RIDGWAY — Ridgway overcame a hard-fought first half, outscoring Karns City 15-0 in the second half to secure a 28-6 victory at Memorial Park Field Friday.
The win clinched Ridgway’s first ever District 9 Large School Division title with two weeks remaining in the regular season.
“What a feeling,” Ridgway head coach Mark Heindl said. “Just to see what these kids have come through these last few weeks, all the adversity.”
The Elkers (8-0) got off to a strong start on the offensive side of the ball, as they took the opening drive of the game 70 yards in 11 plays for a score to put them ahead at the 7:28 mark of the first quarter.
Paul Gresco went 3 of 4 through the air on the drive for 31 yards, two of those passes going to Austin Green, while Cole Secco caught the third.
Ridgway was also aided by a pair of offsides penalties on the Gremlins as they eventually found themselves with a 2nd-and-10 at Karns City’s 14-yard line.
Gabe Watts took the handoff up the middle, as great blocking by the Elkers’ offensive line opened a hole for the sophomore back who burst up the seam for a 14-yard touchdown run.
Daunte Allegretto converted the extra point to give Ridgway a 7-0 lead in the early going.
Karns City (3-5) looked to respond right away on their opening drive, as they pounded the ball on the ground all the way into the red zone.
The Gremlins used nine running plays in a row, including a 26-yard rush by Anthony Kamenski, to reach the Elkers’ 3-yard line.
After their 1st-and-goal run lost a yard, Karns City’s next rush found the end zone, but they were called for a block in the back on the play which moved the ball back to the 17-yard line.
After an incompletion on second down, a five-yard completion on 3rd down set the Gremlins up with 4th-and-goal on the 12-yard line.
Karns City attempted to find the end zone on a screen pass, as Kamenski connected with Josh Wimer, but the Elkers’ defense swarmed to the ball and brought him down short at the 12-yard line as their offense took over on downs.
On the first play of their ensuing drive, Gresco found Allegretto on a deep ball down the middle for a 94-yard pitch and catch touchdown, but just like the Gremlins’ score on the previous drive, the play was called back due to a holding penalty.
The Elkers’ drive eventually ended in a punt, but their defense was quick to force the Gremlins into a three-and-out as they also lined up to punt.
Ridgway caught a break on special teams, as the Karns City punter had trouble with the snap and was brought down before he could get the punt away, as the Elkers took over in plus territory on the 15-yard line.
Facing a 3rd-and-13 at the 18-yard line, Gresco fired a pass which fell incomplete, but the Gremlins were called for pass interference on the play as Ridgway got another shot at picking up a first down as the ball was moved up to the 9-yard line.
On the next play, Gresco found Green on a slant route, as the junior wideout made a bobbling catch for a 9-yard touchdown.
After Allegretto’s successful point after was wiped out by a holding penalty, his second attempt was blocked, as Ridgway led 13-0 with 6:39 remaining in the first half.
The Gremlins responded right away on their next drive, as Kamenski found Erek Pfeifer for a 19-yard pitch and catch on 3rd-and-6 to kick start a scoring drive.
Kamesnki linked up with Nathan Waltman for a 20-yard gain on the next play, as Karns City eventually found themselves with a 4th-and-5 on Ridgway’s 8-yard line.
The Gremlins handed off to Devin Ryan on a reverse, who found his way around the Elkers’ defense on the far side for a 8-yard score.
Damon Kelley broke through to block the extra point attempt of Steve O’Donnell, as Ridgway maintained a seven point lead at 13-6 with 3:53 left in the opening half.
Both offenses were unable to produce in the closing minutes, as the score remained 13-6 into the half.
After winning the coin toss and deferring to the second half, the Gremlins’ offense got to work to start the third quarter.
Facing a 3rd-and-10 on their own 34, Kamenski dropped back looking for a receiver down field, but quickly found himself under pressure by Kelley.
Kelley was unable to bring down the quarterback, but his pressure forced an errant throw, which was picked off by Cole Casilio.
The Elkers’ offense was unable to capitalize on the turnover, as they were forced to punt after a three-and-out near midfield.
Karns City once again had a chance to tie or take the lead, but once again it was Ridgway’s defense coming up with a big play.
After scoring on a reverse earlier in the game, the Gremlins attempted the same play again looking for a big play.
This time the trickeration didn’t go as well, as Karns City had trouble with the second handoff and it resulted in a fumble.
Ridgway lineman Gavin Elmquist was quick to pounce on the loose ball, scooping it up and running for a 22-yard touchdown to give the Elkers a two-score lead.
Gresco connected with Green in the corner of the end zone on a 2-point conversion pass to bring the score to 21-6 at the 6:54 mark of the third quarter.
Late in the fourth courter, Gresco connected with Allegretto, who leaped above a Karns City defender to come down with a 25-yard touchdown grab.
Allegretto also knocked through the extra point to give Ridgway a 28-6 lead with just 4:50 left to play.
Karns City’s final two drives both ended in interceptions, as Casilio picked off his second pass of the night and Allegretto intercepted a pass in the final minute to secure the victory for Ridgway.
The Elkers forced four turnovers in the victory, while not committing any turnovers of their own.
”We work every day in practice and just to see the scoop and score and three big picks really changed the momentum in our favor,” Heindl said.
The coach added that forcing turnovers is something his team prides themselves in.
“Those kids come to work every day and it showed tonight and I can’t be any more proud of them,” Heindl said.
The head coach said he continues to stress to his team each week that they can not overlook any opponent.
That message will certainly need to be followed for the Elkers’ next contest, as they hit the road to face a surging Brookville team that has won three in a row.
“Next week we’ve got a big one going down to Brookville against a very good Brookville team,” Heindl said. “We’re gonna enjoy this one and let the kids enjoy it and then get ready for next week.”
Ridgway travels to Brookville (5-3) Friday night before hosting Union/AC-Valley in Johnsonburg in the regular season finale.