PIAA football playoffs: 30 years in 30 days — Central Catholic wins again in 2015
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: 2015
The Site: Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey
The Champs: Central Catholic, Imhotep Charter, Southern Columbia and Bishop Guilfoyle
The Headline: Final Four: Central Catholic wins and Aliquippa falls in last of four class finals
The Lowdown: There were big changes blowing, and not just a bitter December wind sweeping through Central Pa. less than a week before Christmas.
While visions of sugar plums may have been dancing in some heads, the future of PIAA expansion was trying to be comprehended by high school football fans across the commonwealth.
In an attempt to close the gap between a lot of the big enrollment schools in the eastern part of the state, the PIAA decided to expand from four to six classifications starting in the 2016-17 school year. And if adding two additional championship games added to the organization’s coffers, so be it.
So in the fall of 2015, the state football tournament that began in 1998 with four championship games at four different sites staged a four-class championship weekend for the final time.
Much like the first year of the state playoffs in 1988, it was Central Catholic left standing in the highest classification when the final horn sounded at Hersheypark Stadium.
The 2015 Class AAAA final between Central Catholic and District 11 champion Parkland was a rematch of the 2007 finals won by the Vikings, 21-0.
Through three quarters it looked like the Vikings would beat the Trojans by the same score, but that 21-0 advantage vanished in the fourth quarter thanks to a field goal and two Parkland touchdowns that cut the lead to three.
Central Catholic linebacker David Adams picked off a desperate pass with no time left to seal the fourth PIAA crown in school history.
Two years earlier, Central Catholic led St. Joe’s Prep at halftime only to lose 35-10; it was a moment many of the seniors did not want to repeat.
“Sophomore year, we had a lead at halftime and we blew it,” said senior cornerback Damar Hamlin after the game. “This year, we said we’re not going to blow this thing this time.”
The Vikings rushed for 323 yards, with junior J.J. Younger leading the way with 184 yards and a touchdown. Senior Ronnie Jones had 119 yards on the ground with a score.
The only other WPIAL school to play for a state championship in 2015 was Aliquippa in Class AA.
The Quips squeaked by Karns City and Central (Martinsburg) to reach the title game where they faced traditional power Southern Columbia.
Aliquippa was no match as the Tigers won their seventh of a record eight state championships with a 49-14 rout.
The Quips turned the ball over seven times, and the 35-point loss was the largest in more than 20 years for the program.