CURWENSVILLE — Having already locked up a berth in the District 9 Class A Playoffs with six victories, the Curwensville Area High School football team travels to Ridgway Friday for this week\’s Allegheny Mountain League headliner with the opportunity to clinch the South Division championship and at least one home game in the post-season.
It won\’t be easy, though, because the once-beaten Golden Tide is sure to run into a fired-up Elker squad. Ridgway is pretty much in the same position as Curwensville for the 7 p.m. kickoff, four consecutive wins giving the Elkers a surprising 5-2 record and a shot at the AML-South crown, too. They\’ll have to defeat the Golden Tide and Otto-Eldred (2-5) and get some help from Elk County Catholic (3-4) or Cameron County (5-2) against Johnsonburg (5-2).
If the Elkers need any extra prodding, all the Ridgway coaches have to do is remind their team of the last two games against Curwensville, a 55-7 loss a year ago and a 78-0 whitewash in 2004. Those Elker teams were a combined 3-16. The storied program had only two losing seasons in the previous 33 years.
Credit the staff headed by Mark Morelli for pointing the Elkers in the right direction after early season setbacks by Brockway 12-0 and Johnsonburg 39-6. Since then, they\’ve defeated Sheffield 48-16, Kane 13-12, Elk County Catholic 9-7 and Port Allegany 28-7. The ECC win was No. 500 for Ridgway, a milestone which had been reached by only 55 schools in Pennsylvania.
\”We\’ve come a long way,\” Morelli told Ridgway Record writer Greg Reedy after the Elkers scored three touchdowns in the second half to turn back Port Allegany. \”It\’s not easy when you have the winning tradition like we do at Ridgway to win three games the last two years. I\’ve always believe we were going to get things turned around. We had a good group of kids.\”
Curwensville Coach Andy Evanko, remembering gut-wrenching losses to Ridgway in 2001 (27-26 in overtime), 2002 (26-20 in double overtime) and 2003 (37-36), is quick to agree. \”They\’ve always had a quality program up there, and I\’m sure they always will. They\’re always well-coached, and I\’m sure that will continue. They had a couple of down years, but they definitely have players. And they have great size. This is the biggest team we\’ve faced this year. They\’re a good football team.\”
Preparing for the Elker offense has been like looking in a mirror, according to Evanko. While Curwensville relies on seniors Nick Sipes, District 9\’s top rusher with 190 carries for 1,165 yards and 18 touchdowns, and Shawn Sopic, who has completed 25 of 54 passes for 500 yards and three TDs and run 58 times for 443 yards and four scores, Ridgway counts on juniors Jerico Weitzel, fifth in District 9 with 878 yards and 10 touchdowns on 138 carries and an additional 165 yards on 16 pass receptions, and Nick Dickant, who has connected on 27 of 58 passes for 346 yards and three TDs and run for 172 yards and three scores. Dickant\’s statistics do not include the Sheffield game.
The running backs are similar in size. Sipes is 5-10, 210, while Weitzel, who moved from DuBois to Florida in 2002 and transferred to Ridgway this year and has provided a punch the offense had been lacking, is 5-9, 200. The quarterbacks, too, look very much alike. Sopic is 6-2, 195, while Dickant is 6-2, 210.
\”They run a power offense with a lot of the same type of plays that we have,\” Evanko said. \”(Weitzel) is a good running back. He\’s explosive. (Dickant) is a pretty good threat back there at quarterback. He\’s a big kid. They use him to run the ball and throw the all. He\’s very accurate and spreads the ball around. It\’s a nice passing offense.\”
Others who have made significant contributions to the Elker offense are junior halfback Andy Aiello (6-0, 195) with 29 carries for 168 yards, sophomore halfback Elliot Pontious (5-9, 210) with 102 yards and sophomore tight end Shane Lindgren (6-0, 220) with five receptions for 98 yards. The stats for Aiello and Lindgren do not include the Sheffield game.
Ridgway, which opened with a 22-0 shutout against Smethport, has seven returning starters on offense and eight on defense. Key linemen are seniors Dan Lindgren (6-2, 225), Ben Thompson (6-1, 215) and Troy Betts (5-10, 210) and junior Nate Eberly (6-0, 205).
Morrelli has become the winningest coach in Ridgway history in his 10th season. His record is 55-40.
Since losing 20-12 to Coudersport, Curwensville has conquered Elk County Catholic 14-12, Brockway 29-0, Cameron County 46-29, Johnsonburg 18-3, Kane 42-0 and Smethport 55-19.
Curwensville\’s aerial attack has improved the last two weeks, Sopic nearly doubling his total of the first five weeks with 117 passing yards against Kane and 106 against Smethport. He\’s targeted six different receivers, with sophomore split end tops with 10 catches for 114 yards. Senior split end Evan Olson has four receptions for 103 yards.
\”We want to throw more,\” Evanko said. \”It\’s something we work on every day in practice. The thing we\’re trying to do now is balance our offense.\”
It\’s been back to basics for the Golden Tide in practice this week.
\”We\’re trying to clean up some fundamentals,\” Evanko said. \”We want to block a little better. We want to tackle a little better.
\”This game means everything to us. Everything is set in front of us, and we need to go out and perform to the best of our ability.\”
Junior Trevor Horton, a two-way stalwart at tackle, returns to the lineup after sitting out last week with a minor knee injury.
\”We\’re healthy this week,\” Evanko added. \”We\’ve been very luck in that aspect.\”