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Rick O'Brien: 3 teams left, and all have good shot to win

North Penn, Archbishop Wood and West Catholic are favored in state semifinals.

And then there were three.

With the smoke almost cleared on the 2008 football season, a trio of area teams remains alive in the hunt for PIAA state championships: North Penn, Archbishop Wood and West Catholic.

At stake this weekend, in the state semifinals, is a trip to Hersheypark Stadium for a shot at statewide glory. Actually, it would be a return trip for Wood, as the Vikings meet District 4's Selinsgrove tonight in Chocolatetown, USA.

Last week, in Thanksgiving Day and state-quarterfinal action, we frolicked to an 11-1 record. Our lone slip up was the result of underestimating the Pioneers of Frankford. Mike Capriotti's squad bested North Catholic, 14-6, and trimmed the Falcons' overall series advantage to 42-35-4.

Last week: 11-1.

Overall: 112-41 (.732).

Class AAAA: Bethlehem Liberty (13-1) vs. North Penn (14-0, No. 1 in The Inquirer's rankings), at Coatesville, tomorrow, 1 p.m. Not much game film had to be watched by either coach. The Hurricanes and Knights met in the season opener, with Dick Beck's rugged crew leaving Bethlehem with a 23-15 victory. In 2005, Liberty eked out a 14-12 win in a state semifinal in Allentown. Key for North Penn is slowing down dual-threat quarterback Anthony Gonzalez. The junior southpaw, the Lehigh Valley Conference's most valuable player, has completed 101 of 182 passes for 1,422 yards and 10 touchdowns, with three interceptions. He has rushed 206 times for 1,405 yards and 20 scores. Other offensive threats for the Hurricanes are senior tailback Brandon Bader (200 carries for 1,268 yards and 22 TDs) and bruising fullback Daryl Klotz (66 for 322, four TDs).

We watched the Hurricanes against George Washington. They're good, but they can't match North Penn's overall quickness (see Ronnie Akins and Tyler Smith) and interior strength.

Pick: North Penn, 28-13.

Class AAA: Archbishop Wood (11-2, No. 10) vs. Selinsgrove (13-1), at Hersheypark Stadium, tonight, 7. The Selinsgrove Seals have won 13 straight since losing to Mount Carmel, 14-0, on Aug. 29. Overall, they have outscored foes by 440-92. Selinsgrove, with a multiple offense and a pass-heavy strategy, has a 2,179-yard, 30-TD thrower in 6-foot-3, 200-pound junior Cory Briggs. His top target is 6-2, 185-pound junior wideout Ryan Keiser (69 catches for 1,242 yards, 19 TDs).

We expect Wood's rock-solid secondary to slow down Briggs and Co. That, along with continued rushing success from Sean Cunningham, should spell a 10-point victory in Hershey.

Pick: Wood, 17-7.

Class AA: Lancaster Catholic (13-1) vs. West Catholic (13-1, No. 4), at Northeast, tonight, 7. Like Selinsgrove, the Lancaster Catholic Crusaders own a 13-game winning streak. The District 3 champions have outscored opponents by 565-160. Seventh-year coach Bruce Harbach uses a multiple offense. Kyle Smith, a 6-3, 200-pound junior who is drawing Division I interest, has completed 165 of 253 passes for 3,015 yards and 41 TDs, with four interceptions. He has rushed 66 times for 326 yards and four scores. While the Crusaders have put up impressive numbers, they are meeting their match in QB Curtis Drake and the high-octane Burrs. West Catholic has more speed and more size. Enough said.

Pick: West Catholic, 42-14.