DuBOIS — A painful ending to the season, the Redbank Valley Bulldogs were eliminated from the District 9 Class 1A playoffs with a 47-13 rout at the hands Curwensville last Saturday night at E.J. Mansell Stadium.
Painful literally, as the Bulldogs lost starting quarterback Keaton Kahle in the first quarter, running back Clint Thurston for most of the second half and Brock Barrett for part of the game as the Tide rode the talent of senior Nick Stewart, the district’s all-time leading rusher.
Stewart scored five of the Tide’s seven touchdowns while rushing for 243 yards on 34 carries. He scored on runs of 8, 15 and 4 yards while taking two others on passes of 9 and 75 yards from quarterback Bryce Timko.
Of those 75 yards, 70 belonged to Stewart on what was a hook-and-lateral play started on a 5-yard pass to Noah Von Gunden. His 4-yarder came with the game well in hand to cap the scoring with just 1:58 left in regulation.
“They’re a good team and they’re the number one seed for a reason,” Wasilowski said. “We were trying to stop Stewart, but obviously we didn’t. They were a better team, no doubt about it.”
While he refused to comment, Wasilowski and his staff, and anyone wearing red for that matter were incensed at a couple of calls that weren’t made in the game.
The Tide’s standout senior lineman Stephen McClure, as the play was getting stopped by the whistle, dumped Travis Crawford in a suplex-like toss to the ground and was called for a personal foul. Crawford did finish the game, but the Bulldogs sideline felt McClure should’ve been ejected.
While the penalty on the opening drive of the second half set the Bulldogs up with a first-and-goal at the 5, backup quarterback Kobe Bonanno took it from there on the next play to get the Bulldogs within 21-7.
Barrett intercepted Timko three plays after the ensuing kickoff and it appeared that the McClure play got the Bulldogs back into the game, at least emotionally. But Timko, on defense, picked off Bonanno twice in a span of three Bulldogs’ offensive plays and the Tide wound up scoring touchdowns on the final four possessions to put the game away.
Kahle, a defensive back, injured his shoulder in the Tide’s second drive of the game and didn’t return. Thurston had just two carries in the second half due to what looked like a shoulder injury and finished with minus-4 yards on eight carries.
“That hurts,” Wasilowski said of Kahle’s early exit. “We had a couple other guys who shouldn’t have played and wouldn’t come out. They said they were OK and they weren’t. We lost Clint for most of the game. Logan (Minich) probably shouldn’t have been out there but they’re seniors and wanted to play and the trainer said they’re OK. There was no danger, so they went back out.”
Bonanno, a freshman, completed 9 of 16 passes for 101 yards, but was intercepted five times, twice each by Timko and Josh Terry. He scored both of the Bulldogs’ TDs on runs, the second on a 7-yard run that capped a nine-play, 60-yard drive to make it 34-13 with 6:05 left in the third quarter.
“A couple of the interceptions weren’t really his fault,” Wasilowski said. “The last one was tipped, but the other ones he threw down the field, I don’t think our kids even competed for them and let them intercept it. I told them they had to turn into defensive backs. You can’t let them intercept the ball.”
Barrett, who caught six passes for 56 yards, was lit up on what looked like a two-point conversion catch following Bonanno’s second TD run. The hit knocked the ball out and again, the Bulldogs felt that the hit merited a penalty, but no flag was thrown.
Curwensville’s physicality overall was the difference as Stewart ran behind a strong line led by McClure. He went over 7,000 career rushing yards, the first D9 back to reach that milestone.
“We’re just glad Nick Stewart was in black and gold tonight,” Curwensville assistant coach Chris Folmar said. “The kid has run hard all year long. He had to come back from an injury early in the year and he’s just poured it on week in and week out. I’m just glad he was running for us tonight.”
The Tide outgained the Bulldogs, 432-190, 326 of it on the ground as fullback Avery Francisco added 69 yards on seven carries and scored the other two TDs on runs of 14 and 13 yards in the fourth quarter.
Curwensville limited the Bulldogs to just 22 yards and one first down in building a 21-0 halftime lead. Stewart scored his first touchdown on the 8-yarder to cap a game-opening six-play scoring drive. Then on the first play of the second quarter, he, Timko and Von Gunden executed the hook-and-lateral play to perfection.
Terry’s second interception of Bonanno set up Timko’s 9-yard TD pass to Stewart with 49.9 seconds left before halftime.
NOTES: The Bulldogs finished 6-5 while the Tide, now 9-2, take on defending champion Ridgway for the second time this year. Curwensville beat the Elkers, 14-11, back on Oct. 5. Stewart’s 77-yard return of a blocked field goal in the third quarter being the big play of the game. ... Thurston, who had two sacks in the first half on defense before getting injured, finished the season with a team-record 1,560 yards rushing and 1,988 for his career. ... Curwensville tries to win its first district title since 2010.