CLARION — Redbank Valley Bulldogs football coach Blane Gold finally got his wish.
He gets to practice football and Thanksgiving day.
Heads up to his Bulldogs. It’ll be a morning practice.
Redbank Valley repeated its District 9 Class A championship with what started out as a likely blowout into a hard-fought 28-21 win over Union/A-C Valley Friday night at Clarion University’s Memorial Stadium.
That’s 11 straight wins for the now 11-1 Bulldogs, who advance to the state playoffs next weekend with a rematch against District 5 champion Northern Bedford. The Panthers beat District 10 champion Reynolds 35-22 also Friday night.
The rematch of their PIAA playoff meeting last year won 28-15 by the Bulldogs will likely be at a District 9 site and time to be announced later this weekend.
“I’ve been playing football since I was in seventh grade and I think every dream of a football player or coach is to have to schedule a practice on Thanksgiving day,” Gold said. “Because if you do, that means you made it pretty darn far. So that’s been a dream of mine.”
Last year’s run that ended with a quarterfinal loss to Reynolds was still before Thanksgiving because of PIAA’s COVID-related earlier schedule.
“We would never say last year wasn’t legitimate because the kids worked their tails off and if you looked at the teams that we played, we played all the challenging teams,” Gold said. “But to do it over a 10-game season and play 12 football games the way we started the year and to come back and win 11 in a row, it undoubtedly makes it special.”
The Bulldogs led 21-0 with just over two minutes left in the first quarter, yet needed some big plays on a game-winning scoring drive in the fourth quarter to get the win.
The decisive drive started at the Bulldogs’ 32 and took 11 plays, including two fourth-down plays. The first conversion came on fourth-and-11 when Tate Minich made a sliding catch of Bryson Bain’s pass just above the turf for a 12-yard gain. Four plays later on fourth and maybe two inches from the goal line, Ray Shreckengost bulled his way into the end zone.
Tyson Adams’ point-after kick set the final with 4:39 left in the game. The Bulldogs were able to force Union/A-C Valley on a three-and-out when the Falcon Knights decided to punt on fourth-and-six with 3:26 left. Hoping to get a big defensive stop, they weren’t able to do it and the Bulldogs were able to run the clock out.
Early on, the game had Mercy Rule written all over it. On the second play of the game, Bain rifled a strike down the Union/ACV sideline to a streaking Chris Marshall for a 64-yard touchdown.
Bain wound up completing 19 of 28 passes for 287 yards, Marshall catching six passes for 92 yards.
A three-and-out by Union/ACV led to a 66-yard scoring drive that took 13 plays and ended with Shreckengost’s first of two TDs on a 10-yard run with 4:18 left in the second quarter. Shreckengost ran for 93 yards on 19 carries.
Another three-and-out led to a punt play for the Falcon Knights, but a low snap to punter Bailey Crissman was bobbled and his late kick attempt wound up going straight into the gut of Carsen Rupp who managed to catch his own block and return it 27 yards to the end zone.
With 2:44 left in the first quarter, the Bulldogs led 21-0 and the Falcon Knights had managed just five yards of offense and no first downs.
It got better for the Falcon Knights, however, as they managed to work their way back into the game.
After stalling on downs at the Bulldogs’ 15 on their first productive drive of the game in the ensuing possession, they found the end zone after stopping the Bulldogs on downs at the Union/ACV 27 with a Landon Chalmers sack of Bain on fourth-and-11.
That set up a six-play, 68-yard drive by the Falcon Knights that was capped by sophomore quarterback Brody Dittman’s 12-yard pass to Skyler Roxbury with 4:27 left in the second quarter.
The Bulldogs had a chance to put a nail in the Falcon Knights’ coffin before halftime, but Shreckengost fumbled into the end zone on a first-and-goal run from the 2 and Chalmers fell on the ball for a touchback.
Then the Falcon Knights scored on the opening drive of the second half when Dawson Camper’s 1-yard run capped a 60-yard drive that used six plays, one of them a 44-yard pass from Dittman to Ryan Cooper. A low snap on the point-after try wound up turning into a two-point conversion by Cooper that cut the lead to 21-15 with still 9:09 left in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs fumbled the ball away on their next play from scrimmage and the Falcon Knights turned it into points as they went 63 yards on nine plays with Dittman hitting Cooper with a 10-yard TD pass. Their shot to take the lead went awry when Colton Murray’s point-after kick was wide right.
So with the score at 21-21 with still 4:49 left in the third quarter, that set up a thrilling finish that had the Bulldogs recover from a Falcon Knights rally to win their second straight title.
The Bulldogs outgained the Falcon Knights 384-301.
Dittman completed 16 of 23 passes for 175 yards with his two TDs to go with an interception. The Falcon Knights lost their 900-yard rusher Mikey Card to an injury late in the first half. He finished with no yards on two carries with two catches for 18 yards.
Caden Rainey ran for 41 yards on seven carries and caught five passes for 41 yards. Roxbury caught five passes for 76 yards and Cooper had four catches for 76 yards.
Union/A-C Valley’s season ended at 9-3.