Since Richland and Penn Cambria last met, a lot has changed in the football landscape in Cresson and in the District 6 Class AA playoff chase.
Richland left Penn Cambria with a 30-12 victory over the Panthers in what proved to be coach Ernie Fetzer’s last game at Penn Cambria. After Fetzer’s sudden resignation, the Panthers (6-4) rallied to halt a four-game skid to score two straight wins and qualify for the
6-AA tournament as its eighth seed with Tony Tomaselli at the helm.
The Panthers’ reward? A 7 p.m. road kickoff against a 10-0 Richland team perceived as the favorite to take home district gold.
Given Penn Cambria’s urgent situation the last two weeks, tonight’s contest may serve as the team’s third straight playoff contest.
“We were up against it the last two weeks,” Tomaselli said. “In essence we’ve been in the playoffs the last two weeks. We went toe to toe with Richland for two and a half quarters the last time we played them. We’re here to make some noise. We’re not going to concede because we’re the No. 8 seed, but that’s said with tremendous respect for Richland.”
Penn Cambria, which needed to win its last two games to reach postseason play, stopped Somerset last week after picking up a blowout win over Westmont Hilltop.
A suddenly hot Panthers team could present a different challenge than the Penn Cambria squad Richland topped on Oct. 19.
“I think they’re a bit different because of the coaching change,” Richland coach Brandon Bailey said. “They’re doing a few different things offensively but it’s the same defensive look because a lot of the guys coaching are still controlling the same areas.”
Richland, which has outscored its competition by an average score of 37.1-9.8, edged 6-A top seed Bellwood-Antis to complete a perfect regular season and carry valuable momentum into the playoffs. Kyle Flick’s 34-yard interception return put the Rams ahead to stay after the Blue Devils claimed the lead earlier in the third quarter.
Quarterback Matt Shaffer has passed for 1,323 yards and is Richland’s second-leading rusher with 460 yards. When the Rams commit to running the football, they’re one of the toughest teams in the area to stop when Tanner Solarczyk is getting carries. The junior running back has 1,405 yards on 154 carries.
If the Rams are throwing it, they’re just as dangerous regardless of whether Shaffer or Nico Pecora are taking the snaps. Flick is the team’s top target with 611 yards on 36 catches with Luke Shertzer accounting for 461 yards on 31 grabs.
Variety is certainly the spice of the Rams’ success.
“It just makes it difficult to key in on one player,” Bailey said. “If teams try to stack the box, we have two quarterbacks who can throw and receivers who are more than capable of catching passes. If teams choose to double up on a receiver, we can run the ball pretty well.”
The Panthers’ success is determined by defense and ball control. Devin Lawhead’s team-leading rushing total of 421 yards may seem paltry, but Penn Cambria’s quartet of rushers who have over 250 yards present a focal issue for opposing defenses.
On defense, Lawhead and Behe have combined for 208 tackles making the second level a tough place to have the football.
“They’ve been solid all year inside,” Tomaselli said “They’re great to have on the defensive side on the ball.”
In other action...
District 6-AA quarterfinal – Bald Eagle Area at Ligonier Valley: The Rams aim to win their first postseason game since 1985 while hosting a team it drubbed 48-6 just a week ago.
Ligonier Valley (9-1) racked up 378 total yards in last week’s home victory over the Bald Eagles (6-4). The Rams’ win over the six-win Eagles squad along with victories from five teams that Ligonier Valley had already beaten allowed the Heritage Conference squad to leapfrog over Central for the district’s second spot in the bracket.
To contain the Rams’ powerful offense, it’s not as simple as just keeping Ryan Torrance out of the end zone as the Bald Eagles found out last week. While Torrance, who has 1,239 yards and 22 touchdowns on the season, scored once; quarterback Scott Fennell rushed for three touchdowns and passed for two more in the Week 10 rout.
Alec Bloom caught both of Fennell’s touchdown passes last week and is the team’s leading receiver with 250 yards on 12 catches. Junior Dereck Croyle leads the team with 110 tackles and linebacker Stuart Urch paces The Tribune-Democrat’s coverage area in sacks with 19.
Dakota Bartley is the Bald Eagles’ top rusher with 695 yards. Bartley scored his team’s lone touchdown in the second quarter.
District 5-AA championship – Chestnut Ridge vs. Everett, at Northern Bedford: Both teams carry 5-5 records into tonight’s contest with the Lions edging out Everett as the district’s top seed in Class AA.
Chestnut Ridge trounced rival Bedford with a balanced 1-2 combo rushing the football against the Bisons. Quarterback Beau Bosch gashed his way to 127 yards and three touchdowns as Jacob Mock ran for 116 yards and a score. J.D. Weyant hauled in a pass from Bosch in the blowout.
The rushing balance has been one of Chestnut Ridge’s biggest assets through the season with Bosch picking up 1,096 yards on 170 carries with Mock gaining 830 yards on 140 attempts. When called upon, Bosch can fling the football too, passing for 565 yards and seven touchdowns.
Everett – a 21-7 loser to Central last week – has won five of its last seven games to charge into the postseason. The Warriors’ offense goes as Barkey Rhoat does. The senior running back has 585 yards on 42 rushes over Everett’s last four games with eight touchdowns during that stretch. On the season, Rhoat has 840 yards on 90 carries.