WINDBER — The old saying a “A tale of two halves” is thrown around a lot in sports, particularly in football, and that adage perfectly described Clarion’s thrilling 20-14 come-from-behind victory over Chestnut Ridge Friday night in a PIAA Class AA First Round playoff game at Windber Stadium.
The District 5 champion Lions controlled the action in the first half on their way to taking a 14-0 lead into the lockerroom at halftime. Ridge held Clarion to just three first downs in the first two quarters — with one of those coming on the next to last play of the half — while outgaining the Bobcats 202-104.
Clarion (12-0) forced two first-half turnovers that helped slow down the Lions at bit, as Ridge led 7-0 for most of the opening half before Seth Dillow scored on an 8-yard run with 1:09 left in the second quarter to make it 14-0 at the break.
Chestnut Ridge (10-2) also got the ball to start the second half, but four penalties around its first two plays quickly forced the Lions into a second-and-30 at their own 6-yard line. Ridge quarterback Logan Hauck broke free for a 12-yard run on second down.
However, Bobcat Spencer Miller picked off Hauck near the 30 on the ensuing play and returned the ball to the Lions 7. Clarion senior Colton Rapp scored from there two plays, and Archer Mills’ extra point made it 14-7 just 3:29 into the third quarter.
That early sequence of plays set the tone for the second half as Clarion flipped the script on Ridge and dominated the final two quarters of play. Clarion forced another turnover on Ridge’s next possession but the Bobcats were ultimately stuffed on four straight plays at the Lion 1-yard line late in the third quarter.
Not even that impressive defensive stand deterred the Bobcats, who went on to score twice in the fourth to pull out one of the bigger victories in program history. Clarion used a huge 54-yard hook-and-ladder play to set up the first of those scores.
Rapp, who has battled injuries for a large part of the season, punched in both fourth-quarter scores to finish the day with all three Bobcat touchdowns. Rapp scored the game-winner from four yards out with 1:06 left in the game, but the Lions blocked Mills PAT. The senior finished with 19 carries for 96 yards.
The big ame was especially special for Rapp, who has seen his playing — particularly on defense — limited at tims as he has played through the injuries when possible.
“Being able to come back and help the team has been huge,” said Rapp. “I didn’t want to miss those games (in regular season), but in the back of my mind I knew we had a good shot at making a run and that I’d rather be healthy for those games (playoffs) than say play Week 5 and get hurt worse. It’s awesome to be able to do this, and I just love doing it for the rest of the team.
“The team did a lot of good things tonight, and you just have to trust the process. As for me, I just need to worry about me and do my job, and it will all come together. And tonight, it did. Everything started to come into play and was working.”
As for the win itself, Rapp said it was huge for the entire team.
“No one really thinks we should have made it here,” he said. “Right off the bat, everyone was putting Kane above us, and I feel like we’re always that team that has a chip on our shoulder. We always have something to prove every week. This, to us, is surreal, and we love it. We look forward to this stuff.”
Ridge got the ball one last time in the game, but the Clarion defense made one final big play with a strip sack on fourth-and-23. The Lions recovered the loose ball deep in their own end and tried two laterals, but Clarion made a tackle at the Ridge 14with 14 seconds left on the clock.
One kneel down ended the game, sending a large Clarion contingent on hand into a frenzy as the Bobcats earned a trip to the state quarterfinals this weekend against District 10 power Wilmington, which beat Greenville, 31-13, in the D-10 title game Friday. Wilmington beat Kane, 42-0, in last year’s state quarterfinals.
The Bobcats huge second-half turnaround saw them outgain Ridge 240-91 over the final two quarters (342-293 overall). Clarion also forced two of its four turnovers and recorded three of their four sacks in the second half.
Clarion held Hauck — a 1,600-yard passer and 1,100-yard rusher — to just 18 yards on the ground and 220 (50 in second half) through the air.
“We’re always thankful for the defense,” said Rapp. “I wish I was out there with them, but the best thing I can do is play scout (team) and help get them ready to go the week. They show up every week. We might not have the biggest, fastest, strongest guys, but we have the guys with the most heart.”
“This was a big one,” said Clarion coach Larry Wiser when has asked where the win ranks in his career. “I just told these kids, I will remember this for the next 20 years if I am still around. It has to be a special win for these guys. It’s big, especially coming off a 14-0 deficit. I thought we were playing well (in first half), but execution (wise) we were making one little mistake here or one mistake there.
“We sat down at halftime (and talked), and that was just a great gutty performance by our kids (in second half) hanging in there. Especially after being denied at the one down there. They didn’t let take the air out of their tires. I thought they were one of the better offensive teams in the state, and our defense did an awesome job. Lee (Weber) and Scott (Miller) did a great job in the game-planning for these guys.
“Our focus in second half was just to go one play at a time. I knew we needed to mix things up between run and pass. And not that we still didn’t make some of those things (little mistakes in second half), bottom line is we put enough together to win the game. We got some huge turnovers that helped, and the secondary did an awesome job. That kid (Hauck) had been running wild against a lot of teams.
Chestnut Ridge’s defense forced a quick three-and-out to open the game, but the Bobcats got the ball back just two plays later when Thomas Wurster recovered a Hauck fumble at the Lion 21.
The Bobcats couldn’t capitalize though, as they gained just three yards on three plays before Mills had a 35-yard field goal attempt come up just short.
Ridge got the ball back and the 20 and promptly drove 80 yards on just six plays. Hauck hit Seth Harbaugh for 14 yards before a 30-yard catch by Jared McGill put Ridge at the Clarion 29.
After the teams traded 5-yard penalties, Hauck and Levi Snyder connected for a 29-yard touchdown. Ian Anderson’s extra point made it 7-0 with 4:48 left in the first quarter.
The teams then traded punts before Clarion put together its best drive of the first half early in the second quarter. The Bobcats drove from their own 14 to the Ridge 30 thanks to catches for 41 and 21 yards by Logan Minich and Thomas Hearst, respectively.
Disaster struck the Bobcats two plays later though, as Austin Crocker intercepted a Miller pass. The Lions quickly picked up a pair of first downs before Keeven Weaver returned the favor by picking off Hauck at his own 18-yard line.
Clarion couldn’t move the ball and were forced to punt, with Ride getting the ball back at midfield with 3:09 left in the half. Six plays later the Lions found the end zone on Dillow’s 8-yard TD run to take a 14-0 lead into the break.
The Bobcats promptly seized the momentum in the third quarter with Miller’s early interception and Rapp’s subesquent touchdown run that cut Clarion’s deficit in half at 14-7.
Ridge took the ensuing kickoff and drove from its own 30 down to the Clarion 22 before Dillow fumbled in the red zone. Bobcat Sterling Conner pounced on the loose pigskin at the Lions 11.
Clarion wasted little time getting out of its own end. After an incompetion, Rapp broke free for nine yards before ripping off a 56-yard run down the Ridge 24. An 18-yard catch by Minich then gave Clarion first-and-goal at the 1.
However, the Bobcats couldn’t punch it from there, as the Lions stuffed Rapp, Miller and Rapp again on first through third down, respectively. With the nose of the ball nearly touching the goal line, Ridge then stuffed fullback Sam Minich on fourth down late in the third quarter.
Ridge managed to drive out fro the shadow of its own goalpost before having to punt near midfield. Clarion got the ball back at its own 26 and promptly drove 74 yards on seven plays to the game, converting two huge third downs in the process.
Weaver made a big 10-yard catch on third-and-10 to keep the drive alive before the Bobcats used a little trickeration on its next third down needing six yards.
Miller went back to Weaver who hauled in a six-yard catch at midfield, then quickly pitched the ball towards the sideline where Logan Minich caught it on a dead run. Minich rumbled down to the 2-yard line on the 54-yard hook-and-ladder play. A facemask penalty on the tackle moved the ball to the 1-yard line.
Miller finished 12 of 16 passing for 168 yards, while Minich had three catches for 109 yards.
Rapp powered in from there on the ensuing play, while Mills extra point knotted the score at 14-14 with 6:31 to play.
The Bobcat defense then forced a quick three-and-out to get the offense the ball back at its own 35 following a punt.
Miller jump-started the game-winning drive with a 24-yard run on a scramble on a third-and-6 play at the 39. A 5-yard run by Rapp and 6-yareer from Logan Minich gave the Bobcats another first down before a 9-yard catch by Sam Minich moved the sticks again at the Lions’ 12.
Clarion then went to Rapp three straight times, with the senior bursting into the end zone from four yards out on the third run to give the Bobcats their first and only lead of the game at 20-14 with 1:06 remaining.