Two District 9 champions head into the first round of the PIAA football playoffs Friday night with Class 3A champion Clearfield and Class 2A champion Central Clarion in action.
The Bison head to Hollidaysburg High School where it faces District 6 champion and former Mountain League rival Central-Martinsburg while the Wildcats travel to Pittsburgh’s Cupples Stadium to take on Pittsburgh City League power Westinghouse.
Both games kick off at 7 p.m.
Winners of both games advance to the PIAA quarterfinals. For Clearfield, a win gets it a matchup with the District 10 champion, either Grove City or Slippery Rock, next week at a site and time to be announced. Those to square off at Slippery Rock University Friday night. The Central Clarion/Westinghouse winner gets the District 10 champion, the Farrell vs. Sharpsville winner from Saturday’s game at Wilmington at 7 p.m.
Here’s a closer look at this week’s games:
Clearfield (8-3) vs. Central-Martinsburg (10-2)
The former Mountain League rivals meet for the first time since 2020 after which Central left for the Laurel Highlands Conference.
The Scarlet Dragons are coming off last year’s trip to the PIAA semifinals where they lost to eventual state champion Central Valley of the WPIAL before finishing 14-1. This year, they started 1-2 with two straight losses to Richland (35-28) and Penn Cambria (42-28).
But nine straight wins later, including a 35-6 win over Penn Cambria in a rematch for the D6 title, the Dragons are back in the PIAA playoffs.
Senior quarterback Jeff Hoenstine runs the Central offense that averages 411 yards per game — 270 passing and 141 rushing. Hoenstine has thrown for 3,212 yards (235-for-334) with a whopping 43 touchdowns against just three interceptions. He also leads the team with 620 yards rushing with 11 TDs.
Hoenstine’s top receivers are Eli Lingenfelter (76-1,306, 22 TDs), Hunter Smith (45-517, 5 TDs) and Shalen Yingling (33-460, 7 TDs).
The Bison have won 10 of their last 13 against the Dragons, who won the last matchup, 25-21.
Clearfield edged by St. Marys, 13-7, last week in the downpour at Brockway’s Varischetti Field with Isaac Putt’s interception in the end zone with just over 20 seconds left in regulation sealing the title.
The Bison, who attempted just one pass in last week’s win, average 323 yards per game offensively with 261 of that coming on the ground. They’ve attempted just 86 passes all season with quarterback Will Domico (33-for-68, 546 yards, 7 TDs, 2 Ints.) running the offense.
Sophomore running back Brady Collins leads D9 in rushing with 1,403 yards and 14 TDs, averaging 7.9 yards per carry. He was the workhorse in last week’s game, going for 118 yards on 25 carries with a touchdown.
Carter Chamberlain (103-559, 10 TDs) will also get carries. Carter Freeland (20-408, 4 TDs) is the leading receiver.
Isaac Samsel (84), Collins (73), Freeland (60) and Chamberlain (57) are the leading tacklers on the defense.
Central Clarion (10-1) vs. Westinghouse (11-0)
The Wildcats take on the mighty Bulldogs, who are ranked among the top teams in the state. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review had them at No. 2 behind Lakeland and ahead of No. 3 Farrell of District 10 this week.
The Bulldogs’ numbers are impressive. They’ve trounced opponents by an average of 38 points per game, outscoring teams 514-93 this year. Last week, they won the District 5/8 Sub-Regional title for the second year in a row with a 59-7 win over D5’s Berlin Brothersvalley.
Earlier this year, the Bulldogs beat Steelton-Highspire — the No. 4 team in Class 1A — 39-18. They topped Taylor Allderdice 40-8 to win their 38th league title before dumping Chestnut Ridge 48-15 in the sub-regional semifinals.
Against Berlin, Westinghouse racked up 589 yards of offense with 330 coming by halftime. Quarterback Keyshawn Morsillo threw for 340 yards and five touchdowns. Devon Jones and Sincere Smith had 132 and 108 yards receiving respectively while Kahlil Taylor ran for two TDs and 77 yards on just 10 carries.
Central Clarion will try to build off its defensive momentum from last week’s 35-0 win over Brookville for the D9 title. The Wildcats limited the Raiders to 121 yards as District 9 League Region 1 Defensive MVP Ryan Hummell led the team with 17 tackles and Jase Ferguson intercepted his sixth pass of the season.
Hummell averages 12.2 tackles per game, helping anchor a defense that’s forced 39 turnovers with 21 of them interceptions. They’ll need some of that magic to continue against Westinghouse.
The big-play ability of the Wildcats’ offense turned up last week as it has all season. Of their 60 touchdowns this year — 29 passing, 25 rushing, 4 interception returns, 2 kick returns — 25 have come on plays covering at least 30 yards.
Ashton Rex leads the home run hitters as his 58 receptions for 1,516 yards (26.1 per catch) and 13 TDs show. His TD catches have totaled 774 yards, or 59.5 yards per play. Rex’s yards are the second-most in a season by a D9 receiver, trailing just DuBois’ Kyle Hopson’s 1,665 yards in 2016 on 101 catches. Rex passed the Port Allegany duo of Nick Conway (1,472) and Tyce Miller (1,425) who managed to do that in the same season in 2012.
Rex’s two other TDs on a kick return (74 yards) and interception (31) give him 15 of the team’s 25 scoring plays of 30 or more yards.
The Wildcats are averaging 405 yards per game — 242 passing, 163 rushing — with Ferguson up to 2,643 yards passing for the year, completing 123 of 216 with 32 TDs and 15 interceptions.
Dawson Smail (26-505, 7 TDs) and Tommy Smith (18-354, 6 TDs) are Ferguson’s other top receiving targets.
Connor Kopnitsky (99-631, 10 TDs) and Ferguson (112-518, 7 TDs) lead the Wildcats’ running game.