Selinsgrove finds itself in same position as last season
Selinsgrove made only its second appearance in the PIAA Class AAA playoffs last season and, after winning its first-round match against District 6 champion Johnstown, was eliminated by WPIAL champion Thomas Jefferson in the quarterfinals at Mansion Park Stadium in Altoona.
A year has passed, but even though the opponents have changed, the situation for Selinsgrove remains the same.
Selinsgrove (11-1) again won the District 4 championship and defeated Huntington in the opening round of the playoffs. Instead of meeting Thomas Jefferson in the next game, the Seals must now prepare to meet Franklin Regional (11-1) on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Mansion Park in Altoona. Franklin Regional eliminated defending state champion Thomas Jefferson in the WPIAL final.
"I think (playing TJ last year) helps," Selinsgrove coach Bill Scott said. "I don't think it's a big advantage, but it helps. We had a great game against TJ last year and let it slip away, but the kids remember that and know they're playing a team out of the same district."
The problem for Selinsgrove is that most of the players from that team are gone. Only two starters, center Alec Mull and linebacker Josh Hostetler, both seniors, remain from the team that took Thomas Jefferson to overtime before losing, 20-14.
"We obviously won our district championship, and it's not the strongest district in the state, but we did beat the District 6 winner," Scott said. "We were a very young team starting the season with only a starting center and a starting linebacker returning, but these kids have gotten a little better each week, and here we are."
Selinsgrove runs an offense similar to Franklin Regional, working out of the I-formation and primarily utilizing its running game to methodically move the chains. Matt Cook, a 6-2, 190-pound junior, has been the workhorse for the Seals with 102 carries for 854 yards and 13 touchdowns, and 6-1, 178-pound senior Garrett Slough has amassed 125 carries for 685 yards and five scores.
"They just keep pounding you," Franklin Regional coach Greg Botta said. "I talked to (Thomas Jefferson coach) Bill Cherpak about it, and they came at him, and they were down 14 points at halftime against them. You're not one of the last four teams in the state from the west unless you're a good football team."
In addition to the running backs, sophomore quarterback Eric Deckard has contributed 80 carries for 402 yards and 11 touchdowns and completed 77 of 141 passes for 1,263 yards, 11 touchdowns and only five interceptions.
"It's not the first time that we've started a sophomore at quarterback," Scott said. "He's a kid who's not real emotional. He doesn't have ups and downs and plays on an even keel and hasn't been rattled so far."
Even more impressive is the fact Deckard has been sacked only four times.
"We saw three films on them and they're big strong kids. I call them throwbacks and I don't mean that in a derogatory way," Botta said. "They're just big, physical, tough football players that come at you."
Franklin Regional has the players up front to counter Selinsgrove at the point of attack, led by 6-2, 270-pound lineman and Pitt recruit John Malecki and a solid running game of its own led by senior Robby Armstrong, the fifth-leading rusher in the WPIAL this season with 238 carries for 1,806 yards and 25 touchdowns.
About the only question mark for Franklin Regional is how it will play without senior Brad Phillips at quarterback. The Northwestern recruit has a slight tear of his left medial collateral ligament and will be replaced by junior Lenny Gallo.
Last week, Gallo came off the bench in the second quarter with Franklin Regional trailing Thomas Jefferson, 7-3, and completed both his pass attempts for 48 yards -- including a 36-yard scoring strike to Justin Malego - and ran seven times for 62 yards.
"The guy that plays in place of (Phillips) isn't chopped liver," Scott said. "He's very quick, and they spread the field, and they like to run the option so I don't see that changing."
Much like Selinsgrove's situation.
DetailsWho: Franklin Regional (11-1) vs. Selinsgrove (11-1)
Where: Mansion Park Stadium, Altoona
When: Saturday 1 p.m.
Notables: No Selinsgrove player has been offered a Division I scholarship, but starting quarterback Eric Deckard might end up being the third consecutive player to graduate from the school as a three-year starting quarterback. ... Franklin Regional never has won a PIAA championship.