CURWENSVILLE — After rematches with Allegheny Mountain League rivals Coudersport and Ridgway the last two weeks, the Curwensville Area High School football team will be facing an unfamiliar opponent in Redbank Valley of the Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference Saturday at Clarion University\’s Memorial Stadium, which has an artificial surface.
Kickoff will be at approximately 3 p.m. for the District 9 Class A semifinal playoff game, which was shifted from Redbank Valley\’s field in New Bethlehem because of the heavy rains this week.
Both teams are playoff-tested. Both lost in the 2005 semifinals to the eventual champion, Curwensville nipped 28-26 by Coudersport in Class A and Redbank Valley topped 12-7 by Brockway in Class AA. In 2004, the Golden Tide won its second 9-A title, while the Bulldogs fell in the semis. Redbank Valley appeared in 9-AA Playoffs nine times from 1991 through 2005 before dropping down to Class A this year. The Bulldogs were district champions in 1991, 1992 and 1996.
Team statistics pretty much mirror each other. Third-seeded Curwensville, 9-2 with both losses to AML champion and No. 1 seed Coudersport, is third in District 9 with 29.8 points scored per game and 11.2 points allowed per game. Second-seeded Redbank Valley, 8-3 with losses to Class AAA or Class AA playoff teams in three districts, rank eighth in both categories, averaging 26.4 points on offense and 14.2 on defense.
The teams are different, though, in that Curwensville is loaded with veteran seniors and is more one-dimensional on offense with 3,070 yards and 39 yards rushing compared to 726 yards and six TDs passing, while Redbank Valley relies heavily on key underclassmen and is more balanced with 2,033 yards and 25 TDs on the ground and 1,196 yards and 15 TDs through the air.
Junior quarterback Alex Smith starred in the Bulldogs\’ 34-0 quarterfinal victory over KSAC foe Keystone last week, running 21 times for 142 yards and three touchdowns and completing six of nine passes for 115 yards and two scores. According to D9Sports.com stats, Smith ranks third in the district in passing with 1,092 yards for 79 completions in 165 attempts. He\’s thrown 14 touchdown passes and nine interceptions. Among quarterbacks, only Shawn Sopic of Curwensville has rushed for more than Smith\’s 539 yards, which put him No. 20 in D-9 rushing. He has run for 10 TDs.
Redbank Valley\’s top runner is Alex Bladel, a standout sophomore with 184 carries for 1,315 yards, third in the district behind Curwensville\’s Nick Sipes and Coudersport\’s Chris Cavallari. Bladel also has 14 pass receptions for 229 yards. He has scored 17 times.
Wideouts Mike Booher and Jerrett Magagnotti are Smith\’s other favorite targets. Booher, a senior, has 29 receptions for 361 yards (11th in D-9) and four TDs. Magagnotti, a sophomore, has 16 catches for 202 yards and three TDs.
The Bulldogs spread the field and put a lot of pressure on opponents to defend sideline to sideline, a version of what a few AML teams have in their offensive packages.
\”They\’re in a shotgun a lot of the time,\” Curwensville coach Andy Evanko said. \”They\’ll show quads to one side and a split end to the other, but they\’re mostly in spread trips or double-double, with twins to either side. Everything is a one-back offense, even when Smith gets under center.
\”Smith is pretty big, very strong and very athletic. So is the Bladel kid. Both have got pretty good speed and great athletic ability. Their linemen have good size, too.\”
Evanko is impressed with the Bulldog defense, which held Keystone to 52 yards and four first downs last week.
\”They just attack you,\” he said. \”They\’re coming through the gaps and getting upfield. But we\’ve seen that from most people we\’ve played. Very few sat and read. I can\’t even remember the last time we saw that. Everybody pretty much came at us.\”
That puts the pressure on the linemen and lead backs, and Curwensville has adjusted and executed very well against aggressive defenses.
Sipes is winding down a one-of-a-kind career on his way to a second straight District 9 rushing title with 1,740 yards on 294 carries. He gained 163 yards on a season-high 32 carries and scored three touchdowns in last week\’s 35-12 victory over Ridgway and now has is the all-time D-9 leader in yards with 5,716, touchdowns with 81 and points. He is one of the states top scorers this season with 208 points.
His strong running between the tackles has been complemented by Sopic\’s keepers and rollouts that have netted the fourth-year signal-caller 725 yards and five touchdowns. Sopic, who ran for 120 yards and a TD and passed for 82 yards and a TD against Ridgway, is 15th in the district in rushing and 12th in passing with 718 yards on 35 completions in 82 attempts. He has six TD passes and just four interceptions.
Sopic also is wrapping up a brilliant career. Curwensville is 32-8 since he became the starter in the sixth game of his freshman season. He\’s completed 128 of 299 passes for 2,247 yards and 26 TDs and carried 240 times for 1,375 yards and 18 TDs.
Senior fullback Brandon Hess usually provides the lead blocks for Sipes and Sopic, but he\’s responded when called on to run or catch. He\’s carried 82 times for 408 yards and four TDs and caught six passes for 105 yards and one score.
Sophomore split end Jesse Hoover is the leading receiver with 15 catches for 316 yards and three TDs, including a 71-yarder against Ridgway.
Inside linebackers Sipes and Nathan Russell and right cornerback David Kalgren are the top tacklers for the Golden Tide. Outside linebackers Hess and Matt Holland and safety Philip Michaels comprise the second tier in number of tackles.
Evanko is happy district officials decided to move the game to Clarion University. Memorial Field is covered with Sprinturf, a mixture of artificial grass and rubber.
\”Our seniors would have played on it in 2004, and it\’s a beautiful surface to play on,\” he said. \”Honestly, we welcome that, because the last four weeks we\’ve been on fields that were pretty much unplayable. They had deteriorated so much because of the weather.\”
A second afternoon game in four weeks is only a minor distraction, Evanko said, adding \”That\’s another adjustment we have to make in our practice schedule, but I\’m sure our kids will be able to handle it. A game of this magnitude, I don\’t think it matters what time or where we\’re playing. It\’s an exciting time, and we\’re thrilled to be here. We\’re right where we want to be.\”
EXTRA POINTS — Redbank Valley, coached by Ed Wasilowski (56-43 in his 10th season), owns regular season wins over Keystone 13-0, Union 49–20, Schenley 48-26, Clarion 35-20, Allegheny-Clarion Valley 49-14 and Clarion-Limestone 48-12. The Bulldogs lost to District 9 Class AA top seed Karns City 23-7, District Class AAA power Titusville 28-0 and District 6 Class AA fifth seed Marion Center 7-0. Karns City is 9-1 for its 9-AA semifinal against Brockway while Titusville (8-3) and Marion Center (9-2) were beaten in close games last week to finish 9-2… Curwensville, which has lost only to Coudersport 20-12 in Week One and 14-6 in the AML title game, sports victories over Elk County Catholic 14-12, Brockway 29-0, Cameron County 46-29, Johnsonburg 18-3, Kane 42-0, Smethport 55-19, Ridgway 21-8, Sheffield 50-6 and Ridgway last week… Coudersport hosts Johnsonburg Friday night in the other 9-A semi.