JOHNSONBURG — On a night when senior Nick Sipes displayed his power and speed to become District 9\’s all-time rushing leader, Curwensville got the overall performance on both sides of the line of scrimmage it needed to take first place in the Allegheny Mountain League South Division away from turnover-plagued Johnsonburg at Memorial Field Friday.
The Golden Tide spoiled the Rams\’ perfect record, and Homecoming, with an 18-3 win in a hard-hitting battle that provided plenty of exciting moments for the chilly crowd and left both teams at 4-1.
Paramount was a victory, but equally thrilling for the usual large Curwensville contingent of fans was the belated announcement late in the second quarter that Sipes had surpassed the 4,694 yards amassed by 2001 Brockway graduate Aaron Cantafio. The Golden Tide\’s 210-pound standout had broken the record on a 12-yard run early in the period.
Against a stingy Johnsonburg defense which had yielded only 425 yards in the first month, Sipes rambled for 208 yards on 27 carries to pad his career total to 4,804. He scored both Golden Tide touchdowns on runs of 76 and 34 yards, kicked a 31-yard field goal and booted one extra point. Oh, and he was a disruptive force at linebacker with seven tackles, one a sack, and one assist. He forced a fumble on a crucial first-quarter play worthy of being shown on ESPN SportsCenter.
\”We always look at individual awards as team awards, but give Nick his due,\” Curwensville Coach Andy Evanko said. \”He\’s just a super kid, a fantastic athlete. For what he\’s been through and the kind of kid he is, I\’m so glad it happened for him.\”
Sipes\’ chase for the record could haven been a distraction, but Evanko said, \”The only thing we were worried about coming in here tonight was taking care of business on the football field and winning the football game. We knew Nick needed somewhere around a hundred yards. (But) Nick\’s concerned about winning the football game, doing what has to be done. If you saw him play defense you would think he was trying to get more tackles than yards rushing.\”
The Golden Tide offensive line\’s effort didn\’t go unnoticed by Evanko, who rapidly ticked off the names, center Nathan Russell, guards Trevor Horton and Jared Skebo, tackles Sam Kephart and Joe Hawkins, tight end Brandon McDonald and slotback/flanker Derek Johnson.
\”For as many people as they were throwing at them up there, they just did a fantastic job,\” Evanko said. \”They just did a beautiful job picking up those things. Of course, Nick ran very strong tonight. And Brandon Hess had some beautiful lead blocks. And a couple of those big runs were due to our receivers down there. If you\’re a receiver on this team, you\’ve got to block first and catch second.\”
Evan Olson, Jesse Hoover and Cody Botzman shared time at split end.
Containing slippery quarterback Calvin Grumley and the speedy backs who burned the Rams\’ four victims for 131 points was a task the Golden Tide accomplished with constant pressure, good pursuit and sure tackles. Botzman, in particular, seemed to be all over the field, short-circuiting two Johnsonburg first-half threats with a fumble recovery and an interception, recording one sack and making key tackles.
\”Cody came up very big for us,\” Evanko said of the senior defensive back who missed the first three games of the season because of a gall bladder operation. \”Cody played a great game. We had a lot of guys step up tonight.\”
The defense had to toughen up in the first half as Grumley\’s running and passing featured a shotgun attack that carried the Rams into Golden Tide territory on their first four possessions. The second appeared halted at the C-36, but the elusive Grumley turned a high snap on a punt situation into a first down with a brilliant run, only to have it negated penalty. No problem. On 4th-and-15, he took off around left end and dashed 21 yards to move the sticks.
Five plays later, Johnsonburg had first-and-goal at the three. However, Grumley\’s rollout left on second down turned into disaster when he tried to leap over the goal line. Sipes nailed him just inside the two, sending him spinning in the air. The ball popped free, and Botzman scooped it up at the four. He also fumbled on the return but recovered at the C-22.
On third down, Sipes came up with another big play as he slanted off the left side, found daylight along the sideline and rambled 76 yards to paydirt. Following a penalty against the Rams, Evanko elected to disdain the conversion for a two-point try, and Hess walked into the end zone to put the Golden Tide on top 8-0 with 1:01 left in the first quarter.
\”It was huge for Nick to hit that Iso and take it to the house,\” Evanko said. \”I think, without a doubt, it was the turning point in the game. Some people got all fired up about reverses and other different razzle-dazzle plays. Our kids get fired up when they hear \’Iso.\’ That\’s us. We\’re Iso. We want to fire off the ball and have our lead back hit into you and stick it up in there.\”
Early in the second quarter, Grumley\’s 41-yard punt pinned the Golden Tide back on its four. Four plays later, the Rams stripped the ball from Hess, and Grumley\’s fell on it at the C-29.
Botzman thwarted that Johnsonburg threat when he stepped in front of Jesse Dennis at the nine to pick off Grumley\’s short pass in the left flat.
Following a favorable ounce on a Grumley punt that traveled only 12 yards, Curwensville increased the margin to 15-0 with 3:46 remaining in the third period when Sipes thundered off the right side for a 34-yard score and then tacked on the PAT.
\”It was an Iso also,\” Evanko said. \”Our line, they just blocked exceptionally well. Those guys did a fantastic job keeping their heads up and picking up the blitzes. Even when we threw the ball those few times, Shawn (Sopic) wasn\’t getting touched. And they were sending a lot of people up there.\”
Taking time off the clock was the Golden Tide\’s mission after Sopic intercepted a Grumley pass at the C-31 with 3:18 left in the quarter. Sipes and Company got the job done, eating up nearly eight minutes with 13 plays. Sipes\’ second field goal of the season was the clincher with 7:35 to play.
Johnsonburg averted a shutout on a 31-yard field goal with 5:19 by Grumley, who keyed the drive with a 17-yard completion to Judd Zilcosky and 26-yard reception on a halfback pass from Jesse Dennis.
The Rams had a shot at the onsides kickoff, but the ball squirted out of bounds. They forced a punt and headed goalward on four scrambles by Grumley good for 61 yards, but he fumbled near the goal line and the Golden Tide\’s Nick Caldwell recovered at the six with seconds remaining.
\”He\’s a very good athlete,\” Evanko praised Grumley, who ran for 110 yards and threw for 77. \”I\’m really happy with our defense. We came up with huge turnovers at some very critical parts of the game. The kids hustled to the football all night. Defensively, we played very, very well against a very good football team.
\”It was just a heck of a team effort.\”
The October schedule favors the Golden Tide, which hosts Kane (2-3) next Friday and Smethport (0-5) and then travels to Ridgway (3-2) and Sheffield (1-5). The Rams must contend with Brockway (2-2), North Division front-runner Coudersport (5-0), Elk County Catholic (2-2) and Cameron County (3-2), all on the road except ECC. Brockway plays ECC at St. Marys Saturday night.
Ends — McDonald, Evans
Tackles — Horton, Kephart
Guards — Hawkins, Skebo
Center — Russell
Backs — Sopic, Sipes, Hess, Johnson
Subs — Hoover, Botzman, Caldwell, Holland, Kalgren, Michaels, McGary, Dell\’Antonio, Guy, Dixon, Kahl
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Curwensville 8 0 7 3 — 18
Johnsonburg 0 0 0 3 — 3
Cur — Sipes 76 run (Hess run), 1:01
Cur — Sipes 34 run (Sipes kick), 3:46
Cur — FG Sipes 31, 7:35
J — FG Grumley 31, 5:19
First Downs Rushing 8 12
First Downs Passing 2 5
First Downs Passing 0 1
Total First Downs 10 18
Yards Gained Rushing 257 233
Yards Lost Rushing 11 30
Rushes-Net Yards 40-246 39-203
Passes Att-Com-Int 5-3-1 18-6-2
Yards Passing 32 103
Punts-Average 2-34.5 3-31
Fumbles-Lost 3-1 2-2
Penalties-Yards 4-24 5-30
RUSHING — Curwensville: Sipes 27-208, Hess 6-23, Sopic 7-15. Johnsonburg: Grumley 16-110, Dennis 16-56, Myers 2-16, Zilcosky 3-12, Zelchoski 1-10, Team 1-minus 1.
PASSING — Curwensville: Sopic 5-3-1, 32 yards. Johnsonburg: Grumley 17-5-2, 77 yards; Dennis 1-1-0, 26 yards.
RECEIVING — Curwensville: Hoover 2-29, Botzman 1-13. Johnsonburg: Zilcosky 2-39, Dennis 2-29, Grumley 1-26, Yonker 1-9.
FUMBLE RECOVERIES — Curwensville: Botzman 2, Sipes, Caldwell. Johnsonburg: Grumley.
INTERCEPTIONS — Curwensville: Botzman, Sopic. Johnsonburg: Yonker.