ST. MARYS — Last year, the Redbank Valley Bulldogs beat Elk County Catholic at home in a tight 24-20 win. The Crusaders went on to win the first District 9 Small School-South Division title.
The big key to that title run for the Crusaders was their 26-16 win over Clarion-Limestone.
This time around, while it’s early, the division title could ride on the outcome of Friday night’s game at Dutch Country Stadium that kicks off at 7 p.m.
While the Bulldogs are off to a strong 2-0 start with wins over Keystone (29-8) and Otto-Eldred (47-12), the Crusaders are coming off a 14-0 loss at Coudersport after opening with a 21-0 shutout win over Curwensville.
It’s early, but both teams take a 1-0 divisional record into the game that will also serve as a key playoff positional game in Class 1A.
The Bulldogs won last year’s “Power Outage” game in New Bethlehem thanks to Keaton Kahle’s 4-yard TD pass to Ethan Hetrick with 5:18 remaining. Late in the third quarter, the Crusaders were set up with a first down at the Bulldogs’ 13 and a 20-18 lead before a 20-minute power delay stopped their momentum.
When power was restored, the Bulldogs stopped the Crusaders on downs and went on to score the game-winning TD in the fourth quarter.
The Crusaders return some key players from last year’s 7-3 team, including running backs Stephen Bobby and John Wittman, and quarterback Mason McAllister. Bobby ran for 176 yards on 32 carries against the Bulldogs last year and wound up going for over 1,300 yards for the season.
So far this year, the Crusaders’ run-heavy offense has produced 355 of its 516 yards on the ground with Bobby leading the way with 237 yards on 42 carries and three TDs.
Most of anything the Crusaders have done offensively was in the opening win over Curwensville because they were shut down by Coudersport last week. The Falcons’ defense limited the Crusaders to just 94 yards of offense on 38 plays from scrimmage. The running game was bottled up for 48 yards on 23 attempts as Bobby ran for 47 yards on 11 carries. McAllister was 9-for-15 passes for 46 yards and was intercepted once.
Coudersport threw just one pass and ran for 219 yards as it scored a touchdown in each half.
So while the Falcons may have established themselves as a Class 1A front-runner in the early going, the winner of the Bulldogs/Crusaders matchup would be right there as well.
It’s been a powerful start to the Bulldogs’ running game so far as it’s produced 543 yards in the two wins. Both Ray Shreckengost (17-183, 3 TDs) and Kobe Bonanno (21-164, 4 TDs) went over 100 yards last week. Sophomore quarterback Gunner Mangiantini is off to an efficient start, completing 26 of 37 passes for 274 yards with a touchdown and interception. Hetrick has four catches for 104 yards while Javin Brentzel leads the team with 10 receptions for 77 yards.
Defensively, the Bulldogs have allowed 508 yards in their two wins, including 332 to Otto-Eldred last week. Most of their yards surrendered have come through the air as Keystone and the Terrors combined for 454 yards. That means the run defense has been stout, allowing just 131 yards on 56 carries.
Chase Bish (15 tackles, 2 for losses, 1 interception), Hetrick (12 tackles, 5 for losses), Dalton Bish (11 tackles) and Coltin Bartley (10 tackles) are the leading stoppers on defense. Hetrick has three sacks.
Last year’s meeting was the first in the regular season between the teams. The Bulldogs and Crusaders split playoff matchups in their first two meetings, the Crusaders winning in 2016 and the Bulldogs winning the first-ever game in 2007.
In Friday’s other game:
Curwensville (1-1) at
After two long road trips to start the year, it’ll be the season-opener for the Falcon Knights at A-C Valley High School in Foxburg. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
The Golden Tide and Falcon Knights are both coming off wins after losing their first games. While Curwensville was blanking Cameron County in a 20-0 win, the Falcon Knights rallied to win 20-14 at Sheffield.
Last year, the Golden Tide edged the Falcon Knights at home, 14-13. The game actually came down to a conversion as the Falcon Knights scored on Nolan Cumberland’s 3-yard run with 5:20 left in the game, but they misfired on the point-after kick.
In the Tide’s win over Cameron County last week, Duane Brady ran for a touchdown and quarterback Dan McGarry threw two TD passes to Jake McCracken. Brady ran for 71 yards on 20 carries while McGarry completed 5 of 14 passes for 103 yards and two interceptions to go along with the TD passes.
It’s a different era of sorts for the Golden Tide, who appear to be still going with the traditional run-oriented offense. Jim Thompson took over the program following the death of longtime coach Andy Evanko in the offseason.
In their 21-0 opening loss to Elk County Catholic, the Tide were limited to just 92 yards of offense with Brady running for 42 yards on nine carries.
So far in two games, the Falcon Knights are averaging 173 yards per game offensively. Quarterback Luke Bowser has completed 22 of 45 passes for 199 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. He’s also the team’s leading rusher with 59 yards on nine carries with both of the team’s TDs. Tanner Merwin (7-88) and Caden Rainey (9-81) are the leading receivers.
Defensively, Eli Penny (19 tackles, 4 for losses), Carter Terwint (18 tackles) and Merwin (17 tackles) lead the way.