings until after Week 12, won their first district title by upsetting top seed Cumberland Valley, 24-21, a week ago.
Manheim quarterback Luke Emge is a 1,716-yard passer with 24 touchdowns, and running back Grayson Sallade has rushed for 1,313 yards and 17 scores. Emge (6-1, 205) threw two touchdowns last week while Sallade (5-10, 180) rushed for 122 yards and a touchdown.
Defending state champion St. Joseph’s Prep (12-0) faces Coatesville (13-1) in the other Class 6A semifinal Friday at Downingtown West High School.
Gateway (13-1) vs. Manheim Central (13-0)
7 p.m. Friday, Mansion Park Stadium, Altoona
Unlike Manheim Township, Lancaster County neighbor Manheim Central is not a newcomer to the PIAA playoffs. Manheim Central won District 3 title for the 17th time with a 30-29 victory over Governor Mifflin and will make its 15th appearance in the PIAA playoffs.
Manheim Central has a dynamic quarterback-receiver combination in sophomore Evan Simon and senior Jake Novak. Simon has thrown for 2,061 yards and 22 touchdowns, with more than half going to Novak, a 5-11, 170-pound wideout.
Novak has 57 receptions for 1,160 yards and 14 touchdowns. He’s scored at least one touchdown in 11 of Manheim Central’s 13 games, and also had more than 100 yards receiving in four of the past six.
Manheim Central also runs. Junior running back Tyler Flick has rushed for 1,467 yards and 16 scores.
In the other 5A semifinal, defending state champion Archbishop Wood (10-2) faces Unionville (13-1) on Friday in Philadelphia.
Washington (13-0) vs. Wilmington (13-0)
7 p.m. Friday, Slippery Rock University
Since 2000, the WPIAL Class 2A champion has reached the state finals 14 times in 17 years, a span that includes Washington’s state title season in 2001. But Wilmington has broken through that WPIAL blockade before. The District 10 champions were state champions in 2008.
Wilmington will try to test Washington’s stout run defense. The Greyhounds are led by running back Jack Patton, who topped 200 yards last week and has 1,112 for the season. Teammates Bryson Verrelli and Cameron Marett also are nearing the 1,000-yard rushing mark, while quarterback Robert Pontius has thrown for fewer than 800.
Southern Columbia (14-0) faces Dunmore (14-0) in the other Class 2A semifinal at Danville.
Jeannette (13-1) vs. Farrell (11-2)
7 p.m. Friday, Seneca Valley
Jeannette eliminated Clairton in the WPIAL semifinals, but now could follow its rival’s well-worn path to Hershey.
WPIAL Class A champions have dominated the western final in recent years, thanks in large part to Clairton. The WPIAL qualifier has reached the state Class A final 14 times since 2000. To make that 15, Jeannette must eliminate a Farrell team that’s outscored its past five opponents 230-58.
Farrell wideout Jourdan Townsend had eight catches for 223 yards and two touchdowns last week when the Steelers defeated Ridgeway, 36-0. Townsend has 66 receptions for 1,509 yards, and he’s caught 22 of quarterback Isaac Clarke’s 30 touchdown passes. Clarke, a senior, has thrown for 2,176 yards.
Farrell has reached the state semifinals for the third consecutive year. The Steelers lost to Clairton, 24-6, in last year’s state semifinals. They finished as state runners-up in 2015.
In the other Class A semifinal, Homer-Center (12-1) faces Steelton-Highspire (11-2) at Hollidaysburg.
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.