DuBOIS — Trailing 28-14 at the half and needing a spark, Ridgway got just that, outscoring Clarion 28-0 in the third quarter on its way to a 56-35 victory in the District 9 Class A title game Saturday night at Mansell Stadium.
The Elkers defense and special teams forced four turnovers in the quarter, along with a turnover on downs to swing the momentum in their favor on their way to a fourth straight D-9 title and second straight in Class 2A.
“It never gets old, I’ll tell you that,” Ridgway head coach Mark Heindl said of his team winning four titles in a row. “The Kane game (Ridgway’s lone loss) was the best thing that could happen to us.”
“Tonight we’re gonna enjoy this one and we’re gonna get ready for Wilmington.”
With the victory, Ridgway became just the third team in District 9 history to win four or more consecutive titles, along with a pair of six-straight tile streaks from Karns City in 2A and 3A from 2012 to 2017 and Clearfield in 3A from 2010 to 2015.
The second-seeded Bobcats used a dominant second quarter, outscoring Ridgway 21-0, to take a two-score lead at 28-14 into the half and looked to add to that with the first possession of the second half after the Elkers won the pre-game coin toss and elected to receive the game’s opening kickoff.
On that second half kickoff, Ethan Burford looked to give Clarion strong starting field position as he took the kickoff down the far sideline, but a big hit jarred the ball free.
Elker Dominic Allegretto came out of the scrum with the ball, setting his team up at the Bobcat 35-yard line to start the third quarter.
After a short run play on first down, Jake Wickett took the handoff on 2nd-and-7, bounced off a would be tackler and outran the defense to the near pylon for a 32-yard score just 33 seconds into the second half.
“We just need to play our game,” Heindl said of his message to his team in the locker room at halftime. “Clarion came out and did a lot of good things against us, but you can’t give a good football team chances with turnovers.”
“We were still champs and for them (Clarion) they had to knock us off, we took those 24 minutes as for the rest of your life how do you want to be remembered and I think the kids came out and proved what they wanted to do.”
Wickett finished the night with a team-high 101 yards on 16 carries for the score and also caught a pair of touchdown passes for 66 yards.
Paul Gresco, who went 8-of-8 on the night on such attempts, then converted the extra point to cut the deficit to seven.
On the ensuing Clarion possession, it faced a 3rd-and-1 on its own 21-yard line, but the Ridgway defense stood tall, holding Kyle Bottaro short of the yard to gain as the Bobcats sent the special teams unit out to punt.
Instead, Clarion elected to go for the fake, as the snap went to upback Austin Newcomb as he looked to plunge up the middle for the first down, but he too was brought down short as a turnover on downs set the Elkers up with great field position.
Three plays later, Gresco found Austin Green in the end zone as Green made a leaping catch over a defender and all of the sudden the game was tied at 28 at the 8:16 mark of the third quarter.
The Bobcats looked to respond with a big play to start their next drive, but Cal German’s deep pass was intercepted by Jack Cowan near midfield.
After the teams traded three-and-outs, Ridgway started a drive at its own 40, as after Green made a diving catch along the sideline for an 11-yard gain on 3rd-and-10, Matt Dush broke free down the Elkers’ sideline for a 38-yard touchdown run as Green provided a key block downfield on the play.
With the extra point, Ridgway retook the lead at 35-28 with 2:49 remaining in the third quarter.
Two plays later it was Dush again making a big play, this time on the defensive side of the ball, as the senior jumped in front of a Clarion defender to make a diving interception on a pass by German to set the offense up just outside of the red zone.
After a two-yard loss on first down, Gresco and Green connected for a score once again, as just like his previous score, Green out jumped the defender for the ball on a 26-yard touchdown with 1:33 left in the third to give the Elkers a two touchdown lead.
Gresco finished the game 13-of-17 passing for 232 yards and five touchdowns, with 123 yards and three of those scores going to Green, who caught eight passes.
German then saw a second consecutive pass land in the hands of a Ridgway player, as Cowan came down with his second interception of the quarter on a deep pass down the middle of the field late in the quarter.
After a pair of short gains for the Elkers, the third quarter came to a close with the offense facing a 3rd-and-2 up 42-28.
On the opening play of the fourth quarter, Gresco found Wickett along the sideline, as Wickett broke away from his defender on a 42-yard score to make it a three-score game.
Clarion’s next drive ended in yet another Cowan interception on a deep ball over the middle, as after a Elker three-and-out, German connected with Newcomb on a slant for a 58-yard score for the Bobcats’ final touchdown of the night with 8:02 to go.
Ridgway capped its title victory with a 24-yard connection between Gresco and Wickett as the receiver broke free form a defender and tight roped the sideline on the way to the end zone with 4:11 remaining.
After receiving the opening kickoff, the Elkers got on the board first on a six-play, 74-yard drive helped along by a roughing the passer penalty on a 3rd-and-12, as Gresco connected with Green for the first of three times on the night on a 31-yard touchdown.
Clarion needed just two plays to respond, as German found Newcomb deep over the middle for a 63-yard touchdown to tie the game at seven.
Newcomb finished the game with four catches for 130 yards and two scores along with 67 yards rushing on eight carries, while German was 12-of-23 passing for 255 yards and four scores, but also threw four interceptions.
After a Bobcat fumble later in the quarter, Ridgway retook the lead on a 6-yard run by Gabe Watts with 1:46 left in the opening frame.
The second quarter was then dominated by Clarion, as German and Cutter Boggess connected for a 22-yard score at the 10:10 mark to tie the game at 14.
After the Elkers’ following drive ended with a fumble, Boggess found the end zone again to give Clarion its first lead, this time scoring on the ground from 10 yards out as Beau Verdill converted the PAT to make it a 21-14 game.
Ridgway then worked its way all the way down the field, just to see another drive end on a fumble when a snap sailed high on Watts and was recovered by the Bobcats.
Clarion then needed just three plays to go 89 yards, as German hit Hunter Craddock down field for a 45-yard touchdown to double its lead in the final minute of the half.
The Bobcats took that 28-14 lead into the half, before Ridgway bounced back in resounding fashion with a 28-0 third quarter to retake the lead for good on the way to the victory.
“Anything and everything went wrong and I’m gonna included my own responsibility of making that decision on the punt (fake), I think that’ll be one of those rest of your life type memories for me,” Clarion head coach Larry Wiser said.
“Turning the ball over and interceptions, whether or not we panicked too soon and got out of our game plan a little bit, I don’t know.”
Ridgway will now take on Wilmington in the PIAA Class A quarterfinals next week at a site and time to be determined.
The District 10 champion Greyhounds beat District 5 champ Chestnut Ridge 35-20 on Friday night in a PIAA opening round game.
Wilmington defeated the Elkers 56-14 in last year’s PIAA tournament on their way to finishing as the state runners-up.