DuBOIS — After grinding out a first-round playoff win at Otto-Eldred last Friday night, the Redbank Valley Bulldogs will move to the artificial turf at DuBois’ E.J. Mansell Stadium this Saturday.
The 6-4 Bulldogs take on top-seeded Curwensville in the second game of a District 9 Class 1A semifinal doubleheader at 6 p.m. The first game has No. 6 seed Coudersport facing No. 2 seed Ridgway at 1 p.m. Saturday’s winners move to next week’s championship game.
It’ll be the fourth time the Bulldogs and 8-2 Golden Tide meet in the playoffs, the last being back in 2013 when head coach Ed Wasilowski’s team pulled out a 28-22 semifinal win on the same turf at Mansell Stadium.
Wasilowski expects to see a similar style of Golden Tide team which boasts the district’s all-time leading rusher in Nick Stewart. However, the Tide have thrown more this year with senior quarterback Bryce Timko.
“If they have their druthers, they’ll hand it to (Stewart) 30-35 times and then try to hit a big play with the pass if they lull you to sleep,” Wasilowski said. “If they get behind they’ll throw it, but that’s something they don’t want to do.”
The Tide are as balanced as they’ve ever been under longtime coach Andy Evanko, averaging 436 yards per game offensively — 211 rushing and 135 passing.
Stewart goes into the game with a district-record 6,911 yards. For the season, he’s at 1,377 yards and 21 touchdowns with his per-carry average the best of his four-year varsity career at 7.6 yards. He missed the opening game of the season, but his 20.2 average this year slightly down on his carries per game average that was 22.7 going into the year. Last year, he ran for 2,030 yards in 11 games for an average of 25.7 per game.
Helping fill those extra non-Stewart plays are Timko at quarterback. He’s thrown for 1,307 yards (82-for-158) with 12 touchdowns and four interceptions. Senior Josh Terry (33 catches, 618 yards, 5 TDs) and junior Noah Von Gunden (20-330, 5 TDs) are Timko’s top targets.
“You want them to be in third and long obviously, but they’ll still run it and be content to kick the ball and play defense,” Wasilowski said. “Finally, (Stewart) will break one and take it to the house. They’ll be patient and keep running it and Stewart will find a crease.”
The Bulldogs’ defense played a lot of bend-but-don’t-break style last week against the Terrors, coming up with two huge end-zone interceptions from Brock Barrett and Keaton Kahle. Those two will be big again in stopping any Tide passing game.
“We showed that Friday night,” Wasilowski said of holding off Otto-Eldred. “They put a lot of yards on us but it was all between the 20s … We had plays where if we made tackles, we get off the field even quicker. The kids showed patience and played football on defense and never gave up the big play after the first one. We showed great patience on offense.”
For the year, the Bulldogs, are giving up 308 yards per game — 159 pass, 149 rush — and last week’s game was the fifth time an opponent threw for over 200 yards. However, Terrors quarterback Sawyer Drummond needed 40 passes with 19 completions to get to his 214 yards and the two interceptions were the difference in the game.
Kahle now has a team-high four interceptions while recently-named KSAC-Small Lineman of the Year Logan Minich leads the team in tackles with 71 from his middle linebacker spot, sharing the team lead in stops per game at 7.1 with Travis Crawford. Barrett is third at 5.4 per game while Thurston (4.3) has been solid all season long with a team-best 10.5 sacks.
Offensively, the Bulldogs weigh in at 371 yards per game — 283 rush, 88 pass — and they’ll likely need to establish some type of air game to keep the Tide defense from focusing too much on the workhorse Thurston, who is now the team’s single-season rushing leader with 1,564 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Thurston has 79 carries in the last three games, including 28 for 133 yards and a touchdown last week on a muddy turf in Duke Center. On the turf at DuBois, it could be easier to spring Kahle from quarterback (41-448, 5 TDs) or Barrett (50-424, 5 TDs) from his slotback post or in the backfield as the Bulldogs have put all three together in a shotgun formation at times.
Kahle’s was able to throw a big TD pass to Barrett in the win over the Terrors. He’s completed 69 of 148 for 757 yards with five touchdowns and six interceptions. Barrett (43-465, 4 TDs) and Chase Wiles (12-121, 1 TD) are his top targets.
To beat the Golden Tide and get to the championship game, the formula is obvious for Wasilowski.
“We just have to get better,” he said. “We showed them on film that if we clean up some things we’re doing, I’m not really worried about what Curwensville is going to do and the kids see that. Hopefully, we stop the run better than we stop the pass and that’s what Curwensville does best. It’ll be their strength against our strength and we’ll see what happens.
“Offensively, we just have to execute and clean some things up.”
NOTES: In the 30th year of the playoff era in the PIAA, the Bulldogs are now 10-16 in the district postseason. They’re 1-2 against Curwensville, losing their first two playoff meetings to the Tide in 2009 (30-8) and 2006 (32-7). … Curwensville leads the overall series against the Bulldogs, 14-4. The teams actually met in the regular season for the first time since 1963 back in 2015 when the Tide beat the Bulldogs, 44-30, in Curwensville after jumping out to a 22-0 first-quarter lead. A sophomore, Stewart ran for 144 yards and three touchdowns. Current Bulldogs seniors Chase Wiles, Barrett and Thurston all saw some action.