D6 Class 3A final
Teams: Penn Cambria (6-5) vs. Central (11-0)
Where: Altoona’s Mansion Park
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Coaches: Nick Felus is 18-43 in six seasons overall, including 11-20 in three seasons at Penn Cambria. Dave Baker is 218-207-1 in 42 seasons, including 92-37 in 11 seasons at Central.
The road to here: Penn Cambria: A27: Westmont Hilltop (W 27-14). S4: at Bishop Guilfoyle (W 27-14); S10 at Bishop McCort (W 42-14); S17 at Somerset (W 41-14); S24 at Central (L 6-46). O1: at Central Cambria (W 40-20); O8: at Richland (L forfeit); O15: at Bedford (L 7-35); O22: Forest Hills (L 7-29); O29: at Chestnut Ridge (L 14-24). N5: at Tyrone (W 45-21).* Central: A27: at Chestnut Ridge (W 41-28). S3: Forest Hills (W 46-15); S10: at Johnstown (W 54-6); S17: Central Cambria (W 49-13); S24: Penn Cambria (W 46-6). O1: at Richland (W 40-13); O8: Bedford (W 41-27); O15: at Bishop McCort (W 55-7); O23: at Westmont Hilltop (W 48-7): O29: Somerset (W 61-14). N5: Westmont Hilltop (W 52-13).* (*–District 6 semifinal)
Next week: The winner will move to the first round of the PIAA playoffs against the winner of Friday’s Clearfield-Bedford District 5-9 subregional championship game.
By John Hartsock
While compiling an 11-0 record so far this season, the Central Scarlet Dragons have accomplished one of their team goals in punching a ticket to the District 6 Class 3A football championship game for the second straight year.
Central’s opponent in Friday night’s title game, the Penn Cambria Panthers, have also checked off a significant box of their own by achieving their first trip to the championship showdown in the three years that Nick Felus has been their head coach.
The coaches and players from both teams, along with their communities, share a sense of excitement about Friday’s 7 p.m. matchup at Mansion Park.
“We’re happy to be back,” said Central coach Dave Baker, whose Dragons defeated Tyrone in last year’s championship game before losing to Bedford in a first-round PIAA playoff game. “This was one of our goals that we set for this year.
“We hoped that we could win the district championship — which we have a chance to do now — and go as far as we can in the state playoffs. Last year, we didn’t advance in the state playoffs as Bedford beat us, and this year, we’re looking forward to competing against either Bedford or Clearfield in the first round of the state playoffs next week if we can beat Penn Cambria this week.”
The winner of Friday night’s title game will meet the winner of Friday’s District 5-9 Class 3A subregional championship game between Clearfield and Bedford next week.
Felus, a Penn Cambria alum, took over the Panthers’ program in 2019 after spending three years as the head coach at Altoona.
He had a timetable of three seasons to get the Panthers into the district championship game, and the Panthers (6-5) have achieved that this year.
“This is a great thing for our program, a great thing for our school district, and a great thing for our community,” Felus said. “It’s a great thing for everybody who is involved.
“As a coaching staff and as a program, we set a goal that we wanted to play in a district championship game within three seasons, and we stuck to our plan, the kids bought in, we’ve had a ton of support from the administration and the community, and here we are.”
Friday’s game will match up two of the state’s outstanding junior quarterbacks — Central’s Jeff Hoenstine and Penn Cambria’s Garrett Harrold — for the second time this season. Central won decisively, 46-6 in a Sept. 24 meeting in Roaring Spring, but everybody knows that the playoffs are a new ballgame.
“We know what we have to do,” said Harrold, who has completed 129 passes for 1,501 yards and nine touchdowns this season while rushing for 1,239 yards and 14 scores. “We played them during the regular season, and we didn’t know what to expect because we had never played them before.
“This championship game means a lot to us, we’re very excited to be here, and we know what’s at stake. We just know that we have to come prepared and focused, and be ready to play against these guys Friday.”
Hoenstine is a returning all-state quarterback who has completed 155 passes for 2,889 yards and an eye-opening 49 touchdowns this season for Central, which has scored an average of 48 points over its 11 wins.
Hoenstine also plays free safety for the Scarlet Dragons, and feels that defense will be the key to Friday’s game.
“In our first game with them, we played really strong defensively, and I think that will be the key here again,” Hoenstine said. “We’ve got to contain Garrett Harrold. He’s a pretty good player, and obviously he can hurt us.”
Despite their outstanding quarterbacks, both Central and Penn Cambria have proven that they are multi-dimensional on offense.
In last week’s 45-21 semifinal victory at Tyrone, Penn Cambria got a great rushing effort from junior halfback Zach Grove, who carried the ball 21 times for 144 yards and four touchdowns. Grove has rushed for 967 yards and 14 touchdowns on the season.
Freshman Gavin Harrold — Garrett’s younger brother — caught six passes for 32 yards against Tyrone, while junior wideout Luke Shuagis made four catches for 69 yards and a touchdown.
“It’s a very, very well-conceived offense that can hit you from any place at any time, so that’s what we have to work against,” Baker said about Penn Cambria’s offensive attack.
The same can certainly be said of Central’s offense, which has a multitude of weapons.
“They’re so balanced offensively,” Felus said of the Scarlet Dragons. “You can’t just focus on (defending against) just one player.”
Central has five players who have made at least 18 pass receptions. Senior running back Parker Gregg — who has rushed for a team-leading 818 yards and 15 touchdowns — also leads the Dragons in receptions with 40 for 871 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Junior wideout Eli Lingenfelter has 32 catches for 742 yards and 11 touchdowns, while sophomore back Hunter Smith — who has rushed for 400 yards and three touchdowns — has also caught 29 passes for 338 yards and eight touchdowns.
Both senior tight end Ethan Eicher and senior wideout Devon Boyles have caught 18 passes, and both have eight touchdown catches.
“The further you get in the playoffs, the tougher the teams that you meet are going to be,” Baker said. “We know that we’re going to have to score some points passing the ball, but we’re also going to have to score some points running the ball as well.
“We know that we need to maintain balance in our offense, and we know that some (opponent) out there — this week, next week, the following week, whatever — is going to step up and make it pretty tough for us. We’re anticipating that, and we’re hoping that we’re going to be ready to face that.”