DUKE CENTER — Survive and advance — that’s the name of the game in the postseason.
And, that’s just what the Redbank Valley Bulldogs did last Friday night with a hard-fought 15-8 win over Otto-Eldred in a District 9 Class A quarterfinal game.
The fifth-seeded Bulldogs (6-4) used a bend-but-don’t break defense and two long scoring drives — one in the first and fourth quarter — to spoil the Terrors’ party in hosting their first-ever home playoff game.
Otto led for all but 7:04 in the game after scoring on its second possession of the game following the Bulldogs lone turnover deep in their own territory. Otto’s Dylan Close then hauled in a 7-yard touchdown catch on fourth-and-goal, while Cameron Magee added the two-point run — which proved to be the difference in the score for most of the night.
However, the Redbank defense took over from there and kept the Terrors off the scoreboard the rest of the night despite Otto outgaining the Bulldogs, 316-247, in total yards.
Redbank’s defense stopped the Terrors four times on downs on its side of the field — three in the red zone. The Bulldogs also intercepted Otto QB Sawyer Drummond twice deep in their own end — once in the end zone and another at the 1-yard line — to give their offense a chance to win the game.
And, that’s just what the Redbank offense did, thanks to two long scoring drives — one each in the first and fourth quarters.
Redbank countered the Terrors’ initial score with a 14-play, 70-yard scoring match that lasted nearly six minutes. Senior workhorse Clint Thurston did most of that damage with 10 carries for 60 yards before fellow senior Brock Barrett capped the drive with a 6-yard touchdown catch with 2:50 left in the first quarter.
Barrett took a flip pass from QB Keaton Kahle as he came in motion and cut behind a block on the corner before pushing a pile of defenders just over the goal line on third-and-goal. Thurston’s extra point made it 8-7 with 2:50 left in the opening quarter.
The score remained that way until the Bulldogs put together a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in the fourth. The series was aided by a huge pass interference call on Otto on a play when a Terror defender intercepted Kahle but was flagged for pushing the receiver first.
That call put the ball near midfield, where Redbank kept it on the ground. Thurston eventually broke free on a 29-yard scoring jaunt eight plays later on third-and-eight. Thurston’s TD run came one play after Close dropped a would-be interception for the Terrors. Thurston had 30 carries for 129 yards.
Bulldog Hunter Martz made a nice grab on the two-point conversion, keeping his feet inbounds near the sideline to put Redbank up 15-8 with 4:50 to play. Redbank amassed 130 of its 247 total yards and eight of its 11 first downs on its two touchdown drives.
Otto-Eldred had the ball twice in Redbank territory following Thurston’s score but couldn’t find the end zone.
Barrett came up with a huge leaping interception in the end zone to end the first of those drives after the Terrors had marched from their own 35 down to the Bulldogs’ 18.
The Terrors then forced a quick Redbank punt, and a false start penalty actually helped the Bulldogs when Thurston got off a longer kick on the second attempt following a bad snap on the first.
Otto drove from its own 37 to the Redbank 38 in the final minute, but the Bulldogs broke up a pass on the final play of the game to seal their road victory.
“I’m proud of the kids. We didn’t play our best game, but I have to tip my hat to the Terrors of Otto-Eldred,” said Redbank Valley coach Ed Wasilowski. “They played a great game, and their kids made some great plays. We left some plays out on the field, but the kids displayed the heart we needed to pull through.
“To hold a team like that to eight points on their field ... I was really proud of my defense.”
Which helped get the Bulldogs to Saturday’s matchup with Curwensville.
“I don’t think anyone expected us to be here at the beginning of the year,” Wasilowski said. “We only returned three seniors, and I remember when they were doing the preseason previews in camp, they were asking what my expectations where. I said my expectations are the same all the time — we’re going to playoffs, and we’re going to try to make a run.
“People looked at that and me, and thought I was crazy with only three seniors (back). But, it’s not quantity, it’s quality. And, we have three of the best seniors I’ve ever coached in Clint (Thurston), Brock Barrett and Logan Minich has just been a stalwart on the line of scrimmage for us. I can’t say enough about those three guys. They got us here and we’re still playing.”
Otto came out firing to open the game, with Close rumbling 62 yards down to the Bulldog 5-yard line on a middle screen play on the night’s first play. However, the Redbank defense made a defensive stand as the Terrors turned the ball over on downs at the Redbank 3.
Thurston ripped off a 7-yard run on first down, but disaster struck the Bulldogs on the ensuing play as the Terrors recovered a bad shotgun snap at the Bulldogs’ 7.
The Bulldogs again made a stand on defense, forcing a fourth-and-goal from the 7. However, Drummond found Close on a slant for the 7-yard score on fourth down, and Magee’s two-point run put Otto up 8-0 just 2:06 into the game.
Drummond completed 19 of 40 passes for 232 yards with one TD and two interceptions. Close had eight catches for 127 yards and the one score, while Magee had eight grabs for 61 yards.
Redbank countered with its first long touchdown drive, capped by Barrett’s 6-yard TD catch that made it an 8-7 game late in the first quarter.
From there, things turned into a defensive battle and a game of field possession.
The Redbank defense forced a turnover on downs at its own 20 on the first play of the second quarter, then did the same on its own 40 on Otto’s next possession.
After a failed fake punt attempt by the Bulldogs, Otto drove from its own 39 down to the Redbank 19. However, Kahle picked off a Drummond pass at the 1-yard line with 2:48 left in the half, and the game eventually went to the half with the Terrors clinging to an 8-7 lead.
The teams traded the ball back-and-forth for most of the second half, which each side punting twice and turning the ball over on downs once in the other’s territory. The deepest drive by either team during that stretch came when Redbank got down to the Otto 26 following a 36-yard catch by Barrett.
Redbank later pinned Otto deep in its territory late in the third quarter on a 44-yard punt by Thurston. The Terrors managed to drive from their own 12 out to midfield before having to punt themselves.
The Bulldogs got the ball back at their own 25 following a 25-yard punt, and put together the game-winning touchdown drive that ate up nearly four minutes off the fourth-quarter clock. Thurston finished off the drive with his 29-yard scoring run to give the Bulldogs their first and only lead with 4:58 remaining.