HERSHEY — Homer-Center led the pack for 13 weeks, but on Saturday afternoon the Wildcats fell behind and couldn’t keep up, and the school’s best football season in 19 years came to a close in the state playoffs.
The Wildcats lost to Steelton-Highspire, 40-7, in a PIAA Class A quarterfinal game at Hersheypark Stadium. The District 6 Class A and Heritage Conference champions, Homer-Center scored the game’s first points and stayed within at least two touchdowns for most of the game until the Steamrollers pulled away in the fourth quarter.
“We let it get away from us,” Homer-Center coach Greg Page said. “This is not a good memory, obviously. We’ll erase this and we’ll remember the Heritage (Conference) championship, the District 6 title, which not everybody gets to do every year. That’s what brought this team and community together. We had a nice trip down here. It’ll sting on the way home, but I’m proud of our guys.”
Homer-Center trailed 20-7 at halftime and through three quarters. The Wildcats, with their grind-it-out offense, were never able to cut the deficit on fast-track Steelton-Highspire, and the Rollers broke free for three fourth-quarter touchdowns to secure their spot in the state semifinals. Steelton-Highspire outgained Homer-Center 391-135.
“We haven’t seen an athletic team like that all season,” Page said. “You just hope your kids are going to be ready to play the perfect game.”
Instead of perfect, Homer-Center was simply solid for three quarters. The levee broke in the fourth, when Steelton-Highspire quarterback James Warren scored on a 9-yard run, his fourth touchdown of the game, and hit Logan Davis for a 29-yard pass and another score. Zedaah Moffitt’s 4-yard run gave the Rollers an even 40 points.
Warren finished with 202 yards on 15 carries.
“They have a couple athletes that, if you don’t break down or fight off blocks, are going to make you pay, and they did that today,” Page said. “Warren was tremendous. You’ve got to give credit to their guys. They got walls of blockers out in front of them.”
“Watching film, we thought our best chance was if we could get to the edge,” Steelton-Highspire coach Tom Hailey said. “We wanted to make sure we could control the clock and get maybe three or four (yards) in the middle, but we knew our big plays were going to come on the edge.”
Pitting their size against Steelton-Highspire’s speed, the Wildcats were able to move the ball in the first quarter, driving 32 yards before an interception on the game’s first series, and then taking a 7-0 lead on quarterback Aaron Berezansky’s 2-yard run with 4:21 left in the first quarter.
Steelton-Highspire, the District 3 champions, outgained the Wildcats 211-88 in the first half and countered with Warren’s first three touchdowns, on runs of 3, 16 and 8 yards, to take a 20-7 lead into halftime. Homer-Center felt good about staying close in the early going.
“We did (play well in the first half),” Page said. “We made some mistakes and they took advantage of them.”
Homer-Center held tough in a third quarter that was played almost entirely in its own end of the field, but it never could chip away at the Rollers’ lead. Ean Lee led the Wildcats with 78 yards on 17 carries.
Both teams were called for more than 100 yards in penalties, mostly on post-whistle infractions.
Steelton-Highspire advances to the Eastern Final and will face District 4 champion Old Forge.
“We knew they had an aggressive defense,” Page said. “The plan was to come out and go right at them. We couldn’t stop them, to be honest.”
“We talk all the time about playing for four quarters,” Hailey said, “and we always say, whatever the lead might be at halftime, take that and double it. That’s the mentality we have to come out with, and in the second half we told them, so far you have half of a win. Go out and get the whole thing.”
The afternoon brought to an end Homer-Center’s run through the playoffs, hundreds of miles from home at the site of the state championship games, though it was two rounds early.
“We outnumbered them,” Page said of Homer-Center’s fans, “and they’re 10 minutes away. It’s incredible. This town deserves a winner. It got one this year.”
“We had big dreams since we were little,” said senior running back Mike Newhouse, a brace on one knee, a long cut on the other after his final high school game. “Since we were 8, we were talking about it. We would talk about the D6 championship, the conference championship. I’ve got to admit that states weren’t ever in our wildest dreams. We’re proud that we made it here.”
It was a run the Wildcats won’t soon forget.
“That was one of the greatest rides I’ve ever been on,” senior center Shawn Steffee said. “We worked hard. All my teammates and coaches put their hearts into it. We got real far, and in the end, I guess we couldn’t pull through. The only thing I can say is thanks to my coaches, and all my teammates were very great. They put their heart into it, and it was something special. And all the fans here today, it was amazing. … We’ve got to appreciate things like this. I guess I’ll look back whenever I’m older, but right now it hurts.”