Richland will make its first district championship game appearance in 25 years thanks largely to a young but experienced offensive line.
Teams don’t average
267.1 rushing yards a game without an effective line.
They don’t pass for another 154.5 yards per outing either.
“They do whatever we ask them to do,” said Richland coach Brandon Bailey, whose 10-2 Rams will face top-seeded Tyrone for the District 5/6 Class AA title at 7 p.m. on Friday at Mansion Park.
“They run-block well. They pass-block well. They’re tough kids.
“We played a Philipsburg team that is very good up front and we rushed for over
400 yards which doesn’t happen very often.”
That Richland has rushed for a whopping 3,205 yards while still passing for
1,854 yards through 12 weeks is a testament to the big guys.
Surprisingly, though, this isn’t a senior dominated bunch.
Right guard Aaron Ross is the lone senior on a line that returned four starters this fall.
Travis Niel, a 6-foot-2,
235-pound right tackle, and
5-11, 245-pound center Derek Crawford each are juniors. Two sophomores man the left side, with Ben Verhovsek at guard and 6-4, 270-pound Josh Dinniny at tackle.
“Josh is already getting Division I attention because of his size and dominance on the line,” Bailey said.
That being said, the Rams will encounter a Tryone defensive line that often has been dominant as the 11-1 Golden Eagles held 12 opponents to a combined 98 points.
Coach John Franco’s team, meanwhile, has put up
424 points on offense.
“It’s going to be a huge challenge for them and they’re excited about it,” Bailey said.
“They’re looking forward to an opportunity to come out and do it again.”
Tyrone’s 6-3, 205-pound standout Shaquille Williams and 6-3, 252-pound Nick Wolfe are two players who have caught Bailey’s attention on film and scouting reports.
“Tyrone’s line is really good,” Bailey said.
Richland’s former line coach Dick Mock now is at St. Francis, Bailey said, and this year, assistant coach Eber Verhovsek has helped mold the group.
“Our line play has been awesome all year long,” Bailey said.
“And, four of them will be back next year.”
Richland’s previous trip to the district finals came in 1986, when coach Frank Krevetski’s United squad beat coach Fred Yanity’s Rams 27-6 in the
6-AA title contest at Point Stadium.
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Staying put: After all the speculation and scenarios involving Ligonier Valley’s future conference home, the Rams apparently will stay put in the Heritage Conference.
Monday was anticipated as D-Day, as in decision day for the program, which had considered applying to the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference or the WPIAL.
Had the Rams applied to the LHAC it would have enabled Chestnut Ridge to take another shot at rejoining that conference.
The LHAC expands only in increments of two, and Ridge, which has played an independent football schedule since 2008, has openly been exploring conference options.
The agenda for Monday’s Ligonier Valley board of
directors meeting included the
conference issue, with an Athletic Committee article asking “that approval be given for the Ligonier Valley School District athletic department to apply to the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference.”
But eventually a decision was made to remain in the Heritage Conference, thereby eliminating the need to file an application with the LHAC.
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Division I talent: Tyrone senior quarterback Steve Franco committed to Akron during the summer and has lived up to the billing as a Division I arm.
This season, Franco has completed 109 of 186 passes for 1,903 yards, 23 touchdowns and 10 interceptions for the Golden Eagles.
He’s already broken two school records he set last year in single-season completions (the old mark was 108) and single-season touchdown passes (the previous mark was 19).
His single-season record 1,962 passing yards is in jeopardy too.
Franco has thrown for
3,865 yards while helping the Eagles go 23-2 in the past two seasons. His career passing numbers unofficially include 5,378 yards.
When Franco’s not throwing, Christian Getz is running. The Golden Eagles back has gained 1,519 yards and scored
18 touchdowns on 235 carries.
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Waiting game: North Star (10-1) will have a bye week for the second time in the past month.
The Cougars are coming off a 5-A title game win over Windber (28-14) last week and a semifinal victory over Berlin (14-0) during Week 11.
The top-seeded Cougars had a 5-A playoffs first-round bye in Week 10, and now must await the winner of the WPIAL Class A game between powerhouses Clairton (12-0) and Sto-Rox (12-0) on Saturday at Heinz Field.
Clairton has won the past two state championships and 43 consecutive games. The Bears beat North Star 52-0 in the first round of PIAA play last year on an icy Somerset turf.