In the bid for its first PIAA Class AAAA football championship since 2003, North Penn (13-2) will try to avoid a down-to-the-wire contest against Central Dauphin (14-1).

That's because the Rams, from District 3, have made the close-shave victory their trademark in the state playoffs. They have won their last four games by a combined 16 points.

Last Saturday, in the Rams' 23-20 triumph over defending champion North Allegheny of District 7, the difference was Evan Brandes' 21-yard field goal in the closing seconds.

After a 1-2 start, including a second-half collapse against St. Joseph's Prep in Week 3, North Penn has been shredding opponents. Last Saturday's 21-14 win over La Salle was the squad's 12th in a row. Here is a closer look at Saturday's final, set for 6 p.m. at Hersheypark Stadium:

States. North Penn is the last team from District 1 to claim a Class AAAA title. Central Dauphin is looking to become the first Class AAAA champ from District 3 since Cumberland Valley won in 1992.

Standout rusher. Central Dauphin's Zayd Issah, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound junior, has carried 217 times for 1,281 yards and 20 touchdowns.

Other rushing threats for the Rams are junior flanker Drew Scales (123 for 843, eight TDs) and senior halfback Adam Hollinger (83 for 621, four).

Aerial attack. Central Dauphin's Brandon LaVia, a 6-foot, 205-pound junior, has completed 93 of 164 passes for 1,421 yards and 14 scores. His No. 1 target is Zayd Issah, with 29 receptions for 674 yards and 10 TDs.

Good to go. North Penn coach Dick Beck said Thursday that junior tailback Kyle Mayfield, who had only three touches against La Salle after suffering a shoulder injury in Week 14, is "100 percent."

Two-way star. Zayd Issah is also a rock-solid outside linebacker for a defense that has yielded 14.4 points per game.

Short-yardage man. Against La Salle, the Knights turned to rugged fullback Ralph Reeves near paydirt. Three of his four carries went for touchdowns.

Much improved. North Penn's defense, allowing an average of 11.8 points in five playoff games, is headed by Ralph Reeves, an inside linebacker, end Shayne Watson, tackle Derek Brandt, and outside linebackers Matt Smith and Danny Wynne.

Quotable. Central Dauphin coach Glen McNamee on the Knights: "They're big, physical, and play relentless for 48 minutes."

 Analysis. We expect the Knights' defensive toughness, especially when it comes to stopping Zayd Issah in the late stages, to be the difference.

Pick: North Penn, 26-17.

North Penn at a Glance

Record: (13-2)

Coach: Dick Beck (10th season, 120-20).

Total Points: 489.

Points Allowed: 210.

Schedule

REGULAR SEASON

Date                Opponent                   Result

Sep. 3             at La Salle                   L, 27-44

Sep. 10             Lansdale Catholic          W, 35-6

Sep. 17             at St. Joseph's Prep          L, 33-51

Sep. 23             at Central Bucks South       W, 28-14

Sep. 30             Central Bucks East          W, 35-0

Oct. 6             Central Bucks West          W, 40-14

Oct. 14             at Quakertown             W, 35-0

Oct. 21             Souderton                   W, 37-14

Oct. 28             Hatboro-Horsham          W, 40-8

Nov. 4             at Pennridge                W, 27-0

PLAYOFFS

Date                Opponent                   Result

Nov. 12             at West Chester Rustin       W, 48-21

Nov. 18             Neshaminy                   W, 21-7

Nov. 25             Pennsbury                   W, 27-3

Dec. 2             Council Rock South          W, 34-14

Dec. 10 at          La Salle                      W, 21-14

Projected Starters vs. Central Dauphin

OFFENSE

No.   Pos.      Player                Class          Ht.    Wt.

52       T          Josh Cook             Sr.          5-11    230

53       G          Connor Lawn          Jr.             5-10    200

77       C          T.J. Smink             Sr.          6-0    275

54       G          George Shipp          Jr.             6-1    215

70       T          John Garland          Sr.          6-4    320

7       TE       Shayne Watson       Sr.          6-2    225

22       WR       Eddie Posavec       Jr.             5-9    165

4       WR       Dan Gevirtz          Sr.          5-11    175

8       QB       Corey Ernst          Sr.          5-11    185

34       FB       James Fielder          Sr.            5-10    195

23       TB       Kyle Mayfield          Jr.             5-11    195

DEFENSE

No.    Pos.       Player                Class          Ht.    Wt.

7       E          Shayne Watson       Sr.          6-2    225

52       T          Josh Cook             Sr.          5-11    230

50       T          Derek Brandt          Jr.            5-10    220

54      E          George Shipp          Jr.             6-1    215

44       ILB       Ralph Reeves          Sr.          6-0    230

9       ILB       Luke Tillger             Sr.          5-7    180

5       OLB       Matt Smith             Sr.          5-10    185

21       OLB       Danny Wynne          Sr.          6-0    195

3       CB       Kris Akins             Jr.            5-10    175

11       CB       Steve Gozur          Jr.             5-10    180

4       S          Dan Gevirtz          Sr.          5-11    175

- Rick O'Brien

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Contact staff writer Rick O'Brien at 610-313-8019