Run­ning back

Penn Hills WR-DB puts on show for the ages as In­di­ans seize ti­tle

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Weekend Sports - By Mike White

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.

Steph Cham­bers/Post-Gazette

Steph Cham­bers/Post-Gazette

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.

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