A battle between the state’s top Class 6A football programs will take place, even though WPIAL champ Pine-Richland had to work harder than anticipated to make it happen.
There were several factors at play. For starters, quarterback and Notre Dame recruit Phil Jurkovec dropped 10 pounds this week due to a mysterious illness. He was less than 100-percent for Saturday’s Class 6A semifinal.
And, second, the National Player of the Year candidate showed up to Mansion Park Stadium Saturday and had to stare down Manheim Twp., a first-time District 3 champion that left everything on the turf. Everything.
Final score: Pine-Richland 28, Manheim Twp. 7.
Before Saturday’s scrum in Altoona, only one Pine-Richland opponent, league rival North Allegheny, had finished within 20 points of the Rams.
The Blue Streaks (13-2) were within 13-7 with 5:38 remaining in the third.
Eventually, a series of Manheim Twp. turnovers – The Streaks lost four fumbles and had five giveaways in all – got Jurkovec and the Rams into the final week. Pine-Richland (15-0) will play No. 1 St. Joseph’s Prep (13-0) at 6 p.m. next Saturday at Hersheypark Stadium.
OFFENSIVE STARS: Jurkovec finished 20 of 33 for 245 yards and two touchdowns. He targeted Raymond Falcone and Jordan Crawford for early scores before the Blue Streaks drew a line.
Although flushed from the pocket several times, the Streaks never allowed huge gains to the dual-threat QB.
In fact, the Rams had five possessions in the second quarter.
Three of those series ended in Manheim Twp. territory. Another resulted in a blocked punt by Drake Puffenbarger, who was playing through an injury.
Falcone (7 catches, 92 yards) and Jason DeFrancisis (6-70) were Jurkovec’s top targets, while Crawford chipped in 93 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns.
Grayson Sallade’s 91 rushing yards on 16 carries paced the Blue Streaks, who only trailed 13-0 at halftime. It was Sallade and Emge that guided the Streaks on their lone scoring drive, a 12-play thumper that ended with Sallade’s 15-yard jaunt.
DEFENSIVE STARS: While Puffenbarger’s punt block did not result in points, several Streaks were responsible for keeping Pine-Richland points off the board. DTs Ethan Hurst, James Starer and Chuck Mikulka were terrific throughout, freeing up lanes for LB Riley Morgan and his supporting cast to step through.
MT’s defensive secondary, playing the majority of minutes in man coverage, were also big in run support. Jurkovec was sacked four times in the first half, including twice by Morgan.
Following Sallade’s TD run, which brought the Streaks within 13-6, Crawford’s 25-yard TD run restored order for the Rams. And, seconds later, a Sallade fumble set up Jurkovec’s 31-yard TD run.
A Crawford INT, fumble recovery by Tyler King, and sack by Anthony Cerminara ended three Manheim Twp. possessions down the stretch.