CLARION — On a snow-globing night at Clarion University’s Memorial Stadium last Friday, the Redbank Valley Bulldogs pulled off a handful of firsts.

— After practicing on Thanksgiving for the first time ever the day before, the Bulldogs played on Black Friday … after having school that day likely for the first time thanks to the compacted schedule now at the school due to the teacher’s strike earlier this fall.

— And, they won. The Bulldogs, buoyed by the heroics of senior running back Brenden “Boo” Shreckengost and a bend-but-don’t-break defense, beat District 5 champion Northern Bedford for the second straight year in the PIAA playoffs, 21-14.

— Now, it’s a first-ever trip by any team at Redbank Valley in any sport to the PIAA semifinals this Friday against WPIAL champion Bishop Canevin at North Hills High School’s Martorelli Stadium starting at 7 p.m.

— And, of course, the 12-1 Bulldogs get to play in December … for the first time.

“It’s special,” Bulldogs head coach Blane Gold said. “I think as a little kid growing up playing sports, I was fortunate growing up in Franklin getting to see our basketball team win two state titles … and to play to have the chance to play in Hershey, that’s special. We’re going to enjoy this for a couple days and obviously when you’re playing the WPIAL, that’s a whole different ball game, but we get to say that we are playing to go to Hershey and that’s something I’ve always wanted to do and hopefully that’s something the kids want to embrace this week.”

The Bulldogs had to quickly embrace a new game plan without leading running back Ray Shreckengost, who was ruled out for the game due to disciplinary reasons earlier Friday. They turned to the other senior Shreckengost, who shined brightly in the falling, swirling snow.

Shreckengost rushed for a career-high 137 yards on 20 carries. In addition to his go-ahead 47-yard touchdown run nine seconds into the fourth quarter, he started the Bulldogs’ scoring by returning a kickoff 79 yards for a TD after Northern Bedford opened the game with a nine-play, 53-yard scoring drive.

A starting linebacker on defense, Shreckengost had just 55 yards on 22 carries going into the game running the ball.

“Boo is a guy that is the heart and soul of this team,” Gold said. “He’s 5-foot-3, 135 pounds and we knew that someone was going to fill that void tonight with Ray and I don’t know if Boo could have been much better from the kickoff to the runs. He was incredible tonight. He’s Ray’s best friend. We basically said that we don’t have Ray tonight and we’re going to put it on you.”

Shreckengost finished with 99 yards on returns, adding a 20-yard return later, while making five tackles on defense.

“Somebody had to step up and why not me?” Shreckengost told afterward. “It was a lot to take in. It was the first time playing in the snow and none of us had ever done that before. It’s freezing cold. Everyone was trying to stay warm. It was a whole lot. I’m glad we got the job done.

“We made history. It’s the best feeling ever.”

DEFENSIVE STAND — Shreckengost’s 47-yarder put the Bulldogs ahead for good, but the game was far from over. Three straight defensive stands deep in their own territory helped the Bulldogs hold off the Panthers. The game-saving stand came on fourth-and-two at the Bulldogs’ 6 when Bulldogs linebacker Zeldon Fisher tackled Brooks Snider for a 1-yard loss with 41 seconds left in the game.

That capped the final stand of the three as the Bulldogs thwarted a potential scoring drive that started the Panthers’ 37. The Panthers moved the ball with the help of two personal foul calls to move the ball to the Bulldogs’ 6 for a fourth-and-two.

On the previous play from the 13 on fourth down, the Bulldogs were called for a personal foul on a hit to the helmet on an incomplete pass. The replay showed that the Bulldogs’ Chris Marshall’s hit was high on the intended receiver Adam Johnson, but in the shoulder area, but not above that or to the head.

Had Marshall not made the hit to break up the play, Johnson very likely catches the ball for a touchdown.

The flag moved the ball to the 6 with the penalty going half the distance and the Bulldogs’ line, led by Fisher made the decisive stop.

Gold called timeout before the decisive play.

“Sometimes you forget that in high school, (that penalty) is not an automatic first down and as someone who should know the rules, we learned that lesson the hard way against Union/A-C Valley in the first game when we had that fourth-down play with pass interference,” he said. “I was thinking first down, but we found out after we ran the play (and failed to score), that it was still fourth down.

“So the reason I called timeout, was I wanted to make sure the guys realized it was still fourth down. It wasn’t first and goal, so it was fourth and a long two. We didn’t like the call the official made, especially since it wasn’t the one in front of the play, but at the same time we had to win the football game right there.”

Then it came down to what to call on defense against a Panthers team that had success running to the edges, especially the left side.

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“The second thing we talked about was we essentially said that we’re going to send everybody on his one play and we’re either going to win the football game or they’re going to tie it, or come within a point and go for two points to go for the win. My gut tells me they would’ve gone for the win.”

Gold sent Fisher and Shreckengost from the inside backer spots up the middle and the Bulldogs guessed right as Fisher stuffed Brooks Snider for a 1-yard loss with 41 seconds left on the clock.

“Someone had to do it,” said Fisher, who made a team-high 14 tackles. “I thought about all our seniors, my brothers and I’m so close to them so I had to do it for them. I just went out and tackled him. It was one of the happiest moments of my life.”

“We had loaded up so much to the other side, because they were hitting so much stuff on the outside and sometimes you get lucky with your play calls,” Gold said. “They ran right into our blitz and Zeldon was there to make the stop.”

One Bulldogs kneel-down and it was game over.

Chris Marshall finished in double-figure in tackles as well with 11 stops. He stuffed Johnson for a 6-yard loss on the Panthers’ fourth-and-five play from the Bulldogs’ 20. Four plays later, Shreckengost dashed 47 yards for the go-ahead score.

Marquese Gardlock returned to the field after a two-game layoff and came up with two red-zone interceptions. After Shreckengost’s TD run, the Panthers again drove into Bulldogs territory and on third-and-six from the Bulldogs 16, Johnson’s rollout halfback option pass turned into disaster for the Bulldogs when the ball slipped on the throw and went straight up into the air and into the arms of Gardlock at the 23.

In the first half, Gardlock picked off Northern Bedford quarterback Eion Snyder on a pass from the Bulldogs’ 37 to the 4 on one-and-one coverage with their top receiver Aaron Bowers.

OUT OF THE GATE — Northern Bedford (9-4) marched 53 yards on nine plays to find the end zone on the first of two TD runs by the quarterback Snyder from four yards out on third-and-one at the 7:25 mark.

But while the drive looked to spell trouble for the Bulldogs’ defense moving forward, Shreckengost kept things even on the scoreboard by cutting to the Bulldogs’ sideline on the ensuing kickoff. He received a big downfield block by Marshall and that allowed him to go the distance to tie the game after Tyson Adams’ point-after kick with still 7:08 left in the first quarter.

The Bulldogs forced a Panthers punt, then the teams exchanged interceptions as Northern Bedford intercepted Bulldogs quarterback Bryson Bain the first of two times when lineman Remington Bowser snatched a Bain pass out of the air at the line.

But two plays later, it was Gardlock intercepting the Panthers’ long pass to the end zone.

Shreckengost lost a fumble at the Bulldogs’ 40, which allowed Northern Bedford to cash in for its second and final touchdown when Snyder pushed his way in for a 2-yard TD run with 3:27 left before halftime.

Rece Dibert intercepted Bain at the Bulldogs’ 47 in the final minute of the half, so the Panthers took a 14-7 lead into halftime. It’s the first time the Bulldogs trailed at intermission all season.

MANGIANTINI ENTERS — On the first possession of the second half, the Bulldogs punted away. On an incomplete pass on third down, Bain was shaken up after falling to the rock-hard playing surface. That led Gold to bring in senior Gunner Mangiantini, who engineered the game-tying drive along with the legs of Shreckengost.

The eight-play, 75-yard drive was finished off by Mangiantini’s perfectly thrown 31-yard TD pass to Marshall in the corner of the end zone.

Mangiantini might be more known as the running quarterback, but Gold indicated there are passing plays in the “Gunner Package.”

“Any time we have Chris one-on-one, we will take that chance every single time,” Gold said. “Chris and Gunner gave a head nod to each other pre-snap. Gunner rolled right and threw it to where Chris could catch it and he caught it. The benefit of having Gunner in there is that we fully trust to put the ball in Gunner’s hands with the game on the line and his experience and ability to read defenses and make the right decisions.”

From there, the Bulldogs made three stops on defense, Shreckengost continued his heroics with the 47-yarder and the Bulldogs advanced to the final four.

THE NUMBERS — Northern Bedford outgained the Bulldogs, 275-248, as Johnson ran for 110 yards on 33 carries. The Panthers ran for 182 yards on a whopping 53 attempts. Snider, who completed 4 of 10 passes for 93 yards with an interception.

The Panthers ran 18 more plays from scrimmage than the Bulldogs, 63-45, but outgained them just slightly at 275-257. The Panthers ran for 182 yards, but it took them 53 attempts to do it. After Johnson, it was Kainen Brown going for 32 yards on seven carries.

Mangiantini, who was knocked out of the game with an injury in the ensuing kickoff following his TD pass to Marshall and was replaced at QB by Bain for the final drive, completed all three of his passes for 39 yards. Bain was 4-for-11 for 51 yards to go with two interceptions. Marshall caught two passes for 40 yards.

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