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PRESS PHOTO BY DON HERBNolan Ridgeway gets a block from Jahan Worth during the state title game. Copyright - DonHerb                                               PRESS PHOTO BY DON HERBNolan Ridgeway gets a block from Jahan Worth during the state title game. Copyright - DonHerb
PRESS PHOTO BY DON HERBDevante Cross throws a pass during the state title game. Copyright - DonHerb                                               PRESS PHOTO BY DON HERBDevante Cross throws a pass during the state title game. Copyright - DonHerb

Parkland’s late comeback attempt falls short in PIAA Class AAAA championship football game

Wednesday, December 30, 2015 by Todd Kress tkress@tnonline.com in Sports

As the final quarter of the 2015 high school football season got underway, Parkland looked to be dead in the water.

The Trojans’ powerful offense, which failed to get on the scoreboard for the first 36 minutes, struggled to gain any rhythm in the first half. When Parkland’s offense was able to move the ball in the third quarter, it still failed to produce any points. Pittsburgh Central Catholic’s defense lived up to all of the pregame hype.

But then there was a spark. And that spark turned into a offensive snowball for Parkland.

Unfortunately, Parkland’s string of 18 unanswered points wasn’t enough to climb out of an early 21-0 deficit. A Devante Cross heave from midfield with less than a second to play was intercepted, ending the Trojans’ season to the Vikings, 21-18, at Hersheypark Stadium on Saturday night in the PIAA Class AAAA title game.

“There is no way they should hang their heads or anything like that,” Morgans said. “I think we’ve shown what people probably already knew that this football team has no quit in it. If you’re going to play Parkland then you better be ready to play for 48 minutes, which they did. We just didn’t have enough in the first half.”

Down 21-0 entering the fourth quarter, Parkland finally lit up the scoreboard with a 37-yard Donovan Berger field goal with 8:02 to play. The Trojans had no choice but to go for an onside kick, which paid off when they recovered and Cross found Zach Bross for a 34-yard touchdown five plays later. That brought the score to 21-11 after the two-point conversion.

After Parkland halted a long Viking drive that handed them the ball back with under two minutes to play, the Trojans wasted no time when Cross hit Kenny Yeboah for a 64-yard gain on their first play of the drive to cut the deficit to 21-18.

Another onside kick ensued, once again taking a perfect hop for the Trojans, but the ball skipped out of bounds and out of harms way. Cross had one more attempt at the end zone after Pittsburgh Central Catholic turned it over on downs, but he wasn’t able to get all of the heave.

“If we would have got that [onside kick], who knows what would have happened,” Morgans said. “I have no idea what would have happened. But I know we were pretty hot then and they were getting a little skittish.”

Once Cross and Bross connected not even midway through the fourth quarter, the tides turned immediately. And Parkland players knew they had a fighting chance.

“We know we got to get the ball back and then get a shot,” Morgans said. “With the kids we have in the skill positions, I think we would have had a shot if we had another opportunity with the football.”

The Trojans certainly had their chances and capitalized late, but it was the hole they dug themselves in early that was the difference.

The Vikings capitalized on their first drive of the second quarter when Ronnie Jones plunged in the end zone from six yards out. Over seven minutes later, Jones was at it again with another 6-yard touchdown run that put Pittsburgh Central Catholic up 14-0 late in the half.

JJ Younger, who ran for a game-high 187 yards on 14 carries, sprinted 54 yards up the middle of the field to give the Vikings a commanding 21-0 lead with 3:17 to play in the third quarter. Younger had runs of 22, 69 and that 54-yard touchdown.

“I thought our defense played phenomenal against one heck of a football team,” Morgans said. “They broke those two big runs, and then they had another big run. That put us behind the eight ball.”

The defense, meanwhile, remained stout and forced Parkland into three three-and-outs on their first four drives.

“Their defense is phenomenal and that’s the way they’ve played all year,” Morgans said. “We had some opportunities in the second half, and we did run a little bit and got something going. I know their good in the secondary and everything, but that’s where our skill kids are. We have to do what we have to do.”

While the running game was virtually nonexistent in the first half--leading rushing Erik DiGirolamo didn’t have a carry in the first two quarter--Morgans knew they had to give their tailback a chance despite the Vikings’ loaded front.

“We knew we had to get some running game going,” Morgans said. “We got to give [DiGirolamo] a chance. He’s a heck of a runner. He runs hard. He’s a physical, physical kid. But in the long run we also knew that we had to throw the ball.”

DiGirolamo ran for 14 yards on five carries in the second half.

While the Trojans ended the season as PIAA runners-up, there is plenty to take note of regarding this group. Not only did they win districts again, but they produced their longest run in their four years at Parkland.

“I love these kids,” Morgans said. “We’re very close, the coaches and the players and everything. I’m proud of our kids. We got to the state championship game. That’s not what you want to do; you want to come to the state championship game and win it.”