PIAA football playoffs: 30 years in 30 days — WPIAL teams snow swept in 1992
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: 1992
The Site: Mansion Park in Altoona
The Champs: Cumberland Valley, Berwick, Valley View and Scotland School
The Headline: WPIAL Snow Swept
The Lowdown: The PIAA celebrated the five-year anniversary of the state football playoffs by holding the finals at one site for the first time, as Mansion Park in Altoona was the choice to host all four title games.
For the second time in five years, the WPIAL had three of its champions earn a spot in the state title game -- Upper St. Clair in Class AAAA, Blackhawk in Class AAA and East Allegheny in Class AA won semifinal games and made the trip two hours east.
The 1992 finals are remembered for two reasons -- a huge snowstorm that dumped more than 2 feet of snow on central Pa. delayed the championship games for a week, and the WPIAL came home without any gold for the only time in 30 years.
• With no fans in the first several rows because the snow was piled at least a foot high all the way around the field, East Allegheny came close in its loss to Valley View, 21-13.
Late in the game, Wildcats senior John Jenkins tried to dive over on fourth down for what he thought was a touchdown to pull to within two points, but officials marked him down short of the goal line, and the District 2 champion Cougars ran out the clock.
“I saw the lettering in the end zone underneath me,” Jenkins lamented after the game. “This is hard to take.”
• In the Class AAA finals, Blackhawk lost big to Berwick, 33-6. The Bulldogs were led by quarterback Ron Powlus, a Notre Dame recruit who was the 1992 USA Today and Parade Magazine Player of the Year.
There was no shame for Blackhawk in losing to an undefeated Bulldogs team that outscored their opponents that year 601-72.
It would be the first of back-to-back state championship game loses for Joe Hamilton and Blackhawk and the first of three state silvers in in a five-year span.
• Upper St. Clair was hoping to become only the second school behind Bethlehem Catholic to win two PIAA football crowns as it faced Cumberland Valley. The Panthers won it all three years earlier in 1989.
However, coach Jim Render had to wait another 14 years before winning a second state title as future NFL fullback Jon Ritchie rushed for 177 yards and scored two touchdowns in the District 3 champion Eagles’ 28-12 victory over USC.