Penn Hills WR-DB puts on show for the ages as Indians seize title
Terry Smith of Penn Hills hugs the trophy after beating Manheim Central, 36-31, in the PIAA Class 5A football championship Friday in Hershey.
HERSHEY, Pa. — Him again. Penn Hills’ Daequan Hardy came into the PIAA Class 5A football championship with the reputation of a big-play master. He had scored 18 touchdowns that averaged 40.2 yards.
This time, he was a lot better than average. He was spectacular.
On a cold Friday night at Hersheypark Stadium, Hardy, a senior receiver-defensive back, put on one of the most impressive individual performances in PIAA championship history and led Penn Hills to a 36-31 victory against Manheim Central. His handful of big plays helped give Penn Hills (16-0) its second state championship. The other came in 1995.
Manheim Central’s hopes for a second PIAA title in school history pretty much went night-night because of Dae Dae. These are the cold, Hardy facts:
• He scored four touchdowns.
• He intercepted three passes.
• His touchdowns came on a 74-yard reception, a 100-yard interception return, a 27-yard reception and an 84-yard kickoff return.
• All told, counting two rushing attempts, three pass receptions, interception returns and two kickoff returns, Hardy had 340 all-purpose yards.
The smallish, 5-foot-10, 165-pound Hardy brought back memories of a legendary title-game performance by Aliquippa’s Darrelle Revis in 2003 when he scored five touchdowns three different ways, intercepted a pass, completed a pass, caught a pass and rushed for 91 yards.
“I don’t know if I was like Revis because I never saw him. I was 2 years old when Revis did that,” Hardy said, with a laugh after the game. “But this is one of the best moments of my life so far.”
Hardy finished the season with 22 touchdowns. The average length of his four against Manheim Central was 71.3 yards, and it came one week after he had a 62-yard scoring run in the semifinals. Nine of his scores this year were 60 yards or more. and he scored five different ways. Until Friday, he hadn’t scored on a kickoff return this season. He also intercepted five passes the past two weeks.
“He’s a very special kid. That was Revis-like,” said Penn Hills coach Jon LeDonne. “It should be up there with one of the best performances in state history. I favor Revis because I’m an Aliquippa guy, too, and I don’t know what other people did. But Daequan Hardy was just a complete package in this game.”
Manheim Central (14-1), the District 3 champion near Lancaster, scored first in this game, but then it was all Penn Hills — and Hardy.
Hardy’s kickoff return gave Penn Hills a 36-14 lead in the third quarter. But Manheim Central came back and made things interesting, slicing the margin to 36-23 early in the fourth quarter. Manheim Central’s final touchdown came with three seconds left.
In the first half, Manheim Central had serious red-zone problems. The Barons had the ball inside the 10 three times and inside the 20 once, but didn’t score. The Barons turned the ball over once on downs, and Evan Simon was intercepted three other times. Simon, one of the best junior quarterbacks in the state, finished 12 of 27 for 252 yards and was intercepted four times. Penn Hills pressured him throughout the game and sacked him four times.
Hardy’s second interception of the night was terrific. He picked off Simon at the goal line, turned on the jets, cut across the field and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown with only 14 seconds left in the half to give Penn Hills an 18-6 lead at the break. He intercepted another one in the end zone earlier.
Hardy scored Penn Hills’ first touchdown of the second half on a 27-yard pass from Hollis Mathis. Penn Hills also got a 35-yard touchdown run from Tank Smith in the third quarter. The Indians’ other touchdown was scored by Corey Thomas on a 6-yard pass from Mathis in the first quarter. Smith had 103 yards rushing on 18 tries; Mathis was 10 of 16 for 195 yards.
Penn Hills receiver Daequan Hardy scores a touchdown against Manheim Central during the PIAA Class 5A football championship on Friday, Dec. 7 in Hershey. Penn Hills beat Manheim Central, 36-31, to claim the state title.