Friday, December 7, 2018 | 10:27 PM
HERSHEY — Fifteen years have passed since Darrelle Revis played here, and tales continue to be told about his incredible day at Hersheypark Stadium.
Fifteen years from now, they’ll still talk about Daequan Hardy’s.
The Penn Hills senior returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown in Friday night’s 36-31 victory over Manheim Central in the PIAA Class 5A championship, but that record-tying, goal-line-to-goal-line sprint was only one piece of Hardy’s all-around unforgettable night.
Hardy scored four times and made three interceptions as Penn Hills (16-0) celebrated the second state title in school history and its first in 23 years.
“Revis had what, four or five touchdowns in a state championship game?” said Penn Hills coach Jon LeDonne, himself a 2001 Aliquippa graduate. “Daequan Hardy is very close, a very special kid, Revis-like.”
Along with his 100-yard interception return, Hardy had touchdown catches of 74 and 27 yards and returned a kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown.
“I didn’t think this was going to happen how it happened,” Hardy said, “but I’m happy it did.”
“It should be up there with the best performances in state history,” LeDonne added.
The do-it-all receiver and cornerback raised his season touchdown total to 22, a collection that now includes 12 receiving, five rushing, three on interception returns, one punt return and one kickoff return.
Friday’s performance stirred memories from 2003, when Revis scored five touchdowns three different ways in an individual performance that pushed Aliquippa to a state title.
Hardy was just as spectacular.
“It was nothing short of amazing, but it’s not surprising,” said quarterback Hollis Mathis, who threw two of his three touchdowns to Hardy. “He’s the best player in the state, hands down. The best defender in the state, the best DB in the state, the best all-around player in the state and it’s showed.
“You don’t make an impact like that in the state championship game and not be the best player in the state.”
The victory completed Penn Hills’ perfect season and the PIAA title was its first since 1995, the Indians’ only other appearance in the state finals.
Penn Hills ended the reign of two-time defending state champion Archbishop Wood in the semifinals and then claimed the crown for itself.
“From the beginning of the season our goal was to win the state championship,” Hardy said. “We finally completed it, so it feels amazing right now.”
Penn Hills trailed 7-0, but led 18-7 at halftime and 30-7 in the third quarter. The Indians then held on as Manheim Central scored four times in the second half — the last on a touchdown pass with 3 seconds left.
District 3 champion Manheim Central (15-1) drove deep into Penn Hills territory five times in the first half and crossed the goal line only once, thanks to the Indians’ relentless defense.
The five red zone chances produced a failed fourth-down conversion, a short rushing touchdown and three consecutive interceptions. Hardy intercepted Manheim quarterback Evan Simon twice in those first five possessions and Anthony Grimes picked off the other.
The four stalled drives had reached Penn Hills’ 5-, 9-, 19- and 2-yard lines.
“That’s just the will power of the defense, bending but not breaking,” LeDonne said. “We did give up some scores in the second half that I wish we didn’t have, but overall I’m happy with the performance.”
Manheim Central’s Tyler Flick rushed for 96 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. Simon, who threw four interceptions and was sacked four times, completed 12 of 27 attempts for 252 yards and two touchdowns.
Jordy Boswell led Penn Hills with 13 tackles, Devyn Best made nine and both linebackers also sacked Simon once.
“They were trying to get pressure on us up the field and they brought guys,” Manheim Central coach Dave Hahn said. “At times we had it and at times we didn’t.”
Penn Hills erased the 7-0 deficit with two touchdown passes by Mathis. He found Corey Thomas Jr. for a 6-yarder in the first quarter and connected with Hardy for a 74-yarder in the second. Hardy’s 100-yard return gave Penn Hills an 18-7 lead 14 seconds before halftime.
“This is something that we’ve been dreaming about since we were 7,” said Mathis, who completed 10 of 16 attempts for 195 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. “It hasn’t quite hit me yet: undefeated state champs.”
Penn Hills running back Terry “Tank” Smith rushed for 103 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. His 35-yard run gave Penn Hills a 30-7 lead midway through the third quarter. He reached the end zone one play after Hardy made his third interception.
“I’m surprised that they challenged him backside one on one a couple of times,” LeDonne said. “If I’m calling plays, I’m not throwing the ball his way.”
The teams then combined for three third-quarter touchdowns in a 26-second span, including Hardy’s 84-yard kickoff return along the right sideline.
With Penn Hills leading 36-23, Manheim Central scored with 3 seconds left. The game was then was halted after a Manheim Central player was injured on the ensuing onside kick and taken away on a stretcher.
Hardy’s 100-yard interception return tied the longest in PIAA championship game history, according to records kept by PIAA District 3’s Rod Frisco. Perry’s Darnell Farrow also returned an interceptions 100 yards in the 1989 Class 3A final against Berwick.
The longest interception return in PIAA playoff history was a 101-yarder in 1998 by Central Bucks West’s Dave Camburn in a Class 4A quarterfinal against Abington Heights.
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.
Tags: Penn Hills