SHEFFIELD — The powerful Curwensville Area High School football team conducted a clinic on blocking and tackling for the undermanned and outclassed Sheffield squad Saturday afternoon to close out the regular season with a 50-6 Allegheny Mountain League victory.
Seemingly unaffected by the muddy, slippery turf, intermittent rain showers and cold temperatures, the Golden Tide executed the coaching staff\’s game plan almost to perfection in what amounted to a tune-up for next Saturday\’s AML championship game at Coudersport.
The South Division champs, dominating the line of scrimmage and getting four touchdowns from Nick Sipes, struck quickly and rolled to leads of 28-0 after one quarter and 42-0 by halftime, which gave the reserves two periods of action, and boarded the bus for the long trip home with everybody healthy for the post-season. Sipes piled up 132 yards on 21 carries as the Golden Tide stuck to its ground attack for 277 yards. Quarterback Shawn Sopic put the ball in the air only two times, one good for a TD.
\”Everything we hoped would happen happened for us,\” Coach Andy Evanko said. \”It was a good Saturday afternoon.
\”We\’re just going to enjoy tonight. We\’re 8-1. We finished with eight wins in a row, which is something we talked about as a team (after losing to Coudersport in the first game). We said we\’ve got to batten down the hatches and we\’ve got to start to play. The kids have done that. You drop that first one, you\’ve got to win the next one. And you\’ve got to win the next one. Every game is big, because you can\’t drop another one. So, we\’ve been under that pressure-cooker for a while.
\”We\’re very happy to be going play in the AML championship game. We feel fortunate to be in this position. We just wanted to perform up to our abilities.\”
The Golden Tide did just that against the 1-8 Wolverines, who are at the opposite end of the AML spectrum after losing the co-op program with Abraxas this year and battling low numbers as well an uncommonly high number of injuries. Only 20 players were suited up for Senior Day.
Quarterback Jordan Copley had little chance for success against the aggressive Curwensville defense and did not return in the second half after taking a pounding in the first 24 minutes. Operating out of multiple formations, including the shotgun, the lanky junior had 13 carries, several of which were scrambles when his pass protection broke down. He reached the line of scrimmage six times, twice for no gain and advancing only one, three, two and two yards on the other carries. Three of his seven losses were sacks by Nathan Russell, Joe Hawkins and Corey Bloom. Copley, who passed for more than 1,000 yards as a sophomore, was able to connect once in five aerials in the miserable conditions, two passes resulting in interceptions by David Kalgren and Sopic.
Sheffield\’s running backs didn\’t fare much better against a unit led by sophomore inside linebacker Nathan Russell, who had seven tackles, four in the backfield, one assist, one sack and one recovered fumble, all in the first half. The Wolverines, who had minus 25 yards of offense in the first quarter and minus five in the half, wound up with 45 net yards for 39 plays.
\”Right now, Nathan is a huge, big force for us,\” Evanko said. \”Each week he\’s gotten better and better and better. He\’s always had the ability, but he\’s just starting to turn it up a bit more now.\”
A factor in Russell\’s performance was the coaches\’ decision to limit the playing time for Sipes, who leads the Golden Tide in tackles from his inside linebacker postition.
\”We let him run offensively and take a rest on defense,\” Evanko explained. \”The kids that were out there for Nick we wanted to see. Ben McGary stepped up a did a heck of a job. So did Bloom. We rotated those guys a little bit. We wanted to see what they could do and how they could to it. And that gave Nathan a little more responsibility.\”
Evanko heaped praise on his entire defensive unit for their play against the Wolverines as well as the entire season.
\”They\’ve done an exceptional job,\” he said. \”Hawkins, game in and game out, just does his job. Brandon McDonald\’s another guy that you don\’t see a lot of stuff written about, but he squeezes down and does what needs to be done. I thought Brandon Hess just played a heck of a football game at outside linebacker. Fortunately for us, we have probably the three best outside linebackers in the area with Cody Botzman and Matt Holland and Hess. Our corners Dave had an interception and Shawn had an interception. And Phillip Michaels has made us a better football team, without question. He\’s just a physical safety back there and has become a real force. All those guys defensively have played just so well for us and given so much to Golden Tide football.\”
Curwensville cashed three of its four takeaways in the first quarter, starting when Sopic picked up a fumble on Sheffield\’s second play and dashed 12 yards to the end zone. After a Wolverine penalty on the PAT, Sipes skirted left end to make it 8-0 just 11 seconds after the kickoff.
\”That was a surprise,\” Evanko said. \”I looked up and couldn\’t believe it was 11 seconds. It\’s always good to get an early lead like that. Shawn just picked up that thing and took it right to the house. That set the tone for the game.\”
Following an exchange of turnovers, Sipes losing the handle for Curwensville\’s lone giveaway, Kalgren regained possession for the Golden Tide with his interception at the S-34. On second down, Sopic and Jesse Hoover hooked up for a 34-yard scoring pass, the sophomore split making a nice adjustment on his route to make an even nicer catch. Sipes tacked on the 15th point with 8:36 left in the period.
Sopic\’s pick at midfield set up the next TD, Sipes bouncing off or plowing through most of the Sheffield defense on a highlight reel 15-yard run with 4:55 showing on the clock. Sipes\’ conversion widened the gap to 22-0.
Russell single-handedly stopped the Wolverines on their next series, tackling Copley in the backfield twice in a row, and the Golden Tide got great field position again after Robert Wyman\’s 31-yard punt. Curwensville covered the 47 yards in seven plays, one a 22-yard rollout by Sopic. Sipes stepped off the final six yards with 33 seconds left in the quarter to set the score at 28-0. Kicking from the right hash because of the mud in the middle of the field, Sipes pushed the PAT try to the right.
A 39-yard scamper by Sopic featured Curwensville\’s next drive, a 66-yarder in six plays. Behind some awesome straight-ahead blocking, Sipes walked in from eight yards out and booted the extra point to push the margin to 35-0 with 6:42 to go in the half.
Under a heavy rush, Wyman opted to run in a punt situation moments later and was tackled for a four-yard loss at the S-33. Sipes reeled off gains of 18 and 11 yards and, three plays later, scored easily from the one, and the Golden Tide led 42-0 after Sipes\’ fourth PAT kick 2:20 before intermission.
With Michael Bryant running the Sheffield offense against the Curwensville reserves, the Wolverines finally crossed midfield on their first series of the third quarter, but their third fumble was recovered by Bloom at the S-47. The Golden Tide, aided by a personal foul penalty, rolled to its final TD, Levi Guy registering his first varsity score from the two. Backup quarterback Kalgren rolled right for the two extra points with 2:03 on the clock.
Sheffield then marched 62 yards in 12 plays to avoid a shutout. Eric Blum, moved from guard to the backfield recently, accounted for 26 yards, including a 19-yarder. Two facemask penalties by the Golden Tide helped. And senior lineman Jamie Renninger was given the honor of scoring the touchdown from the one with 6:03 left in the game.
The fact that Curwensville had another good turnout of fans didn\’t go unnoticed by Evanko, who said, \”We have one of the greatest followings, I think, in Pennsylvania with our fan base. No matter where you are, no matter who you are against, no matter what time of day, we just have a bunch of people who follow our kids. They go anywhere. We have the best fans in Pennsylvania. Somehow I\’ve got to say thanks.
\”I\’m out here in freezing temperatures, I look behind me and there\’s a bunch of people. You\’ve just got good people in Curwensville.\”
Another long road trip is on the schedule Saturday, but the Golden Tide won\’t mind since it gets a chance to challenge undefeated North Division champ Coudersport, 9-0 after Friday\’s 18-0 shutout of Kane, in a 7 p.m. kickoff for the AML title.
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, Holt, C. Bloom, Guy, Opaliski, Maney, Greene, Lash, Bennett, Wriglesworth, Smith, Johns, Thomas, Koontz, Padgett, Winkelman
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Curwensville 28 14 8 0 — 50
Sheffield 0 0 0 6 — 6
Cur — Sopic 12 fumble return (Sipes run), 11:49
Cur — Hoover 34 pass-run from Sopic (Sipes kick), 8:36
Cur — Sipes 15 run (Sipes kick), 4:55
Cur — Sipes 6 run (kick failed), :33
Cur — Sipes 8 run (Sipes kick), 6:43
Cur — Sipes 1 run (Sipes kick), 2:20
Cur — Guy 2 run (Kalgren run), 2:03
Sheff — Renninger 1 run (run failed), 6:03
First Downs Rushing 12 5
First Downs Passing 0 0
First Downs Penalties 0 2
Total First Downs 12 7
Yards Gained Rushing 297 95
Yards Lost Rushing 20 50
Rushes-Net Yards 45-277 39-45
Passes Att-Com-Int 2-1-0 5-1-2
Passing Yards 34 7
Total Plays-Yards 48-311 44-52
Punts-Average 1-29 2-31.5
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 3-3
Penalties-Yards 5-40 1-15
RUSHING — Curwensville: Sipes 21-132, Sopic 2-61, Hess 5-46, Thomas 1-9, McGary 2-9, Greene 4-9, C. Bloom 2-8, Opaliski 1-4, Holland 3-3, Guy 1-2, Kalgren 2-minus 2, Team 1-minus 4, Sheffield: Blum 6-42, Michael Bryant 12-27, Renninger 4-6, Wyman 1-minus 4, Parsons 3-minus 8, Copley 13-minus 18.
PASSING — Curwensville: Sopic 2-1-1-0, 34 yards. Sheffield: Copley 5-1-0-2, 7 yards.
RECEIVING — Curwensville: Hoover 1-34. Sheffield: Heeeter 1-7.
FUMBLE RECOVERIES — Curwensville: Sopic 1, Russell 1, C. Bloom 1. Sheffield: Perry 1.
INTERCEPTIONS — Curwensville: Kalgren 1, Sopic 1.