Barons Roll Into State Finals, 34-12

As the Upper Dublin bus pulled into the parking lot and players walked into the stadium, someone asked a player - likely being sarcastic - if they had a long drive.

A player said, "No....About two minutes."

Manheim Central made that drive home seem a lot longer by handing the Cardinals a 34-12 drubbing in the PIAA Class 5A semifinals at Wissahickon High School on Friday, Nov. 30.

The victory advances the Barons to the state final at 7 p.m. Friday at HersheyPark Stadium against Penn Hills (15-0).

Several players said they remember watching past Manheim teams play for the state title and are looking forward to having their chance to play in the big game.

Senior defensive back Isaac Perron told reporters after the game that he was three years old and watched the Barons win the state title at Hershey in the snow in 2003 and was nine in 2009 and watched from the stands with his parents when the team lost.

"It's a dream come true," he told reporters.

All 3 Phases

So far, in four postseason games, the Barons have outscored their opponents 175 to 60.

The previous three postseason games the offense and, specifically, the passing game, shined for Central. The defense has been rock solid and made several key defensive plays.

Against Upper Dublin, however, it was the special teams that rose to the occasion.

There was a tipped punt and a blocked punt, a blocked extra point attempt and a long punt return by Colby Wagner.

The Barons' offense had great starting field position because of special teams and its defense. Oh, and place kicker Niko Gavala made two field goals.

"I think special teams and defense played a key role for us," head coach Dave Hahn said. "Special teams had some big plays with a tipped punt and an outright block that gave us great field position on offense. The defense came up with some big plays."

Already ahead 7-0, the Barons' Tyler Hartl blocked a punt at the UD 23-yard line and recovered the block at the 5, giving Manheim great field position. Three plays later, Central quarterback Evan Simon scored on a 4-yard run to put Manheim up 14-0 and clearly swing momentum in the Barons' favor.

"The guys definitely picked it up after that," Hartl told reporters after the game. "We got some energy. We played good throughout the half. Every special teams play counts."

"Oh, yeah, that changed the game," Perron added. "That just swung the momentum. That was huge. That second blocked punt just fired us up and we were going and kept going."

Central kept it going and poured it on to put the game out of reach, taking a 21-6 lead into halftime and led 31-6 after a Gavala 38-yard field goal with 46 to go in the third quarter. (He added a 25-yarder in the fourth quarter).

Game over.

The Central defense came up big as well. UD ran nine plays to start the game and punted on its first four possessions. In the first half, the Barons had two sacks, two blocked punts, an interception and three tackles for losses.

On offense, Simon finished the first half 6-for-12 for 72 yards passing, an interception and 2 TDs (one rushing, one passing). He fired an 11-yard TD pass to Ben Wagner to put Central ahead 21-6 late in the second quarter.

"We pride ourselves on playing all three facets of the game," Hahn said. "We are not one dimensional. We are three dimensional."

This might have been Manheim's best balance between passing and rushing in four postseason games this season. For much of the season, the passing game took a backseat to the rushing attack. Senior running back Tyler Flick had 30 touchdowns on the year and had 12 TDs rushing in a three-game stretch late in the season. Central also put teams away early in games and did not need to pass.

In the postseason it's been a different story. Teams have attempted to take away the run and force Central to pass. Simon has thrown and thrown the ball well, passing for 780 yards and 10 TDs in the three games leading up to state semis against UD.

Against the Cardinals, Central rushed for 178 yards on 38 attempts and passed for 175 on 22 attempts. They finished with 360 yards of total offense.

"I don't think it is so much of being that good on offense, but we are smart enough to run different things on offense," Hahn said. "We try to take advantage of what the defense gives us.

"Upper Dublin was very aggressive and fast; they were faster than I thought from watching tape. We took advantage of what they gave us."

Experience Matters

Hahn has eyes in the sky, so to speak, veteran coaches watching from above in the press box. Mike Williams talks to Hahn on a headset about what he sees when the Barons are on offense and Frank Barton shares his observations with Hahn about what he sees on defense.

The communication between the assistants and head coach is a key for putting players in positions to succeed, and these coaches have found mismatches for big plays during this postseason.

An interesting note, the Barons likely could have played better in the first half. The reception on the headsets the Manheim coaches were using was not good against UD and they were struggling with communicating to Hahn, who eventually told Williams and Barton to come down and watch and talk to him from the field.

"They only time we could really talk and make adjustments was at halftime, but we still managed and got the win," said Hahn, who improved his career record to 48-6 and 26-1 over the last 27 games.

It is a veteran coaching staff and their knowledge, Hahn said, is essential for putting the kids the right position.

"I think our coaches try to put our kids in the best situation," Hahn said. "They care about them and want to get the best out of them. Our coaches know what they are doing. Mike has 34 years as a head coach and 50 years as a coach. Tom Getz has 40-plus years, and Tom Waranavage 20-plus years. They've seen and done a lot."

Flick got the scoring started for Central, bursting into the end zone on a 4-yard run on the Barons' second possession. He led the rushing attack in the first half with 10 carries for 38 yards and finished with 17 carries for 85 yards.

Flick, the school's all-time leader in rushing, has been forced to take back seat on offense, but his effort and performance on defense at linebacker stands out. With 11 tackles, he led a defensive unit that held UD to 220 total yards (175 pass, 45 rush). He was part of three tackles for a loss and added a sack.

After getting hurt last season against Cocalico and missing games in the postseason, including Central's semifinal loss, Flick appears to be making up for lost time.

"Tyler is a work horse for us," Hahn said. "He wants to do so well for the team. It is not about him. It is all about the team. He gets down on himself when he thinks he is not helping us enough. I had to sit him down and talk with him a few weeks ago. I told him how important he is for us. I told him that it is okay if teams take him away on offense because it will open up our passing game and he will have more energy on defense.

"He's been lights out. He's playing like he's got something to prove, with a little edge, after missing games at the end of last year."

Another senior playing lights out is receiver/defensive back Will Rivers, who, like Flick, made an impact on offense and defense. He finished second on the team in tackles with eight and caught five passes for 106 yards, including a 78-yard TD.

Last year Hahn said Rivers would hang his head a bit if he didn't make a play or a pass was off and the Barons didn't complete the play.

"This year he's playing with so much confidence, a little swag," Hahn said. "You can see it in his play.

"Will is not the biggest guy on the team, but at times he plays like he is. He's not tall, like 5-foot-7, and weighs about 150 pounds, but he won't back down from anything. He had a catch on a hitch from five yards out and took it 70 yards. He took a hit and kept going."

Looking Ahead

What will it take to bring Manheim its second state title in football?

"Score more points than the other team. I love that answer," Hahn said and laughs.

"Penn Hills is really fast. We need to neutralize their speed," he said. "I don't know whether that means containing them in the box. ...The last four games have been very physical games and I expect that to be the case again this week. You expect that and we need to do it one more game. Make it our type of game."

And a long ride home for Penn Hills.

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