HARRISBURG >> Sometimes, tears are the words. And they are more than enough volume.
The Governor Mifflin Mustangs pulled the biggest upset in program history Saturday afternoon at soggy Severance Field with a 26-14 stunner over the Harrisburg Cougars in a District 3 5A semifinal. Mifflin scored the final 26 points of the contest to send shockwaves throughout the state.
Mifflin (11-1) will face Manheim Central for the district’s 5A championship Friday night at Hersheypark Stadium.
Harrisburg, unbeaten with a 5- and a 4-star pair of recruits on its roster, by all measures the top team in the Eastern part of the state — if not the entire Commonwealth — saw its season shockingly end at 11-1.
Longtime Mifflin head coach Mick Vecchio, in his 26th season at the helm of Mustangs, had trouble getting out complete sentences to describe what he had just witnessed. In truth, his red-rimmed eyes spoke for him.
How’d the Mustangs do it?
“Well, I don’t know,” Vecchio replied, red-eyed. “We’re just so happy that we did it. The kids came through. We had a game plan, we used the game plan, and son of a gun it worked. To say we’re excited is the understatement of the century.”
That game plan was a heavy dose of run-oriented Veer football. “Heavy” is actually an understatement: Senior running back Isaac Ruoss, soft-spoken and hard running, toted the football 38 times for 150 yards and one touchdown, a 2-yard rumble midway through the second quarter to cut an early Harrisburg lead to 14-7. Thirty-eight carries.
“We just had to believe,” Ruoss said, also red-eyed. “We knew we had a chance. We had to execute everything to perfection to pull it off. And we did.”
Vecchio: “You know, we’ve had a lot of good fullbacks here in the last 25 years. Isaac proved today that he’s the best one of them all.”
Quarterback Kam Wolfe added 17 carries for 67 yards and two touchdowns. Wolfe was just 3 of 7 passing 25 yards, but that was solely change-up window dressing for honesty’s sake. Bryce Stubler was the only other back to hit the stat sheet offensively, with four totes for negative-10 yards. It was old school, straight-ahead, smash-mouth football. And it worked.
Harrisburg clocked the game’s first two scores and appeared to be on its way to Hershey, business as usual. Micah Parsons did 23 of 25 yards on his own with a touchdown catch from quarterback Yahmir Wilkerson midway through the first quarter; Ronald Kent added a 61-yard punt return for a score to give the hosts a 14-0 lead with 9:45 left in the first half.
But the contest was played at Severance in a driving rain, which ended up benefitting the run-heavy Mustangs as it simultaneously knifed Harrisburg’s passing game.
Mifflin gave its game plan away on the opening drive, a deliberate 12-play affair that ended on downs when the Mustangs could not convert on fourth-and-15 from the Cougar 28. But the bell had been sounded. A second drive also ended on downs deep in Harrisburg territory.
But Wilkerson couldn’t find 4-star Penn state commit Shaquon Anderson-Butts for anything and the driving rain played a role. Anderson-Butts was held to one grab for seven yards.
Wilkerson was 7 of 15 for 120 yards. Twenty-five of those passing yards came primarily from Parsons — the noted 5-star who will announce his college choice next month — and his Madden-esque dance from the short side to the wide on a reverse-field touchdown scamper with 5:17 left in the first quarter to break the seal.
But Parsons was kept out of the end zone after that and amassed just 51 yards on 10 carries, while Wilkerson appeared to have trouble gripping the football at times on passing attempts.
An upset of this scope usually needs some self-destruction from the favorites for compliance. It happened to Harrisburg in the form of penalties.
Trailing 14-7, a late hit out of bounds on Wolfe gave a Mifflin drive new life late in the half, culminating in the quarterback taking it over from the 1 five plays later to knot the game at 14.
Earlier, with his club down 14 points, Stubler returned a short kickoff to midfield, where a personal foul on the Cougars set the underdogs up with a drive starting at the Harrisburg 33. Mifflin cashed in six plays later, with Ruoss going over from two yards out to get the Mustangs on the board.
Parsons had a 72-yard jaunt down the near sideline for a touchdown wiped out early in the second half on a holding penalty. Had it stood, Harrisburg would have had a 21-14 lead. Instead, the possession petered out and resulted in a 22-yard punt.
From there, the Mustangs took over at the Harrisburg 29. Ruoss rumbled for 28 on the next snap and Wolfe again went over from a yard out to give Mifflin a 21-14 lead with 9:48 left in the third quarter.
It was the first time Harrisburg had trailed all season.
On the hosts’ ensuing possession, six futile plays ended with a partially-blocked 5-yard punt. Mifflin took over the Cougars’ 31. Ruoss featured on nine of the ensuing 10 snaps — a meat-grinder of a foray that ended with Ben Myers blasting a 28-yard field goal and a 24-14 lead.
Mifflin later had a fourth quarter drive snuffed out at the Harrisburg 1 on a fumble by Wolfe on the exchange. But, with the Cougars bottled up, Mifflin’s defense swarmed Wilkerson in the end zone. Harrisburg’s signal-caller lost the football and had it squirt through the end zone for a safety and the final margin.
If there was any doubt as to what Mifflin managed to accomplish, historically, on Saturday afternoon, the head man erased it with one sentence:
“No question about it,” Vecchio said with conviction, “this is the biggest win of my coaching career.”
District 3 5A semifinal
at Severance Field, Harrisburg
Governor Mifflin 26, Harrisburg 14
GM – 0 14 10 2 — 26
H – 7 7 0 0 — 14
H – Micah Parson 25 pass from Yahmir Wilkerson (Shaquon Anderson-Butts kick), 5:17
H- Ronald Kent 61 punt return (Anderson-Butts kick), 9:45
GM – Isaac Ruoss 2 run (Ben Myers kick), 7:30
GM – Kam Wolfe 1 run (Myers kick), 3:03
GM – Wolfe run (Myers kick), 9:48
GM- Myers 28 FG, 2:18
GM – safety (fumble through end zone), 5:23
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