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Southeastern Pennsylvania Football: Breaking down this weekend’s state semifinals

St. Joseph's Prep and Downingtown West in Class 6A and Archbishop Wood and Cheltenham in Class 5A are set to compete for a berth in the state finals.

Downingtown West senior Sean Pelkisson (No. 22), a Georgia Southern recruit, is a top two-way player for the Whippets.
Downingtown West senior Sean Pelkisson (No. 22), a Georgia Southern recruit, is a top two-way player for the Whippets.Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

The PIAA playoffs have reached the semifinal round, with four Southeastern Pennsylvania teams one win away from the state finals.

Here’s a breakdown of the four games this weekend involving local teams:

Class 6A

Downingtown West (13-1) vs. Central Dauphin (11-2), Friday at 7 p.m., at Coatesville: The Whippets beat Coatesville, 48-36, on Friday night, winning their first District 1 title since 1996. That also was the last time they were in the state final.

Downingtown West features senior quarterback Will Howard, a Kansas State recruit; senior running back Tyriq Lewis; and senior wide receiver Alex Rosano. The defense is sparked by senior lineman Sean Pelkisson, a Georgia Southern recruit and top pass rusher, and senior lineman Max Hale.

Howard has passed for 2,580 yards and 27 touchdowns. He is coming off a terrific performance against Coatesville, completing nine of his final 10 passes for 180 yards and a clutch, 37-yard scoring strike to junior Julian Williams. Lewis has run for 1,725 yards and has scored a school-record 37 touchdowns, 32 on the ground.

Downingtown West has played 14 weeks in a row since Aug. 24. Central Dauphin had a bye last weekend after winning the District 3 title on Nov. 15 with a 27-20 victory over Harrisburg.

“That’s the PIAA at its finest,” Downingtown West coach Mike Milano said sarcastically after the victory over Coatesville.

Central Dauphin is led by all-purpose senior Nick Chimienti, who has 52 receptions for 990 yards and nine touchdowns, plus four interceptions. Junior Tim Smith has rushed for 993 yards and 13 touchdowns, and sophomore quarterback Max Mosey has thrown for 1,886 yards and 13 touchdowns for the Rams.

St. Joseph’s Prep (10-2) vs. Pittsburgh Central Catholic (12-1), Saturday at 1 p.m., at Altoona Mansion Park: The District 12 champion Hawks are seeking to reach the state final for the fourth year in a row. They won the state crown in 2016 and 2018 and lost to Pine-Richland in the title game in 2017.

Since the start of the 2016 season, St. Joseph’s Prep is 43-1 vs. Pennsylvania opponents. Included in that run was a 42-7 win over Central Catholic in the 2016 state final. The Hawks also beat Central Catholic, 35-10, in the 2013 title game.

St. Joseph’s Prep has won nine in a row since starting the season 1-2 vs. national-caliber competition. The Hawks have won the last two games without junior quarterback Kyle McCord, an Ohio State recruit, who has been sidelined with a knee injury. McCord, who has thrown for 2,399 yards and 31 touchdowns, is “day-to-day,” coach Tim Roken said.

Without McCord, the Prep has leaned heavily on senior running back Kolbe Burrell (1,096 yards, 14 touchdowns), a Buffalo recruit, as well as its defense and special teams. Junior Sahmir Hagans has provided a big spark with three return touchdowns in the last two games.

Central Catholic, the District 7 champion, has won 10 in a row. The Vikings feature junior running back Eddy Tillman (1,922 yards, 25 touchdowns) and junior defensive end Elliot Donald, the nephew of Los Angeles Rams’ star Aaron Donald. Elliot Donald has offers from Notre Dame, Penn State, Ohio State, and Pitt, among others.

Class 5A

Archbishop Wood (9-3) vs. Gateway (12-2), Friday at 1 p.m., at Altoona Mansion Park: The District 12 champion Vikings have won five state titles since 2011. The last was in 2017, when they beat Gateway, 49-14.

Wood is a balanced team. The offense features junior running backs Cardel Pigford (798 yards, eight touchdowns) and Kaelin Costello (622 yards, 10 touchdowns), and junior quarterback Max Keller (1,172 yards, 16 touchdowns).

Senior Ryan DiVergilis (62 tackles, four interceptions) sparks the defense with junior Shane Collier, who had 14 tackles in the state quarterfinals vs. Southern Lehigh.

Gateway, the District 7 champion, features one of the country’s top recruits in the class of 2021 in junior Derrick Davis, a running back and linebacker. Davis, whose offers include Alabama, Clemson, LSU, Ohio State, and Penn State, sat out most of the second half of the Gators’ 21-20 win over Peters Township on Saturday with an ankle injury. His status for this game is uncertain.

Senior quarterback Bryson Venanzio threw for 242 yards and two touchdowns in the win.

Cheltenham (13-1) vs. Cocalico (11-2), Friday at 6 p.m., at Hershey: The Panthers won the first District 1 title in program history with a wild, 43-42 victory over Academy Park.

Cheltenham, which has won 11 in a row, is a balanced, big-play team featuring seniors including quarterback Adonis Hunter (1,883 passing yards with 23 touchdowns and 14 rushing touchdowns) and running back Jamir Barnes (1,117 yards, 12 touchdowns), a Monmouth recruit. Senior receiver Nate Edwards is a dynamic playmaker (561 yards, nine touchdowns).

Senior safety T.J. Harris (nine interceptions) and junior Sam Sykes (106 tackles) spark the defense.

Cocalico, the District 3 champion, has won seven in a row. The Eagles are led by senior quarterback Noah Palm, a New Hampshire recruit who has run for 1,432 yards and 33 touchdowns and passed for 1,014 yards and nine touchdowns.