Since its 1985 inception, the District 10 football tournament has been where dreams die for many ... with the exception of a myriad of Mercer County-area teams.
Seventy-two times in the tourney’s previous 34 seasons an area aggregation has annexed gold. Wilmington (13), Sharon (12), Hickory and Sharpsville (9 apiece) and Farrell (8) lead local champions.
Tonight, led by reigning PIAA Class 1A champion Farrell and 2A runner-up Wilmington, teams will attempt to continue that tradition. The Steelers are seeking a 5th consecutive crown, while Wilmington will vie for its 4th straight success.
In Saturday’s 3A semifinals, 2-time titlist Sharon, plus Hickory and Grove City, comprise three-fourths of the bracket. Grove City is bidding for its 4th consecutive championship game berth, losing last year to Sharon after splitting the previous pair with Meadville.
Grove City has won a trio of titles in 3 different classifications (5A in 2017; AAA in 2011; AA in 2004). Meanwhile, Wilmington’s opponent, Greenville, has garnered 4 crowns.
Tonight’s Championship Games
Farrell (9-2) vs. Maplewood (10-0)
Bender Field, Meadville
In last week’s win over West Middlesex, 1st-year Steelers’ skipper Anthony Pegues allowed Raymond Raver Jr. to run 16 times. Raver responded by tallying 2 short-yardage TDs and also tossed a touchdown.
“We’re in the playoff time now. We didn’t really showcase him that much in the regular season, but it’s playoff time now; he’ll be showcased a little bit more there. It worked out for us,” Pegues summarized, while Raver admitted, “I didn’t expect to get those carries, honestly; it was open, and I just had to take what was open.”
Raver, Anthony Stallworth and Jaden Harrison ran behind the offensive line of Gary Satterwhite Jr., Preston Williams, Gary Hopson, Melvin Hobson and Adrian Daniels.
Brice Butler’s 4 interceptions helped the Steelers shut out their 8th consecutive opponent (9th, including a forfeit from Cambridge Springs). Wilmington’s 1996 “Hounds Hammer” was the last area team to log as many single-season shutouts.
“The defense just stepped up and turned the whole season around,” Raver remarked.
Based on what has transpired this season that makes Maplewood the biggest threat to that Steelers’ skein. Led by senior signal-caller J.D. McFadden the Tigers have tallied 400 points. McFadden has run for 528 yards and 10 TDs (5.9/carry) and Crawford County’s career passing leader has thrown for 1,864 yards and 18 TDs (63.3 percent).
Kaleb Donor (150 carries, 1,594 yards, 10.6/carry, 23 TDs) is D-10’s 3rd-leading rusher. According to The Meadville Tribune, Donor surpassed Steve Cox (1,556 in 1993) as the school’s single-season rushing leader.
When going vertical, J.D. McFadden spreads his throws to Jesse McFadden (34-565, 19.26/catch, 6 TDs), Clay Cox (22-563, 25.59, 5 TDs), and Levi Butryn (10-305, 30.5, 4 TDs).
Defensively, Maplewood is almost as stingy as the Steelers. Led by 6-foot-3, 200-pound lineman Bryan Kelly, the Tigers have yielded just 83 points (5 shutouts). Maplewood mustered back-to-back blankings of Saegertown (56-0) and in last week’s D-10 semifinals, Reynolds (36-0).
According to archives at The Herald and Cumulus Broadcasting’s Bob Greenburg, in the 101-year history of Farrell football the program is 14-1 in district finals (1951, 1976, 1986, 1990, 1995, 1996 WPIAL championships) and the aforementioned 8 in D-10 (2015-18; 2008-10; 1985). The lone loss occurred to eventual state finalist Wilmington (10-7) in 1988.
Farrell finished 15-0 en route to the 2018 commonwealth crown, and Raver related, “Momentum just carried over. ... after the first two games, it just came back – Farrell became Farrell again.”
Also, in almost a quarter-century, only 2 teams located beyond Mercer County borders (Mercyhurst Prep, 21-19, 2007; Cambridge Springs, 13-10 in OT, 1996) have won the D-10 single-A crown. In its lone title tilt appearance Maplewood lost to Eisenhower (15-0) in the 1993 single-A affair.
The game will be broadcast on NewsTalk 790 (WPIC AM), with Mark Slezak and Bob Greenburg calling the action.
Wilmington (9-0) vs. Greenville (6-5)
Hornet Stadium, Hermitage
Wilmington has not played in 2 weeks – a regular-season finale win at Hickory (43-21). Conversely, save for a Week-7 forfeit from Seneca, Greenville has not had a week off since mid-August. The Trojans triumphed over Northwestern (14-10) in last week’s semis, erasing a 10-7, 4th-quarter deficit. Isaac Sasala scored on 28- and 1-yard runs and the Trojans’ defense yielded just 183 yards (77 rushing).
In Week 6 in New Wilmington the Greyhounds garnered a 45-0 win over Greenville. Caelan Bender and Junior McConahy collaborated on 27- and 67-yard TD tosses and Shane Cox caught a 33-yarder from Bender and also ran 5 yards for a score.
Greyhounds’ ground-gainer Darren Miller is on the verge of hurdling the 1,000-yard plateau. And in that win at Hickory, Wilmington was buoyed by the return of running back Ethan Susen (5 carries, 28 yards, including a 7-yard TD run). Susen had missed the 3 previous games with a knee injury.
In 3 prior D-10 title tilts against Greenville, Wilmington won in 2017 (31-13, avenging a 14-6 regular-season loss), ‘01 (28-7), and0 ‘00 (16-7). In last season’s semis Wilmington won (44-13).
The Trojans were titlists 4 times (’99, ‘97, ‘96, ‘93), but have been blanked in the program’s last 4 appearances (3 with Wilmington; Hickory, 12-7, in 2014).
According to available Herald archives and Greenburg’s research, since leaving the WPIAL and becoming a D-10 member in 1994 Wilmington will vie for the program’s 18th title (13-4).
The game will be broadcast on SportsRadio 967 (WLLF FM), with Ryan Briggs and Chris Burtch calling the action.
Hickory (7-3) vs. Grove City (8-2)
Greyhounds Stadium, New Wilmington
Bill Dungee, Hickory’s 1st-year head coach, hardly had time to enjoy his Hornets’ quarterfinal-round rout of North East last week when his thoughts turned to Saturday’s encounter with the Eagles.
“We know, in order to get where we want to go, we’ve gotta beat teams like Grove City and Sharon. We know they’ve got big-time offenses, so our defense has to step up,” Dungee said, adding in regard to his Hornets’ 21-19 regular-season win, “It’s gonna be another tough game, just like it was in week six ... Coach (Sam) Mowrey and everything he does there, you’ve gotta deal with the tempo and their speed. But I think we’ll be ready ... it’ll be another great game.”
In Hickory’s Week-6 win, Ramarion Whitehead was on the receiving end of respective 52- and 18-yard scoring strikes from Matt Cannone and Michael Henwood, and Nate Richards reeled in a 27-yarder from Henwood. Grove City’s Logan Breese brokered a 20-for-32, 237-yard passing performance that included a 39-yard TD to Daiveon Say; also, Curtis Hovis and Colby Nelson notched 12- and 4-yard scores. The latter culminated a 10-play, 75-yard, 70-second scoring drive.
However an ill-fated, potential game-tying 2-point PAT and subsequent on-sides kick offsides penalty ended the Eagles’ 23-game regular-season win skein.
Grove City outgained Hickory, 359-354. Kam Fisher’s 70 yards rushing helped Hickory to a 137-122 edge, but Say scorched the secondary of Hickory for an 8-catch, 118-yard outing.
Nelson and Jeke Reddick are the respective rushing and receiving leaders in The Herald’s coverage area, and the ‘Grovers have out-gained every local team this side of the border (besides Brookfield).
The game will be broadcast on SportsRadio 967 (WLLF FM), with Slezak and Greenburg calling the action.
Sharon (7-3) vs. Harbor Creek (10-0)
Bender Field, Meadville
According to research by Sharon City School District’s Matt Vannoy, this will be the Tigers’ 28th appearance in the D-10 playoffs (42-15) and 26th semifinals berth (21-4). Vannoy indicated that Sharon (41) has won more D-10 playoff games than Sharpsville and Wilmington (38 apiece), Farrell (26), and Greenville (22). This will be Sharon’s 6th straight semifinals berth – 2nd in program annals (9, from 1987-95) – and 7th consecutive playoff appearance.
As for a playoff pedigree, Harbor Creek has dropped its only pair of previous D-10 championship game appearances: In ‘07 (Wilmington, 18-6) and ‘04 (Grove City, 33-7).
In a trio of quarterfinal-round meetings with Harbor Creek, Sharon won in 2015, 59-0, and ‘06, 14-0, while the Huskies harvested the ‘07 contest (37-0). In the 1991 semifinals Sharon secured a another win (43-0).
The Huskies of Coach Troy Budziszewski have brow-beaten opponents (407-49). Though attempting only 81 passes (61 completions, 75.3 pecent), quarterback Casey Smith has spun 22 TD tosses without an interception. He is averaging 18.8 yards/completion. Smith spreads the ball to Cody Smith (22-314, 14.27/catch, 8 TDs), Marrick Bauer (17-350, 20.59, 6 TDs) and Ryan Whitman (14-390, 27.86, 8 TDs).
In last week’s semifinal success over Slippery Rock (26-17), Bauer was the beneficiary of Smith scoring strikes of 18 and 37 yards, while Whitman was on the receiving end of a 35-yarder. The Huskies had 280 total yards (111 rushing; 169 passing); however, Slippery Rock’s run game gained 332 yards, though the Rockets were defused by a fumble and 3 interceptions).
Sharon senior signal-caller Lane Voytik is D-10’s 2nd-ranked passer, while a trio of Tigers – Ty Eilam (5th), Marcel Smith-Austin and Trey Jones – are among the district’s top 22 receivers for 1st-year Sharon skipper Jason McElhaney.
The game will be broadcast on NewsTalk 790 (WPIC AM), with James Dotson and Scott Clary calling the action.
Mercer County- area programs’ D-10 football championships
Wilmington (13) –– 2018, 2017, 2016, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2001, 2000, 1997, 1996, 1995, 1994
Sharon (12) –– 2018, 2017, 2010, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1995, 1994, 1992, 1990, 1985
Hickory (9) –– 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 1991, 1989, 1988
Sharpsville (9) –– 2014, 2012, 2011, 2004, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1997, 1986
Farrell (8) –– 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2010, 2009, 2008, 1985
Kennedy Catholic (4) –– 2005, 1998, 1994, 1989
Reynolds (4) –– 2005, 1989, 1987, 1986
Greenville (4) –– 1999, 1997, 1996, 1993
Grove City (3) –– 2017 (5A), 2011 (AAA). 2004 (AA)
West Middlesex (3) –– 2006, 2003, 2002
Slippery Rock (2) – 2003, 2002
Lakeview (1) –– 2013
Herald Sports Writer Rob Malsom contributed research for this preview. Erie-area teams’ statistics courtesy of Goerie.com.