No question, the Union/A-C Valley Falcon Knights are happy to be here.
After their first-ever two playoff wins in back-to-back weeks at home in Rimersburg against Cameron County and then Smethport last Friday, they’ll get a second crack at defending champion Redbank Valley Friday night in the D9 Class 1A final at Clarion University’s Memorial Stadium.
Happy, yes. Satisfied to be in the final, not exactly.
Are they looking to improve upon their first meeting, a turnover-filled (yes, eight) 28-6 loss to the Bulldogs on a rainy night on Oct. 22 at Union High School?
“There are definitely lessons to be learned there,” Falcon Knights head coach Brad Dittman said. “Going into this game, we have to be the opposite of what we were the first time around. We had some costly penalties, real costly turnovers and we played the entire first half on our side of the field. Those things are going to have to change.”
Like the Bulldogs, the Falcon Knights stumbled out of the gate, losing their opener 28-20 to Brockway. And the exception of the loss to Redbank Valley, the Falcon Knights have blasted foes, the only close game being a 26-24 nail-biter at Keystone.
“(The Brockway loss) was a humbling experience for our team and after that game, they knew we had work to do,” Dittman said. “We knew we couldn’t just show up every week and the guys responded to that. We had a bump in the road there against Redbank Valley last time and we didn’t play very well.”
The Falcon Knights beat Port Allegany, 41-8, albeit on a Gators’ short week setup without their best running back Blaine Moses. Only Brockway, Redbank Valley and Keystone have scored more than single digits against a strong Falcon Knights defense.
A physical front seven with some ball-hawkers playing in the secondary has been a pretty good mix for the Falcon Knights’ unit.
Senior linebacker Carter Terwint was the Small School South Division Defensive MVP for a second straight year. He’s helped lead the unit limit foes to just 150 yards per game, including just 567 yards rushing for the season on 279 attempts.
“They’re going to see us 95 percent of the time (in the middle), so you go up there, smack the guy in the mouth, he’s not going to come back,” Terwint said. “So that’s why we have so much success because we outwork people. We’re a lot stronger and physical and we’ll just pound the snot out of people.”
Defensive back Skyler Roxbury has a whopping eight of the unit’s 23 interceptions.
While the Falcon Knights have shined defensively and even in the 28-6 loss to the Bulldogs — Dittman claimed it was a miracle that they didn’t give up 50 considering the turnover problem — they’ll need to be able to run the ball and of course, not turn it over. All of that could be added to the overall view that a slow start is not an option.
“Redbank is a very balanced football team,” Dittman said. “They’re very talented with their wide receivers, running backs, the quarterback, they have it all. Defensively, we just have to be disciplined in what we do and we have to tackle well and make plays. When we have a chance to make plays, we have to make them.
“We can’t afford any slow starts and we’ve done pretty well with that the past few weeks. You can’t start slow or make any mistakes against Redbank because they capitalize on that stuff. I think the kids know what they’re up against and we expect them to come out and give us everything.”
It’s the second meeting between the Bulldogs and Falcon Knights in the postseason. In 2019, the Bulldogs won also at CUP, 32-6.
AT A GLANCE
319 yards per game: 105 pass, 214 rush.
Passing: Bailey Crissman (60-for-145, 965 yards, 13 TDs, 11 Ints.), Brody Dittman (11-for-25, 167 yards, 3 TDs, 4 Ints.).
Rushing: Mikey Card (119-926, 7 TDs), Dawson Camper (83-624, 12 TDs), Bailey Crissman (56-261, 2 TDs), Caden Rainey (42-195, 2 TDs), Brody Dittman (17-123, 3 TDs), Andrew Verostek (13-109, 1 TD).
Receiving: Skyler Roxbury (21-416, 4 TDs), Ryan Cooper (18-341, 6 TDs), Caden Rainey (15-201, 2 TDs), Dawson Camper (6-76, 4 TDs).
Punting: Bailey Crissman (24-35 per punt)
Punt returns: Caden Rainey (19-430, 2 TDs).
Kick returns: Skyler Roxbury (7-182), Ryan Cooper (5-172, 1 TD).
Kicking: Colton Murray (21-for-31 PAT), Landon Chalmers (3-for-3 PAT).
Tackles (per game): Carter Terwint (6.5), Mikey Card (5.5), Landon Chalmers (5.3), Colton Murray (4.5), Andrew Verostek (4.2), Dawson Camper (3.9), Ryan Cooper (3.6).
Sacks: Landon Chalmers 8, Mikey Card 4, Colton Murray 2.
Interceptions: Skyler Roxbury 8, Ryan Cooper 4, Brody Dittman 3, Zac Cooper 3, Peter Hardy 2.
TEAM SCORING: 55 TDs — 30 rush, 17 pass, 4 interception return, 1 fumble return, 2 punt return, 1 kick return.