The Pennsylvania high school football season will reach its pinnacle in the coming days.
Unfortunately, the six PIAA championship games scheduled for Thursday, Friday and Saturday at venerable Hersheypark Stadium will not feature any York-Adams League teams.
That's nothing new, of course. No York-Adams team has ever advanced to a state final in the nearly three-decade existence of the state football playoffs.
That doesn't mean, however, that folks here in York County should simply ignore this weekend's festivities.
Quite the contrary. There are a number of reasons we should pay close attention to what is going on in Hershey.
Close by: First of all, the games are being held just more than 20 miles from York County's northern border.
That proximity alone should stoke some local interest in the games. But if you don't want to make the short jaunt to Hershey and brave the frigid December weather, you can still watch all the games live on the Pennsylvania Cable Network (Comcast channel 186).
District 3 teams: Second, although there are no York-Adams teams in the finals, there are a pair of District 3 schools from the neighboring Mid-Penn Conference which have earned title berths. So there will be some regional outfits to root for.
District 3 champion Middletown will attempt to finish a perfect 15-0 season by winning the Class 3-A championship at 3:30 p.m. Saturday against District 7 champion Beaver Falls (12-1). The Blue Raiders have dominated the postseason competition thus far, winning each of its four playoff games by at least 27 points. Beaver Falls, however, would appear to be a tougher nut to crack. The school that produced Joe Namath hails from the notoriously rugged Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Conference. The Tigers' only loss came in the season opener to traditional power Aliquippa, 44-13. Beaver Falls avenged that loss in the District 7 title game, 35-22.
Don't expect another rout by the Raiders, who are searching for their first-ever state crown, as is Beaver Falls.
Harrisburg (11-3), meanwhile, will also strive for its first-ever state crown in Class 5-A against District 12 champ Archbishop Wood (10-2) at 7 p.m. Friday.
Don't let Harrisburg's record fool you. They've been on fire since late October, winning six straight. That just happens to coincide with the controversial transfer of Micah Parsons from Central Dauphin to the Cougars. Parsons, a junior, is a five-star recruit and is ranked the top Pennsylvania prospect for the Class of 2018. He excels as a running back and defensive end.
Neither 5-A finalist has been challenged in the postseason. Harrisburg's closest win came by 19 points, while Wood's top challenge was a 34-point win.
Under the old four-class format, Wood owns two state titles at the 3-A level in 2011 and 2014
Future Nittany Lions: Third, the York County Penn State fans can check out a few players who have committed to play for the Nittany Lions and see how they stack up against the state's top competition.
One of those PSU recruits is Parsons, who verbally committed to James Franklin way back in February. Parsons recently took a trip to Ohio State and reportedly came away highly impressed, sparking speculation that he may be wavering on his commitment to PSU. Not surprisingly, it was later reported that Penn State told Parsons it may give him the opportunity to play both offense and defense at Happy Valley.
In any event, there's no doubt that the 6-foot, 3-inch, 245-pound Parsons is a spectacular talent who is definitely worth checking out.
Harrisburg also features another PSU recruit in three-star defensive end Damion Barber, a 6-3, 244-pounder. Together, Parsons and Barber give the Cougars a formidable defensive duo on the edges.
The only other PSU commitment on display in the PIAA finals will be monster Pittsburgh Central Catholic lineman C.J. Thorpe, who measures 6-4 and 305 pounds. District 7 champion Central Catholic (14-1) will face District 12 champion St. Joseph's Prep (13-0) in the marquee Class 6-A final at 8 p.m. Saturday.
There is one other player that PSU fans will want to keep an eye on — Clairton's Lamont Wade. He's the state's top-rated recruit in the Class of 2017. The 5-11, 180-pound running back/quarterback/cornerback has reportedly narrowed his choices to Penn State, Pitt, Tennessee, West Virginia and UCLA. The Lions are rumored to be the front-runner.
Wade's team will look to avenge a controversial 19-18 state final loss to Bishop Guilfoyle from 2014 when those same two teams collide again in the Class 1-A title game at 1 p.m. Friday. District 6 champion Guilfoyle (14-0) is looking for its third straight state crown. District 7 champ Clairton is also 14-0. Guilfoyle is riding a 46-game winning streak. It should be a dandy.
Measuring the gap: Fourth, the players, coaches and fans here in York County should check out the games just to get a feel for just how wide the gap is between York-Adams League football and the best football that the PIAA has to offer.
Unfortunately, at the moment, that gap more resembles a canyon, but it's still entertaining to see the state's great young athletes display their talents.
New era: Finally, this will mark the beginning of a new era in the PIAA — six classifications and six champions spread over three days.
In previous seasons, there were only four classes and four champs spread over two days.
It will make for a busy three days in Hershey.
It starts with Thursday's 7 p.m. battle of Class 4-A unbeatens pitting District 12 champ Imhotep (13-0) and District 10 champ Erie Cathedral Prep (13-0). It ends with Saturday's high-profile 6-A championship game at 8 p.m.
In total there will be 288 minutes of game action — even more if there's an overtime or two.
It should be a blast to watch, even if there aren't any York County teams to cheer on.
Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PIAA Football Championship Games
(All games telecast live by PCN)
(All games held at Hersheypark Stadium)
District 12 champion St. Joseph's Prep (13-0) vs. District 7 champion Pittsburgh Central Catholic (14-1), 8 p.m. Saturday.
District 12 champion Archbishop Wood (10-2) vs. District 3 champion Harrisburg (11-3), 7 p.m. Friday.
District 12 champion Imhotep (13-0) vs. District 10 champion Erie Cathedral Prep (13-0), 7 p.m. Thursday.
District 3 champion Middletown (14-0) vs. District 7 champion Beaver Falls (12-1), 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
District 4 champion Southern Columbia (15-0) vs. District 7 champion Steel Valley (14-1), 11 a.m. Saturday.
District 6 champion Bishop Guilfoyle (14-0) vs. District 7 champion Clairton (14-0), 1 p.m. Friday.