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Southeastern Pennsylvania football rankings: Cheltenham rises to No. 7 in Top 10

The Panthers won their 12th game in a row to advance to the PIAA Class 5A state final for the first time in program history.

Cheltenham celebrates a 56-49 win over Cocalico in PIAA Class 5A semifinals.
Cheltenham celebrates a 56-49 win over Cocalico in PIAA Class 5A semifinals.Read moreCheltenham Athletics (custom credit)

Three games into the season, Cheltenham was 2-1 after a 19-7 home loss to rival Abington on a rainy, muddy Friday night.

“We always have trouble scoring against them, especially in the rain on our field,” Cheltenham coach Ryan Nase said.

Scoring has not been a problem for the Panthers over the last 12 weeks. Winning hasn’t been an issue, either.

Cheltenham’s dream season continued Friday night with a 56-49 victory over District 3 champion Cocalico in the PIAA Class 5A semifinals. The point total marked the highest-scoring game in program history, per research by sports historian Chuck Langerman.

The previous mark was 93, set in a 93-0 win over Conestoga in 1920.

Cheltenham (14-1) has averaged 40.5 points in a 12-game winning streak. In five playoff games, the Panthers have scored 41, 35, 42, 43 and 56 points.

Cheltenham has set the school record for wins in a season. The Panthers have captured the team’s first District 1 title. They have risen to No. 7 in the Southeastern Pennsylvania Top 10.

They will seek the school’s first state title in football Friday night at Hershey, when they face District 12 champion Archbishop Wood in the Class 5A final.

Here’s the new Top 10, with last week’s rankings in parentheses:

1. St. Joseph’s Prep (1) 11-2: State football folks will be buzzing for years about the Hawks’ 31-24 overtime victory over Central Catholic on Saturday at Altoona in the Class 6A semifinals. Juniors Malik Cooper and Marvin Harrison combined for the Miracle of Mansion Park, a 12-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-10 with 0:15 on the clock in regulation.

St. Joseph’s Prep will seek its second straight state title and third in the last four seasons Saturday night at Hershey vs. District 3 champion Central Dauphin, which beat Downingtown West, 65-44, in a 109-point semifinal Friday night at Coatesville.

2. Downingtown West (2) 13-2: The Whippets seemed to react to the loss to Central Dauphin with a mixture of disappointment and pride. On one hand, there was sadness over falling one win short of reaching the state finals for the first time since 1996. On the other, there was no shortage of satisfaction over the best season since the district split into two high schools in 2003.

Senior quarterback Will Howard threw three touchdown passes in his final game, and senior Tyriq Lewis set the Downingtown record for touchdowns in a season with 39. Senior Sean Pelkisson, who ended the night on crutches with an ankle injury, rumbled into the end zone on a 15-yard counter as part of a never-say-die rally after Central Dauphin took a 37-14 lead early in the second half.

3. Coatesville (3) 10-3: Forty-eight wins in four seasons. That’s quite a legacy for Coatesville’s seniors, especially four-year starters Ricky Ortega and Dapree Bryant. The remarkable run included four straight Ches-Mont National titles as well as two District 1 crowns. The bar is set high for Kid Raiders out there aspiring to be the next Ortega and Bryant.

4. Archbishop Wood (4) 10-3: Junior Kaelin Costello broke off scoring runs of 73 and 95 yards and senior Rob Meyer made a 25-yard field goal with 0:03 on the clock in a 24-21 win over Gateway in the PIAA Class 5A semifinals. The Vikings have won six in a row and seven of eight, with the lone loss to St. Joseph’s Prep. Wood will seek its sixth state title since 2011 in Friday night’s title game vs. Cheltenham at Hershey.

5. Episcopal Academy (5) 9-1: Junior Malcolm Folk was a playmaker on both sides of the football for the Churchmen. He caught 29 passes for 428 yards and six touchdowns. He rushed 78 times for 494 yards and two scores. He also made 33 tackles.

6. Northeast (6) 12-2: The Vikings finished the season in fine fashion, winning nine of their last 10. The lone loss was a 43-26 setback to St. Joseph’s Prep in a spirited Class 6A city title game. Northeast beat old rival Central, 36-16, on Thanksgiving.

7. Cheltenham (10) 14-1: Senior quarterback Adonis Hunter was 10-for-16 passing for 255 yards and three touchdowns in the wild win over Cocalico. Hunter has set a school record for passing yards in a season with 2,141, per Langerman’s research.

The Panthers’ battle with Archbishop Wood in the state final will feature no shortage of subplots and connections between the schools, as senior stars T.J. Harris and Jamir Barnes started their careers playing for the Vikings.

8. Imhotep Charter (7) 8-5: Watch out for the Panthers next season. This team, which went 8-2 in its final 10 games, losing only to 12-2 Northeast and 15-0 Dallas by a total of nine points, featured several standout non-seniors. Sophomore defensive linemen Enai White and Keon Wylie are among a large group of athletes to watch.

9. Garnet Valley (8) 11-2: Senior Jake Morin led the Jaguars with 79 tackles, including 12.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. He also rushed for 815 yards and 14 touchdowns.

10. Haverford (9) 11-3: The Fords won 11 of their last 12 after an 0-2 start, finishing the season with a 42-18 victory over old rival Upper Darby on Thanksgiving. Senior Trey Blair, a Buffalo recruit, put together one of the best individual seasons in program history with 2,192 rushing yards, 1,155 passing yards and a total of 40 touchdowns.

Under consideration (listed alphabetically): Academy Park (10-3), Bonner-Prendergast (9-2), Central Bucks West (10-2), Downingtown East (9-2), Germantown Academy (7-2), La Salle (8-3), Neumann-Goretti (11-1), North Penn (8-4), Plymouth Whitemarsh (9-2), Pope John Paul II (10-3), West Chester East (9-3), West Chester Rustin (9-4).