Should the Somerset Area High School baseball team advance to the PIAA Class AAA semifinals, that wouldn’t exactly be classified as a surprise.
After all, the Golden Eagles are a frequent qualifier for the state playoffs, and they played for the Class AAA title in 2008.
Somerset also produces the occasional state track medalist. The boys basketball team pops into the state bracket from time to time.
But football? Somerset and football usually mix as well as Dylan and the Dead (Looked good on paper, but lacked in execution) or Paul Roma rolling with the Four Horsemen (a disastrous decision that forever tainted the Horsemen’s legacy).
Go back 50-55 years. There aren’t many landmark seasons for Somerset football. When the Golden Eagles were strong in the early 1990s, they couldn’t get past Forest Hills. In the 2012 and 2013 seasons, Richland proved to be the Golden Eagles’ foil, so did teams like University Prep and Clearfield.
Those recent losses must have provided motivation and inspiration, because things changed drastically this fall. Somerset, where high school football was often an afterthought before Bob Landis became head coach, has postseason fever for the first time.
Somerset rolled through the first nine weeks of the regular season, consistently ranking among the state’s top five scoring offenses and shutting down opponents on defense. Scored were lopsided. Optimism slowly climbed.
Somerset 41, Bishop Carroll 0; Somerset 43, Forest Hills 12; Somerset 42, Bedford 20; Somerset 55,, Richland 6; Somerset 50, Greater Johnstown 13; Somerset 55, Westmont Hilltop 7; Somerset 54, Bishop McCort 14; Somerset 47, Cambria Heights 0; Somerset 35, Penn Cambria 7.
Junior quarterback Dylan Barnes developed into a game-breaking dual threat. Junior Jake Heiple paced a fast-break ground game that averaged 250 yards per game. Three receivers average at least 22 yards per catch, including senior Bryce Mostoller’s eye-popping 38.3 average on 33 catches. Somerset doesn’t post insane passing numbers, but it’s enough to be respected by defenses.
Speaking of defense, the Golden Eagles forced turnovers, created pressure and made plays everywhere. Mostoller has 31 tackles for loss; Raven Beeman has 28.
All those playmakers combined with excellent special teams had people talking in Somerset. This cozy, quaint baseball community thought these Golden Eagles might be the town’s best football team since the 1950s. A Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference title was a win – at home – away.
Then, in the Week 10 regular season finale, Bishop Guilfoyle came to Somerset and won easily. It was shades of the late 80s and early 90s. A rare great regular season capped with a disappointing home loss.
And the loss didn’t seem like a good sign for postseason success as Guilfoyle, despite being a private school, is Class A.
Well, Bishop Guilfoyle is convincingly in the PIAA Class A semifinals.
As for Somerset? The Golden Eagles are part of the Class AAA final four.
Sound crazy? It is.
But Somerset certainly earned its way.
At 14-1, Somerset carries a five-game win streak into Saturday’s semifinal against perennial power Archbishop Wood, winners of the last two Class AAA titles. Somerset manhandled Punxsutawney and Clearfield to win the District 5-6-8-9 subregion. It followed with a 42-14 win over District 4 champ Selinsgrove in its first PIAA playoff game. Last Saturday, Somerset shut out Bethlehem Catholic.
So here sits Somerset, a community known for farming, coal mining, skiing and hunting, with the big boys of Class AAA football. Archbishop Wood is loaded. So are the semifinalists in the western side of the bracket – WPIAL champ Central Valley and Bishop McDevitt, alma mater of LeSean McCoy. Those schools boast Division I talent.
Somerset, a decided underdog Saturday, has kids who don’t go to school the first day of deer season. Pretty sure the school gives students that day off. At least that was the case when I attended Somerset more than 20 years ago.
Not that it matters because, at least for this magical fall, Somerset played plenty of big-boy football.
Deer season can wait.