It’s playoff time already, but in the year of COVID-19 that shouldn’t be all that much of a shock.
But still, football coaches and teams are creatures of habit and it does sound a bit strange to talk about postseason games this Friday night.
Both the unbeaten Brookville Raiders (6-0) and Central Clarion County Wildcats (5-1) host District 9 Class 2A semifinal games Friday night, the Raiders at home against Ridgway and the Wildcats at Clarion University’s Memorial Stadium against Karns City.
“I definitely think it’s pretty awesome that we’ve gotten this far, to get six games in when even some of my coaches didn’t think we’d get two or three games in or whatever, but it’s worked out,” said Raiders head coach Scott Park.
The Class 1A semifinals are also scheduled at home sites — Union/A-C Valley (5-1) at Smethport (5-0) Friday night at 7 p.m. and Coudersport (4-1) at Redbank Valley (4-0) Saturday at 4 p.m.
Saturday afternoon at Brockway’s Varischetti Field, it’s the D9 Class 3A final between St. Marys (5-0) and Clearfield (3-1) starting at 1 p.m.
Depending on how you look at things, the Raiders have never had perfect regular season. They haven’t been 7-0 since 1971 — the Raiders finished 8-1 and shared the Little 10 Conference title with Clarion that year after going 8-0-1 in 1970 — and in the pre-World War II and pre-PIAA playoff era, the Raiders of 1933 went 6-0 before adding games against Punxsutawney and DuBois. The Red Raiders beat the Chucks 13-6 for the Jefferson County Championship.
Then over Thanksgiving weekend, the Raiders added a game with DuBois and were routed by the Beavers, 47-12, to finish 7-1.
The Raiders haven’t won a playoff game since the Class 2A semifinal is in 2010 when they beat Moniteau, 14-7, at Clarion University. Starting with a 50-0 loss to Brockway in the final, the Raiders have dropped seven straight postseason games, including 28-22 in the semifinals at home last year to Kane.
Home playoff games haven’t been a great source of success for the Raiders historically, 0-5 since their last victory on their own turf way back in 1999 with a 21-10 semifinal win over Brockway.
Here’s a closer look at this week’s games:
Ridgway (3-2) at
The Raiders have never faced Ridgway, pre-co-op or post-co-op with Johnsonburg, in the playoffs and in the two meetings since the District 9 League re-formed, it’s been a split. The Raiders lost to the Elkers, 28-14, in Johnsonburg last year after beating them at home, 28-11, in 2018.
But despite a massive loss of key players to graduation or other reasons, it’s still Ridgway that’s chasing for its fifth straight district title.
“Ridgway is always hard-nosed and then you mix the Johnsonburg kids in there and I would expect a battle,” Park said. “Any time you lose 16 of 17 seniors, that’s hard to recover from but they’re still good and we’re going to need to be ready to go. They have two games under their belt against the same offense we run so they have some ideas to play us after St. Marys, so that’s a challenge.
“And I always say, no matter who thinks who is better, you have to beat them on the field and that’s going be the test Friday night, no doubt.”
Ridgway’s two losses are to St. Marys, 34-7 in Week 3 and 35-21 last week while it’s beaten Kane (17-14) and Bradford twice, 45-14 in Week 2 and then a tighter 28-21 win at home two weeks ago.
The Elkers don’t boast a lot of big numbers statistically. They’re averaging 183 yards — 93 passing, 90 rushing — per game. Senior quarterback Ben Briggs (32-for-58, 473 yards, 3 TDs, 3 Ints.) leads the team in rushing attempts (40 for 56 yards), although some of those are affected by sacks or other losses. Juniors Eric Salberg (32-134, 1 TD) and Camron Marciniak (34-110, 4 TDs) are the leading rushers. Junior Will Howard (9-261, 2 TDs) is the top receiver.
Defensively, the Elkers were giving up 254 yards per game going into last week’s loss to St. Marys, which put up 459 yards on them, so really most of the damage to that number has been the two games with the Dutch. In the first matchup, the Dutch gained 420 yards on the Elkers.
Ricky Delhunty (50), Cole Casilio (35) and Dom Allegretto (33) are the leading tacklers.
The Raiders scored under 40 points for the first time all year in last week’s win over DuBois, but they’re still averaging a healthy 44 points and 437 yards per game — 306 passing and 131 rushing.
Senior quarterback Jack Krug has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes at 128-for-183 for 1,814 yards and 25 TDs against just three interceptions. He went over 100 career TD passes last week and sits at 102, No. 2 all-time behind Port Allegany’s Matt Bodamer’s 137.
“I think the running game has been effective enough that it’s caused defenses some trouble and they can’t focus on trying to contain Jack and the receivers and as far as Jack goes, he just looks at ease out there and has a complete understanding of the offense,” Park said. “Even Friday night when he started scrambling, he never really looked like he was in panic mode. He either found a receiver or tucked it in and got out of bounds.”
Braiden Davis (43-235, 1 TD), Kyle MacBeth (20-182, 1 TD), Robert Keth (20-89, 7 TDs) and Krug (37-145, 1 TD) are the main running threats while Krug has completed 13 or more passes to five different receivers — MacBeth (30-499, 5 TDs), Brayden Kunselman (24-406, 7 TDs), Keth (29-405, 6 TDs), Ryan Daisley (30-296, 2 TDs) and Davis (13-136, 3 TDs).
“We knew going in that Robert would be our lead guy coming back, but I can’t say enough about Kyle MacBeth with his speed and actually his running ability with us using him out of the backfield. Credit to him and the time he spent with indoor track last winter that improved his speed and footwork,” Park said. “Daisley has made some great catches for us and it’s all good to see. Hopefully, it continues for two, three or four more games.”
The Raiders were yielding just under 200 yards per game before giving up 229 to the Beavers, but they increased their turnover ratio to an impressive plus-12 — 17 opponent turnovers compared to the Raiders’ five.
“We definitely, in the past three years, improved the most on defense and that helps,” Park said. “Everybody likes to score points, but we don’t have to score a ton of points and that takes the pressure off the defense and offense at the same time. I like the way we’re playing and the aggressiveness.”
Seniors Nathan Taylor (49), Keth (47) and Elliot Park (46), and junior Brayden Kunselman (5.8 per game) are the team’s top tacklers, but the Raiders won’t have Taylor this week because of his wrestling in the Super 32 Challenge. He’s a starter on the offensive line as well with Park, who was injured in the second half of last week’s game. Park’s status along with Kunselman, who has sat out the last two games after getting hurt in the Moniteau win, is uncertain.
MacBeth has four of the team’s 12 interceptions from eight different players.
Karns City (4-2)
at Central Clarion (5-1)
Their matchup two weeks ago in Karns City was the game of the year and it’ll be hard to replicate as far as drama goes as they head to Clarion University Friday night.
The Gremlins were up 35-15 going into the fourth quarter before the Wildcats staged their unlikely rally. Already up a point, the Wildcats took a 43-35 lead on Ethan Burford’s 50-yard interception return with 1:28 left in regulation.
But Karns City rallied with a last-ditch drive and scored a touchdown on Eric Booher’s 15-yard pass to Nathan Waltman as time expired. Needing two points to tie the game and extend the affair into overtime, Karns City was stopped short on the conversion and the Wildcats survived with a 43-41 win.
84 points, 853 yards, 46 first downs and a 28-6 fourth-quarter scoring edge by the Wildcats made for a really hard encore Friday night.
Wildcats quarterback Cal German threw for 330 yards and four TDs while Karns City’s Booher completed 13 of 23 passes for two touchdowns while also rushing for 85 yards on 17 carries.
For the season, German has thrown for 1,671 yards, completing 92 of 173 passes for 21 touchdowns against five interceptions. Breckin Rex (51-354, 2 TDs) and Cutter Boggess (36-185, 5 TDs) are the leading rushers while Burford (28-673, 10 TDs), Boggess (34-516, 5 TDs) and Christian Simko (11-229, 4 TDs) are German’s top receiving targets.
Defensively, Kaoz Baker leads the team with 10.3 tackles per game with Cooper Shall (8.2) and Boggess (8.2) nearby. Burford and Ryan Hummell have four and three interceptions respectively.