RIDGWAY — For the fifth time in seven years, the Curwensville Area High School gridders reign as champions of the Allegheny Mountain League South Division.
The streaking Golden Tide overcame less-than-ideal conditions and a determined, revenge-minded Ridgway team to triumph 21-8 at rain-drenched and muddy Memorial Field Friday night, boosting its record to 7-1 and earning another crack at undefeated Coudersport, the North Division kingpin. The Falcons, who saddled the Golden Tide with its only loss back on opening night, will host the AML title game Saturday, Nov. 4, at 7 p.m.
\”We knew whoever won this game was going to be the AML South champion,\” Curwensville Coach Andy Evanko said. \”Ridgway is a pretty good football team. They\’re always well-coached. Fortunately, we came up here and we got it. This was a big win for us. This is one of the goals we had.\”
The Elkers, much-improved after rare, back-to-back lean seasons that included a pair of one-sided setbacks by the Golden Tide, had visions of turning the AML-South race into a possible three-way dead heat with Curwensville and Johnsonburg by extending its winning streak to five, but the Gold and Black wouldn\’t cooperate.
The Golden Tide parlayed a ball-control offense with a stubborn defense that bent twice but didn\’t break until victory was assured to drop the Elkers to 5-3. Curwensville won the time of possession battle by more than 10 minutes behind running back Nick Sipes\’ 137 yards on 25 carries and quarterback Shawn Sopic\’s 87 yards on a career-high 19 carries.
Sipes scored two touchdowns and now is tied with cousin Kyle Cathcart, a former Clarion standout, for second place on the District 9 all-time list with 73 career scores. Dave Richards, who starred for Clearfield, is the record-holder with 80.
Meanwhile, the Curwensville defense kept the dangerous Jerico Weitzel and Company in check. Weitzel, sporting a 6.4 average for his 878 rushing yards, was limited to 51 yards for 14 runs, and the Elkers were held to 140 total yards.They moved the sticks on just two possessions, one ending at the C-3 when they threatened to tie the score midway through the second quarter and the other ending in their lone touchdown with 4:36 to play.
Two days of downpours turned the field into a quagmire that affected the strategy and play-calling of both teams.
\”That\’s by far the worst field I think I\’ve ever been on,\” Evanko said. \”When we were out for warm-ups, it was hard just standing upright and walking on it. It was tough to cut on. It was tough to block on, to form up and tackle on. But it was the same for both teams. It\’s sad a game of this importance has to be played out here. But that\’s Mother Nature.\”
Curwensville went to the air to grab a 7-0 lead in the first period. Set back to its 18 when Brandon Hess was flagged for running after a fair catch of a punt when it appeared his forward motion, and the mud, prevented him from stopping, the Golden Tide rolled to paydirt in 12 plays with Sopic completing all four of his passes. Jesse Hoover hauled in three, two on slants for 30 yards, and one on a out pattern in the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown. The sophomore split end made a spectacular diving catch for his first varsity score with 11 seconds on the clock. Sipes followed with the first of his three PAT kicks.
Evanko credited Sopic and Hoover for the creating the TD play, noting, \”They\’re allowed to check off and audibilize. We go over it. If this guy\’s doing that, if we call this, you can do that. We called this and they did something else, and I\’m wondering why we didn\’t throw what we were throwing, cause I saw the ball going up in the air. I was wondering what the heck we were dong. They adjusted, and they ran the right thing. That helps when you have a senior quarterback and a guy who\’s as athletic as Hoover. They have a lot of leeway.\”
The Elkers tried to answer with their first sustained effort, highlighted by runs of 10 and 21 yards by sophomore fullback Elliott Pontious. Weitzel carried on half of the 14 plays and contributed 24 yards, but he managed only two yards on fourth-and-four at the C-5.
\”That was the big turning point in the game when our defense rose up down there,\” Evanko said. \”They punch it in and it\’s tied up at 7-7, or 8-7 if they go for two.\”
Moments later, Evanko decided to gamble on fourth-and-short, and Sopic made him look good with five yards on a quarterback sneak.
\”It was just this much,\” explained Evanko, holding his hands about six inches apart. \”It wasn\’t a lot. You\’re on a field like that and you\’re watching your special teams (before the game), and we had such trouble long snapping. And we\’re inside our 20. We\’re thinking too many bad things can happen on those punts.
\”Shawn\’s a tough kid. He\’s going to get it even though it\’s bad footing. With Nathan (Russell) and Jarod (Skebo) and Trevor (Horton), I had more confidence in that than I did punting the ball.\”
Playing it safe, Evanko utilized Sopic on keepers and rollouts even more as the Golden Tide kept the ball for 17 plays and 5:14 before Nikko Leitzel snuffed out the threat with an end zone interception 31 seconds before halftime.
Curwensville avoided being haunted by the game\’s only turnover by cashing a pair of 59-yard drives in the third quarter, Evanko sticking with Plan B and keeping the ball in Sopic\’s hands on the first one.
The 6-2, 195-pounder ran for nine yards and passed for 39. Cody Botzman made a nice grab of a 28-yarder to the R-3, setting up Sipes\’ first score that doubled the Golden Tide\’s lead with 8:42 left in the period.
\”We were very concerned with the field conditions\” Evanko said. \”You could barely walk across here, so that was pretty much the game plan, let Shawn get the snaps and hang on to it. But that wasn\’t the game plan until I went out there and almost fell over.\”
Sopic carried three times and put the ball in Sipes\’ hands six times on the next possession, which Sipes punctuated by spinning away from an Elker tackler inside the 10 for a 15-yard touchdown with 4:54 remaining in the third quarter. His conversion made it 21-0.
Ridgway escaped a shutout in the fourth quarter by covering 62 yards in a dozen plays, Pontious powering off left tackle from the two for the touchdown. Weitzel circled left end for the two extra points.
The Elkers\’ effort didn\’t go unnoticed by Evanko, who said, \”I think they played very, very well. They\’re a very strong football team. They had a couple down years, but they certainly aren\’t down this year. They\’re a very competitive team, and I\’m sure they\’re going to do well in the playoffs.\”
The Golden Tide won\’t be allowed to ponder the District 9 Class A Playoffs, or even the AML title game, next week. Their focus will be on Saturday\’s trip to Sheffield for the 1:30 p.m. regular season finale.
Ends — McDonald, Olson
Tackles — Horton, Kephart
Guards — Hawkins, Skebo
Center — Russell
Backs — Sopic, Sipes, Hess, Johnson
Subs — Botzman, Hoover, Caldwell, Holland, Kalgren, Michaels, Dell\’Antonio, McGary, Kahl, Dixon, Starr
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Curwensville 7 0 14 0 — 21
Ridgway 0 0 0 8 — 8
C — Hoover 11 pass from Sopic (Sipes kick), :11.
C — Sipes 3 run (Sipes kick), 8:42.
C — Sipes 15 run (Sipes kick), 1:59.
R — Pontius 2 run (Weitzel run), 4:36.
First Downs Rushing 13 6
First Downs Passing 5 2
First Downs Penalties 2 0
Total First Downs 20 8
Yards Gained Rushing 238 123
Yards Lost Rushing 25 30
Rushes-Net Yards 48-213 33-93
Passes Att-Com-Int 15-8-1 7-4-0
Passing Yards 96 47
Punts-Average 1-20 4-31.8
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 3-0
Penalties-Yards 2-25 5-42
RUSHING — Curwensville: Sipes 25-137, Sopic 19-87, Hess 3-3, Michaels 1-minus 14. Ridgway: Weitzel 14-51, Pontious 9-46, Aiello 1-4, Dickant 9-minus 8.
PASSING — Curwensville: Sopic 15-8-1-1, 96 yards. Ridgway: Dickant 7-4-0-0, 47 yards.
RECEIVING — Curwensville: Hoover 4-45, McDonald 2-15, Botzman 1-28, Hess 1-8. Ridgway: Weitzel 2-30, S. Lindgren 1-11, Aiello 1-6.
FUMBLE RECOVERIES — Curwensville: Sopic 1. Ridgway: Dickant 2.
INTERCEPTIONS — Ridgway: Leitzel 1.