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Wednesday, July 16
Football Games of the Week



As high school football playoffs head into the state finals and semifinals across the nation, there are plenty of big-time games this weekend with major Top 25 and state title implications. We take a closer look at what we think are this weekend's four biggest high school football games.

To find out who won these games and see playoff scores from around the nation, visit the football scoreboard page.

No. 2 Cathedral Prep (Pa.) vs. No. 7 Central Bucks West High (Pa.)
PIAA Class AAAA state finals - Saturday

To hear people talk, you'd think No. 7 Central Bucks West (14-0) and No. 2 Erie Cathedral Prep (13-0) were penciled in for a rematch in the PIAA Class AAAA state finals back in August.

But as Prep head coach Mike Mischler stood on the sidelines awaiting overtime in the Ramblers' quarterfinal game against Altoona High two weeks ago, he came face to face with the real possibility that his team wouldn't even get a rematch with the three-time state champion Bucks.

And if the Ramblers beat C.B. West on Saturday in the state championship game, Mischler will point to the Altoona win as the one that gave his team the wake-up call it needed.

"I don't think I could have written a better script to get us mentally prepared," says Mischler about the Ramblers' 27-20 double-overtime win over Altoona, a game in which they had to score with less than one minute left just to send the game into overtime. "It was a wake-up call for us. It was like, 'Listen, this could end at any time.'"

Central Bucks West earned its place in the title game
Phil DiGiacomo
Phil DiGiacomo and his Central Bucks West High (Pa.) teammates will face Cathedral Prep (Pa.) this Saturday in the state finals.
for the fourth straight year by beating every team it has faced in the playoffs by at least two touchdowns, including a 27-12 win over Bethlehem Catholic High last week. Cathedral Prep bounced back from near disaster against Altoona by trouncing WPIAL champ Mt. Lebanon High, 39-14, last weekend, setting up a replay of last year's thrilling state final.

Although both teams enter the showdown in the national Top 10, Mischler doesn't believe rankings mean anything. The Ramblers are playing for a state title and nothing else.

"I think we're just glad to be playing in the state championship game again," says Mischler, whose team lost to West, 14-13, in last year's final. "It's special (that the game is against Central Bucks West). We want a shot at the best team in the state. To be the best, we have to beat the best, and certainly West is the best right now."

No. 6 Westlake High (Texas) vs. No. 14 Eisenhower High (Texas)
Class 5A, Division I state semifinals - Saturday

Eisenhower (13-0) and Westlake (13-0) both come into the contest - probably the biggest of the year so far in Texas - with tremendous defenses and very potent offenses.

Eisenhower returns a senior-laden lineup that went to the Division I championship last year. The Eagles have given up just nine points per game this season and only twice allowed more than 20 points - in Week three against Lufkin High and during their 29-21 quarterfinal win over Hastings High.

Westlake, meanwhile, boasts an offense very similar to its last state championship squad, which was led by Drew Brees, now a star quarterback at Purdue University. Brees' team averaged 40.5 points per game in going 16-0 and capturing the school's only state title; this year's club is right at 41.5 points per contest through its first 13 games. The Westlake defense, like it was with Brees' team, has been stifling, allowing just 9.7 points per game while recording two shutouts.

"I don't know if we have the same talent level here with this team as in '96, but we may have more team quickness," says Westlake head coach Ron Schroeder. "We don't have the marquee players like Drew Brees, but we have some unsung hero guys that are pretty darn quick and that have been real key for us."

Defensively, Eisenhower is led along the front line by tackles Chris Clay and Leonard Army. Linebacker Derrick Busby leads the team in tackles with 102 solos and 31 assisted. Busby, along with fellow linebacker Kenneth Little (three sacks this season), will have the responsibility of reading Westlake's unorthodox formations, which have confused many opposing defenses this season.

"We have to line up properly and adjust to a lot of their formations with the correct personnel," says Eisenhower head coach Richard Carson. "It's going to be a battle in the trenches, and our secondary is going to have to a do a good job of not sucking up on the play fakes to keep from giving up the big play."

Westlake's defense, meanwhile, has been stingy since giving up 54 points in its first three games. Only one player (Judson High's Morris Brothers with 129) rushed for more than 100 yards against Westlake. This is a defense that returns just two starters from last year's playoff team and only one in the secondary - Erick Smart, who has six interceptions this season.

Offensively, Eisenhower is led by running back Tony Frazier, who has more than 1,300 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns this season, and quarterback Rickey Murphy, who has 800 yards rushing and 22 touchdowns. Murphy rotates fellow quarterback Trey Harris in during every game, which could cause problems for the Westlake defense. Murphy is generally regarded as the more mobile quarterback, while Harris stays in the pocket longer and is less mistake-prone than Murphy. Carson says both will see plenty of action on Saturday.

Westlake, however, boasts one of the state's top rushers in Brendan Dewan, who last week rushed for five touchdowns in a 35-6 pounding of Holmes High. Dewan has rushed 116 times for 703 yards this season. Quarterback Duke Hasson leads a balanced scoring attack with 1,589 passing yards and 19 touchdowns, with only two interceptions. His favorite targets are Christian Campbell (22 receptions, two touchdowns) and Jed Johnson (29 receptions, five touchdowns).

"This is a special time of the year," says Carson, whose program has never faced Westlake before. "It's a Houston-area team playing a team outside of the area. And when you get into the semifinals, you're not only representing your school, but also your region and your city. Westlake is a great program with a lot of history, and people who haven't been attending games are going to come out just to see this one. It's going to be a lot of fun."

No. 4 Long Beach Poly High (Calif.) vs. Loyola High (Calif.)
Southern Section Division I finals - Saturday

Long Beach Poly (13-0) enters the game looking to come out with the entire title, not just part of it. Last year, the Jackrabbits were forced to share the Division I championship with Mater Dei High after the two tied in the title game.

Interestingly, Loyola comes into Saturday's game with a 12-1 record, with its sole loss coming to Mater Dei. Poly enters the game No. 1 in Los Angeles, a position the team has kept all year. With the exception of an early-season challenge from Vista High, Poly has yet to be truly tested. Poly smacked the No. 2 team in Orange County, Esperanza High, last week, 49-28.

Loyola quarterback Matt Ware will need to have the game of his life if Loyola (the No. 2 team in Los Angeles) hopes to have a shot in this game. The Cubs needed a muffed field goal in the final minute and a suspended starting quarterback to beat Eisenhower High, 17-14, in overtime last week.

Ware has been simply outstanding this year running and throwing the football. But Poly's defense held Orange County's leading rusher - Temitope Sonuji - to less than 50 yards on the ground last week. Unless he can break free, Ware may suffer the same fate in the finals.

No. 12 St. Thomas Aquinas High (Fla.) vs. Southeast High (Fla.)
Class 4A state semifinals - Friday

At the beginning of the season, you could probably have predicted that this game would take place. But back in August, Bradenton Southeast would have been the favorite.

Southeast (10-3) began the season as the nation's No. 9 team, but a few stumbles in the regular season quickly knocked the Seminoles out of the national rankings. Meanwhile, St. Thomas Aquinas (13-0), the defending state champ, was unranked when the year began but has climbed all the way to No. 12 with an unbeaten record.

But none of that will matter Friday night. Records and rankings will be a moot point when Aquinas and Southeast square off for a chance at the Class 4A state title next weekend.

St. Thomas Aquinas has been dominant in the postseason, outscoring its three opponents 110-16. Last week, the Raiders were led on offense by Justin Montgomery, who rushed for 149 yards and a touchdown. Dominic Anderson chipped in with 77 yards rushing and two scores.

But it is Aquinas' defense that will need to come up big on Friday against Southeast. The Seminoles feature athletic quarterback Adrian McPherson, Florida's Gatorade Player of the Year. McPherson can hurt defenses as much with his legs as with his arm, and the Raiders will have to keep him under wraps if they hope to advance to the state finals. Southeast also has an underrated defense that has not allowed a point in the second half of its three playoff games.



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