Title hopes dashed: Big plays help Harrisburg beat MC 48-20 in District finals

By on November 30, 2016
With Penn State recruit Damion Barber (21) closing in, Baron QB Kody Kegarise (7) lofts the ball over the outstretched hands of Harrisburg’s 360-pound lineman Raymond Allen last Friday. MC offensive linemen Jarod Hauser(50) and Adam Kline continue to maintain protection for Kegarise. Photo by Mike Shull

With Penn State recruit Damion Barber (21) closing in, Baron QB Kody Kegarise (7) lofts the ball over the outstretched hands of Harrisburg’s 360-pound lineman Raymond Allen last Friday. MC offensive linemen Jarod Hauser(50) and Adam Kline continue to maintain protection for Kegarise. Photo by Mike Shull

On the same weekend that his future team captured the Big Ten East championship, junior Micah Parsons helped his current squad grab a title of its own.

A Penn State University recruit, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound running back put his speed and power on full display while barreling for 98 yards and a TD, along with wreaking havoc from his defensive end position, as 5th-seeded Harrisburg rolled to a 48-20 win over No. 2-seeded Manheim Central in the District Three 5A championship last Friday at Hersheypark Stadium.

It wasn’t just Parsons that made the Cougars dangerous.

Junior QB Jahmir Wilkerson completed 14-of-24 aerials for 402 yards and a new District Three record six TD passes. Wideout Shaquon Anderson-Butts had five receptions for 179 yards and three TDs, while Donnell Henriquez added four receptions for 120 yards and two scores, as Harrisburg (10-3) amassed 632 yards of total offense while winning its first District gold since 2007, when they knocked off Governor Mifflin in the Quad-A finals.

“They’ve just got athletes,” said Manheim Central QB Kody Kegarise, whose Barons finished with an 11-2 record. “They’ve got speed. I mean, they’ve just got guys that can beat you. They’ve got weapons everywhere. It’s the best of what District Three has to offer right there.”

While the Barons’ D did a solid job of bottling things up in the middle, the Cougars thrived on the perimeter and with the deep ball. In fact, big plays became a major story line in the game, as Harrisburg victimized MC for seven plays of 30 yards or longer.

“They’re on a different level,” Baron defensive back Jake Novak said. “It’s nothing we’ve seen before in the L-L … They’re very fast and they were just getting off the ball well, never really taking plays off. It was a solid team.”

The Barons had a solid team in their own right, averaging … yards of offense entering the contest. But with Parsons and fellow Penn State recruit Damion Barber at the two defensive end spots for Harrisburg, MC’s game plan was to try to spread the Cougars out.

“They have two great defensive ends, so it was kinda hard to run off-tackles at them,” Novak said.

It worked on MC’s second possession, as tight end Gunnar Royer (4-82 receiving) made an electric one-handed 48-yard juggling catch from Kegarise (15-of-25, 229 yards, INT) down the right sideline.

“I just got off the ball, they weren’t covering me and Kody put it out there and I just had to go get it,” Royer recalled.

Following a 12-yard run by Tyler Flick (7-23 rushing) and a nine-yard Kegarise-to-Mitchell Ruth hookup, 5-foot-11, 243-pound back Colin Erb eventually scored on a one-yard run. The PAT run failed, but MC led 6-0 with 5:23 left in the opening stanza.

The advantage didn’t last long, however.

On the Cougars’ ensuing possession, the southpaw-slinging Wilkerson launched a deep ball down the left sideline, and despite tight coverage from MC’s Lowen Hanselman, Anderson-Butts managed to come down with it and complete a 76-yard TD connection. Joel Davis’ first of five PATs put Harrisburg up 7-6 with 5:01 left in the quarter, giving the Cougars a lead they never relinquished.

“He chucks the ball, man,” Manheim Central coach Dave Hahn said of Wilkerson. “You saw what they did. It was just deep balls. I don’t know if he can stand in the pocket and throw the ball accurately all the time, but he sure as heck can timing-wise get the ball deep, he’s got some good guys on the outside.”

Having punted just 13 times in their first 12 games, Central was forced to kick the ball back to Harrisburg on seven different occasions. And following a defensive stop by the Cougars, Wilkerson and Co. again struck quickly. This time, Davis got open over the middle, looked a Wilkerson aerial into his hands and broke a couple tackles en route to a 73-yard TD, stretching the lead to 14-6 with 1:48 left in the first.

“They were giving me heck all night,” Kegarise said. “(Parsons and Barber) are really fast up the field.”

Not long afterward, Parsons made an offensive impact for the Cougars, taking a toss left, finding a seam and then darting 63 yards down the left sideline to paydirt, giving Harrisburg a 21-6 edge with just :08 elapsed in the second quarter.

“(Parsons) was fast,” Royer said. “I don’t think he’s the fastest guy we’ve faced all year, but he was pretty fast and he had some size to go with it. That’s a good combination and that’s why he’s going to the next level.”

“I don’t think our kids feared Parsons at all,” Hahn said. “I think they played tough with him. He’s a heck of a runner. When he got started, it was hard to get him. He’s got good speed. I see why Penn State wants him.”

Just over four minutes later, when Wilkerson was sacked by Royer, the Barons’ D had Harrisburg facing a fourth-and-21. But then the Cougars’ signal-caller found a wide open Henriquez, who went 30 yards to the right pylon to make it 27-6 with 7:03 left in the half.

Novak (7-115 receiving), though, brought out his own highlight-reel catch on MC’s next possession, hauling in a 23-yard pass from Kegarise while getting flipped mid-air at the Cougars’ 14. That set up a four-yard TD run by Flick off right tackle with 2:53 left in the half, as Central cut its deficit to 27-13.

They were hoping to keep it that way going to the break, but Harrisburg had other ideas. And when Henriquez scored on a 77-yard catch-and-run, on which he pivoted at midfield and broke a couple tackles, the Cougars went in front 34-13 with :53.1 on the clock.

“It was frustrating,” Royer admitted of Harrisburg’s big plays, “but that’s football. If a team’s doing something right, they’re going to keep using it to their advantage … Sometimes you just can’t cover it all, you’ve just got to do your best to do what you can do.”

Still, the Barons’ mindset at the half remained positive.

“We weren’t done yet,” Novak said. “We weren’t giving up, that’s not Manheim tradition, so we came back and fought.”

Indeed they did. But despite their best efforts, Harrisburg added to its lead after receiving the second-half kickoff. Wilkerson’s record-tying fifth TD pass of the game went to Anderson-Butts for 45 yards down the left sideline, and it was 41-13, Cougars, with 7:59 left in the period.

Then on the first play of the fourth quarter, Kegarise (12 carries, 49 yards) capped his stellar senior season with his 28th – and final – rushing TD, breaking free for 43 yards to the end zone with 11:51 left, making it 41-20.

Finally, the Cougars completed the scoring on Wilkerson’s 47-yard TD pass to Anderson-Butts with 9:18 to go.

“That speed and that size (are hard to simulate), are you kidding me, unless I’m going to get in there and run and I’m too old to do that crap,” Hahn laughed. “… They did a good job and they’re a good team.”

Manheim Central was no slouch in its own right, and the season provided a lot of lifelong memories for the Barons.

“It was a pleasure playing with all of them, underclassmen and seniors,” Kegarise remarked. “They’re all my brothers and I’ll always remember these years. Coach Hahn always says this is the best time of your life. It’s sad to be over, but I had a great time.”

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