BROCKWAY — It was a one score game at 13-7 heading into the fourth quarter of Friday night’s District 9 Class 2A title game between No. 1 Karns City and No. 2 Ridgway at Frank Varischetti Field in Brockway. But the Gremlins ended up scoring 22 unanswered points for a 35-7 win and back-to-back district titles.

The Gremlins did their damage on the ground, rushing for 328 yards as a team with Jayce Anderson leading the way with 122 yards on 13 carries and a score while fullback Like Garing had 85 hard-fought yards on 18 carries and two scores. Garing also had two interceptions as it was the second time Karns City beat Ridgway on the year as they previously defeated the Elkers 35-0.

“We had a 13-7 ball game down here and I thought we had the momentum coming into the second half,” Ridgway head coach Mark Heindl said. “But good football teams find ways to win and they obviously did that in the second half and the fourth quarter. They’re district champs for a reason. They’ve got some big boys up front and they capitalized off of two turnovers in the first half.”

Both teams turned the ball over on its initial possession, with Karns City’s Eric Booher throwing an interception to Will Howard in the end zone and then Ridgway’s Eric Salberg fumbling it back to the Gremlins two plays later.

Karns City made it a quick 7-0 just 4:02 into the game as Nate Garing took a sweep 32-yards for the score.

After Domenic Allegretto had a 40-yard kickoff return to set up the Elkers inside Karns City territory at the 43, a couple Allegretto passes to Salberg got the Elkers inside the red zone. But on 3rd-and-8 at the Gremlins’ 18, an Allegretto pass was tipped at the line and Luke Garing picked it off.

The Gremlins then dialed up all rushing plays on a 14-play, 78 yard drive that capped off with Luke Garing punching it in from the 1-yard line with 10:59 left in the second quarter. Zach Kelly’s PAT just missed as the Gremlins held a 13-0 lead.

“It was a physical game and that’s what good football teams do — they find ways to win,” Heindl said. “That’s been their bread and butter all year. They lined up and you knew where they were running the ball. It was just a matter of can you stop them and they did a great job. (Luke) Garing is probably one of the best fullbacks we’ve seen in a long time. He earned his yards tonight.”

Both teams then couldn’t get anything going on its next possession for the first punts of the game before Ridgway had a 12-play drive that comprised of Allegretto, Salberg and Cam Marciniak. But the drive stalled and a 34-yard field goal attempt by Jack Benninger fell short.

Karns City was unable to take advantage, however, as on the very next play, Booher threw another pick — this time Marciniak picked it off and Ridgway started at the Gremlins’ 36-yard line. After picking up a first down on a pass interference call, Allegretto found Marciniak by the left pylon for a 16-yard touchdown pass. Benninger’s PAT made it 13-7 Gremlins with just 53 seconds left in the first half.

With the Gremlins taking a 13-7 lead into the half, Ridgway got the ball to open up the second half and got into the Karns City red zone thanks to a 34-yard reception by Salberg over the middle that helped get Ridgway down to the Karns City 16-yard line. But that drive, too, stalled and Benninger just missed a 36-yard field goal that was wide to the left.

“We moved the ball inside the 20s but once we got down there, we got shut down a couple of times,” Heindl said. “Not being able to score down here in the third quarter, that hurt. Again, my hat’s off to Karns City. They had a great group of guys there and they’re going represent District 9 well next week.”

Karns City then asserted its run game and offensive line dominance by going on a 17-play, 80 yard drive that saw Luke Garing score on a 4-yard run. He also ran in the two-point attempt to give the Gremlins a 21-7 lead with 10:49 left to play.

Ridgway couldn’t get anything going and punted it away on its next drive — as the Gremlins again had a sustained drive as Luke Cramer scored an 11-yard TD as the Gremlins took a 28-7 lead with 5:00 left. Karns City tacked on another score with 2:43 left — an Anderson 7-yard run — as Karns City made it 35-7 with 2:43 left.

On Ridgway’s last ditch effort, Luke Garing picked off Allegretto on another tipped pass and the Gremlins went into victory formation for the 35-7 win and the D-9 2A title.

Ridgway (8-4) battled adversity throughout the season as Allegretto was the team’s third string quarterback as Jonathan Hinton and Cam Larkin were hurt earlier.

“Losing Jonathan (Hinton) in that Week 7 game down in Clarion and to see the way these seniors rebounded, it was big,” Heindl said. “They took the bull by the horns and went down to Brookville and won 14-13. Then to get on the ride that we did, the practices were unbelievable. We got counted out numerous times but the leadership that we have with a lot of these kids, they can push and push and they always find a way to fight back.”

Allegretto led the team with 132 passing yards and 45 rushing yards, while Salberg had five receptions for 95 yards.

“When Jonathan went down and we had a JV game and Cam (Larkin) went down, Dom was the next man up and he rose to the occasion,” Heindl said. “That’s just the type of kid that he is. I think that Dom progressed from that Week 8 game on to tonight, says a lot about him. The kids rallied around him. He did a great job and that kid’s got a bright future.”

It was the final game for Elkers seniors that wound up winning district titles as freshmen and sophomores while making the championship game this season. Overall, it was the fifth appearance in the title game out of six years as Ridgway won four of those.

“They had a sour taste in their mouth from COVID in 2020,” Heindl said. “A lot of the stuff that we normally do in the offseason was taken away from us. So when we got the green light after last season there, those seniors took the bull by the horns. Our offseason, our weight room, I credit Coach (Scott) Salberg and what he was able to do with those kids. Our summer attendance was phenomenal. And that’s what got us to this point today.

“When you look back at the history of our program, to be in the district finals five out of the last six years, it won’t hit them now but as they go throughout life, they’re going to realize how special that is.”

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