CURWENSVILLE — Quarterback Shawn Sopic authored two long scoring plays in the first quarter and running back Nick Sipes scored three times in the second half to became the District 9 career touchdown king with 81 as Curwensville rolled to a 35-12 District 9 Class A Playoffs quarterfinal win over Ridgway 35-12 at rain-drenched Riverside Stadium Saturday night.
The third-seeded Golden Tide rebounded from last week\’s 14-6 Allegheny Mountain League championship game loss at Coudersport with a solid performance and will take a 9-2 record to New Bethlehem Saturday for a 7 p.m. kickoff against second seed Redbank Valley (8-3), which blanked Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference rival Keystone 34-0 Friday.
\”That was a bad field, but the kids executed very well,\” Curwensville coach Andy Evanko said. \”We got the two quick scores very early that helped us. Then, in the second half, I though we played exceptionally well. Our line just did a great job in a very, very adverse situation.\”
Limited to 34 yards on 13 cracks at the stubborn Elker defense in the first half, Sipes shouldered the load for the Curwensville ground attack in the final 24 minutes to finish with a season-high 32 carries for 167 yards as Curwensville cranked out 302 yards on the ground.
Sopic kept the ball 14 times for 117 yards, including a 75-yard sprint to paydirt on the Golden Tide\’s second play, and added 82 yards on two pass completions, the big chunk a 71-yard touchdown to Jesse Hoover.
After forcing the first of Ridgway two-way standout Jerico Weitzel\’s seven punts, Curwensville got on the board when Sopic wheeled around the right side behind fullback Brandon Hess and Sipes, beat the Elker pursuit to the sideline and had clear sailing to his fifth TD of the season with 2:30 gone. Evanko opted for a two-point try after a Ridgway lineman jumped with Sipes lined up for a kick, and Sipes made it 8-0 with a run off the right side.
Evanko noted that \”14 Iso\” was added to the Golden Tide playbook just this week.
\”You\’ve got to keep evolving your offense,\” he said. \”You\’ve got to keep adding things. We had worked on Shawn keeping and tucking the ball behind our two running backs we think are exceptional blockers. Hess does a heck of a job blocking for Nick and everybody. Then, you put Nick into the mix. Both of those guys had tremendous lead blocks, and Shawn is a quality athlete, very fast. So that play worked out very well.\”
So did the second-and-19 call at the C-29 on Curwensville\’s next possession. Sopic\’s high-arcing aerial hit the streaking Hoover in stride at the Ridgway 35, and the sophomore split end turned it into his third touchdown with 3:56 left in the period. Sipes converted to put the Elkers in a 15-0 hole.
\”That ball was right on the money,\” Evanko said of Sopic\’s sixth TD pass this season. \”Hoover did a nice job with it. That was big for us.\”
The Elkers, who finished 6-4, got back into it when Weitzel ripped off an 18-yard touchdown on a counter to chop the Golden Tide lead to 15-6 with 8:12 remaining in the half. The score was set up by Weitzel\’s 32-yard punt return and a 15-yard facemask penalty against Curwensville, which punted three time and managed only one first down in the second quarter.
Ridgway coach Mark Morelli liked the way his defense settled down after Curwensville\’s early strikes but lamented the fact the rematch was too much of a replay of the first meeting the Elkers lost 21-8 at home on Oct. 20.
\”We played a nice second quarter, and we were real pleased with that,\” he said. \”Unfortunately, Curwensville in the second half took control of the line of scrimmage, especially on the defensive side. We couldn\’t establish anything. When they scored, we wanted to open it up a bit more, and then we threw an interception. That led to their second touchdown in the third quarter. Those two turnovers definitely hurt us. Curwensville made us pay for them.\”
The first turnover was a fumble recovery by Sopic at the R-32 that the Golden Tide cashed five plays later when Sipes rambled 13 yards for his first score and a 21-6 advantage with 6:21 left in the third quarter. Weitzel roared up the middle to block Sipes\’ PAT try.
Less than a minute later, Ridgway had two receivers open behind the Curwensville secondary, but safety Philip Michaels made a great recovery to pick off Nick Dickant\’s pass at the R-49. Six runs by Sipes and a sparkling, diving grab by Michaels for an 11-yard gain keyed a nine-play drive that ended with Sipes\’ 8-yard run for a 27-6 cushion.
\”That\’s big,\” Sipes said of Michaels\’ pick, his fifth of the season. \”He\’s made big interceptions, some fumble recoveries and some big stops. And the diving catch. That was a third down play, and big distance. It was an absolutely fantastic catch. Philip has played very big for us this year. He has been a welcome addition to our football team.\”
Nine of Sipes\’ 11 carries, mostly dive plays, and both touchdowns were to the left behind tight end Brandon McDonald, tackle Joe Hawkins, guard Trevor Horton and center Nathan Russell.
\”They just did a whale of a job blocking over there, and you find something in field conditions like that, you\’re going to run it till they stop it,\” Evanko said. \”That\’s what we did.\”
Golden Tide fans huddled under umbrellas and other raingear stuck it out in the fourth quarter when the only question was whether Sipes would surpass the 80 touchdowns Dave Richards amassed in his brilliant career at Clearfield. The Golden Tide\’s All-State candidate provided the answer with 3:05 left when he blasted off the left side and bolted 22 yards to the left pylon for his 28th TD of the season. Hess ran for the two extra points, setting the score at 35-6.
\”That\’s great for Nick,\” Evanko said. \”That truly is something. That\’s like icing on the cake.
\”He\’s an exceptional athlete. He\’s a fantastic person. Now he\’s got the rushing record and the touchdown record. And he deserves it.\”
Ridgway beat the gun by 13 seconds with a 58-yard drive capped by Weitzel\’s one-yard touchdown that was the 19th for the junior, who finished with 119 yards for 21 carries to pad his season total to 1,229 yards rushing.
\”We had a good year and we lost to a good, quality Curwensville team,\” Morelli said. \”They\’re physical. The second half they just took control of the line of scrimmage, both sides of the ball. Coach Evanko and his staff did a good job of rebounding from a tough loss, and they get to move on to play Redbank Valley. If they keep playing as well as they\’ve been playing, they\’re going to be successful and meet Coudersport in the District 9 championship game.\”
Evanko isn\’t looking that far into the future.
\”We\’re happy to be alive,\” he said. \”We\’re happy to still be playing.\”
EXTRA POINTS — Sipes led the Curwensville defense with six tackles, one for a loss, and four assists, while Russell had four solo tackles, two for sacks, and four assists… Weitzel, who figures to one of the district\’s marquee players next season, was superb on defense for the Elkers. He also handled their kicking chores, averaging 36.6 yards on his seven punts… Junior quarterback Jake Smith starred for Redbank Valley against Keystone (6-5) by running for three touchdowns and passing for two scores… Defending champion and No. 1 seed Coudersport (11-0) will host No. 4 Johnsonburg (8-2) in the other 9-A semifinal Friday night. Coudy pulled away from No. 8 Clarion (5-6) with two touchdowns in the final 7:08 for a 32-14 win Friday, while Johnsonburg prevailed 17-6 against No. 5 Cameron County Saturday.
Ends — McDonald, Botzman
Tackles — Horton, Kephart
Guards — Hawkins, Skebo
Center — Russell
Backs — Sopic, Sipes, Hess, Johnson
Subs — Olson, Hoover, Caldwell, Holland, Kalgren, Michaels, Dell\’Antonio, McGary, Kahl, Starr, Guy, Dixon, Zemba, Holt, C. Bloom, Opaliski, Maney, Lash, Thomas, Bennett, Greene, Smith, Johns, Koontz, Morgan, J. Bloom, Padgett, Winkelman
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Ridgway 0 6 0 6 — 12
Curwensville 15 0 12 8 — 35
Cur – Sopic 75 run (Sipes run), 9:30
Cur – Hoover 71 pass-run from Sopic (Sipes kick), 3:56
Ridg — Weitzel 18 run (Run failed), 8:12
Cur — Sipes 12 run (Kick blocked), 6:21
Cur — Sipes 8 run (Run failed), :37
Cur — Sipes 22 run (Hess run), 3:05
Ridg — Weitzel 1 run (Kick failed), :13
First Downs Rushing 6 11
First Downs Passing 2 2
Total First Downs 8 13
Yards Gained Rushing 144 319
Yards Lost Rushing 15 17
Rushes-Net Yards 31-129 50-302
Passes Att-Com-Int 13-3-1 5-2-0
Passing Yards 52 82
Total Plays-Yards 44-181 55-384
Punts-Average 7-36.6 4-32
Fumbles-Lost 3-1 1-1
Penalties-Yards 3-20 7-58
RUSHING — Ridgway: Weitzel 21-119, Pontious 2-3, Aiello 1-1, Dickant 7-minus 6. Curwensville: Sipes 32-167, Sopic 14-117, Hess 3-20, Kalgren 1-minus 2.
PASSING — Ridgway: Dickant 13-3-0-1, 52 yards. Curwensville: Sopic 5-2-1-0, 82 yards.
RECEIVING — Ridgway: S. Lindgren 1-26, Weitzel 1-14, Wilson 1-12. Curwensville: Hoover 1-71, Michaels 1-11.
FUMBLE RECOVERIES — Ridgway: Pontious 1, Renaud 1, Weitzel 1. Curwensville: Sopic 1.
INTERCEPTIONS — Curwensville: Michaels 1.