One quarter into Friday night’s PIAA Class 6A state semifinal, Downingtown West held a 7-3 lead.
Midway through the second quarter, the District 1 champion Whippets held a 14-9 lead.
But the Rams’ running game was just finding its footing on a cold, clear evening at Coatesville High School.
Central Dauphin, the District 3 champion, scored on nine consecutive possessions before kneeling out the clock on their final series of an imposing 65-44 victory over Downingtown West.
The Rams rode the running of junior Tim Smith, who generated 263 yards on 22 carries and scored four touchdowns, to a date in next Saturday night’s state championship game against the winner of Saturday’s St. Joseph’s Prep-Pittsburgh Central Catholic game.
The loss ended the best season in Downingtown West history. The Whippets, who finished 13-2, were trying to reach the state final for the first time since the 1996 team won the crown, a few years before the district split into two high schools.
“There’s nothing but pride here,” Downingtown West coach Mike Milano said. “This hurts but we accomplished a lot. I couldn’t be more proud of these guys.”
In their final games, Downingtown West’s Will Howard and Tyriq Lewis put the finishing touches on sensational senior seasons.
Lewis scored two touchdowns to raise his season total to 39, a Downingtown record.
“It’s tough because you watch the clock tick down and you know you might never play with these guys again,” Lewis said. “These are guys you have been playing with your whole life.
“It was a great ride. A great ride.”
Howard, a Kansas State recruit, completed his first 11 passes. He finished 23-for-30 for 273 yards and three touchdowns.
But after the game, Howard blamed himself for a pair of interceptions early in the second half that allowed Central Dauphin (12-2) to seize command.
“That’s on me,” Howard said.
Central Dauphin, which was coming off a bye after beating Harrisburg in the District 3 final on Nov. 15, controlled the game with a dominant offensive line that created running room for Smith as well as Elijah Vargas (six carries, 115 yards, two touchdowns) and several other ball-carriers.
Milano noted that standout defensive end Sean Pelkisson was hampered by an ankle ailment that finally forced him out of the game in the fourth quarter.
In addition, Downingtown West was playing for the 15th weekend in a row. Several of the Whippets went both ways this season.
“That’s tough duty,” Milano said. “Their offensive line is terrific. They have one going to Temple, one of the Air Force Academy, 300-pounders, and we just couldn’t hold up.”
The game got away from Downingtown West early in the third quarter. Howard threw interceptions on the first two possessions, and Central Dauphin converted both turnovers into touchdowns to turn a 23-14 lead into a 37-14 advantage.
Downingtown West kept fighting back behind Howard, Lewis and junior Julian Williams, who finished with eight catches for 129 yards and also broke loose for a 62-yard kickoff return that led to a touchdown.
Lewis and Pelkisson both fought into the end zone on tough, third-quarter touchdown runs. Howard scored on a sneak and Lewis caught the final pass of Howard’s career for another score.
But Central Dauphin kept answering every score. The Rams’ Malachi Bowman broke loose for the 89-yard kickoff return, but most of the damage was done by a ground game that picked up huge chucks of yardage by running backs.
Milano told his players that, in time, they would look back with pride.
“I know we’re going to look back in a couple days, a couple months, and feel good about what we did,” Howard said. “These dudes are my brothers for life.”
Central Dauphin 3 20 28 14 – 65
Downingtown West 7 7 16 14 – 44
CD: Ahren Stauffer 32 FG
DW: Will Mahmud 12 pass from Will Howard (Spencer Mochulski kick)
CD: Elijah Vargas 44 run (run fail)
DW: Julian Williams 71 pass from Howard (Mochulski kick)
CD: Tim Smith 10 pass from Max Mosey (Stauffer kick)
CD: Mosey 2 run (Stauffer kick)
CD: Marques Holton 3 run (Stauffer kick)
CD: Smith 10 run (Stauffer kick)
DW: Tyriq Lewis 6 run (Lewis run)
CD: Smith 34 run (Stauffer kick)
DW: Sean Pelkisson 15 run (Mahmud pass from Howard)
CD: Malachi Bowman 89 kickoff return (Stauffer kick)
DW: Howard 1 run (Mocholski kick)
CD: Smith 36 run (Stauffer kick)
CD: Vargas 56 run (Stauffer kick)
DW: Lewis 10 pass from Howard (Mochulski kick)