Ridgway Wins Defensive Struggle and the District 9 Class A Crown
Written by: Phil Myers on Saturday, November 18th, 2017
The Ridgway/Johnsonburg Elkers won the D-9 title over the Curwensville Golden Tide, 9-7 in the Class A championship game held at E.J. Mansell Stadium in DuBois Friday night. The Elkers used a strangulating defense to limit the Tide to 185 yards of offense. The opportunistic ‘D’ also garnered three turnovers, with the middle one being converted into the game winning field goal. Those turnovers, as well as a short yardage stand on fourth down, were the difference in the game because Curwensville’s defense played just as well and maybe better, considering six of Ridgway’s possessions began in Tide territory. The Elkers could only manage 157 yards for the game, and that is a tribute to the Tide’s terrific defense.
“It’s a great feeling. I’m so happy for our kids right now. Defense has been our calling card, not just this year, but the past two years. I couldn’t be more proud to be their coach,” stated Ridgway’s head coach, Mark Heindl. Quarterback Johnny Mitchell, who scored the Elker touchdown said, “We had great practice this week and it really turned out. Our defense really stepped up, coming through with some turnovers.”
Yards were at a premium in this game as the two teams engaged in an old-fashioned slobber-knocker. Ridgway had five plays of more than ten yards, while Curwensville only had two. The Elkers ended the night with seven first downs and the Tide finished with nine. But field position was the key to this game where yardage was so hard to come by and Ridgway won that part of the game hands down. More on that in the ‘Game Notes’.
The Elkers received the kickoff to begin the game and returned it to the 34. On the first play Neil MacDonald went 23 yards on a counter to the Golden Tide 43. That was to be the longest play from scrimmage they had all night. Three more plays gained only six yards. Coach Heindl decided to punt and pin Curwensville deep in their end of the field.
Curwensville could do nothing and was forced to punt giving the ball back to Ridgway near midfield. A penalty hurt the Elkers’ drive and Mitchell’s subsequent punt pinned Curwensville at the nine. The Tide earned a couple of first downs and moved the ball to their 41 before a penalty set them back to the 29. Bryce Timko’s third down pass appeared to be caught at the Ridgway 40, but Elker Andy Breier wrestled the ball away from the receiver and was credited with the pick.
The white and maroon-clad Elkers only managed a first down before punting again, this time to the Tide 15. On the initial play of the drive, Timko handed the rock to Nick Stewart, D-9’s all-time leading rusher with over 7,000 yards. Stewart started around the short side end, but got hemmed in. So, he stopped and reversed his field finding a gap on the cut back and was off to the races for an 85-yard touchdown. “The thing with Nick is he can make a play at any given time. We had him wrapped up by five guys, but that was just Nick Stewart being Nick Stewart,” observed Coach Heindl. Madison Weber’s point after was good and Curwensville had the 7-0 lead with 8:36 left in the half.
Ridgway once again managed to enter Tide real estate but was forced to punt a fourth time. A penalty gave coach Andy Evanko’s team a first down. Another penalty (for 5 yards) and four yards in three plays put Curwensville in a fourth and one situation at their 44 with less than three minutes remaining in the second quarter. Coach Evanko rolled the dice hoping for a first down and eventually getting a score before the half ended. But the Ridgway defense stuffed the ball carrier for no gain.
The Elkers had not thrown a pass to this point, but Mitchell threw five consecutive passes completing three to get his team to the Golden Tide 18. Mitchell dropped back to pass for the sixth straight time commenting on the play by saying, “We were supposed to run a quick out pass, but he wasn’t open. But he took the defender out with him and I saw the opening and (thought) I may as well get it now, it might be too late at the end of the game. I got to the end zone and did what I could do.” Mitchell’s scrambling ability turned nothing into something as he just made it to the pylon for the TD. Aaron Hinton’s PAT was wide and Curwensville still led 7-6 with eighty seconds left in the half.
The Tide, dressed in their all black with gold trim home uniforms, got a first down but the half ended without them really threatening. Curwensville got the better of Ridgway in the opening half, outgaining them 151 to 103 in yards. But that changed in the last two quarters when the Elker defense turned it up a notch.
Curwensville received the second half kick and went nowhere after gaining ten yards. Ridgway subsequently made it to the Golden Tide 19, but Curwensville threw up a brick wall stopping Ridgway on fourth and two. An exchange of punts gave Curwensville the pigskin at their own 17.
After a third down incompletion, a late hit on the quarterback gave the Tide an automatic first down at the 25. On second down Timko took off running but was met near the line of scrimmage where he fumbled. Bryce Barclay pounced on the loose ball for Ridgway at Curwensville’s 20. “Bryce is a scrapper and made a big play for us there. That was the turning point,” were Heindl’s comments.
Ridgway lost five yards due to a penalty, then gained ten yards on the next three plays putting the ball at the fifteen yard line. Heindl called on his kicker to try a 32 yard field goal from the near hash mark. Hinton’s kick was true and with 9:49 still to play, Ridgway assumed their first lead of the evening, 9-7. The last time these two met was in week six and Curwensville blocked a Ridgway field goal attempt, returning it 77 yards for what was ultimately the winning score. “We worked on field goals and fixed some things,” Heindl stated.
Curwensville could not mount any offense their last three possessions, although they came close to completing a couple long passes. Ridgway just chewed up time off the clock when they had the ball. They did get to Curwensville’s 13 but a penalty before a fourth down failure netted no points. Heindl said he was content to give the first down a shot rather than try another field goal, and then let the defense do what they were doing all night long if they didn’t make it. MacDonald iced the game for the Elkers with an interception with one minute remaining.
Game Notes: Curwensville finishes with a 9-3 record. Stewart carried the ball 27 times for 162 yards to lead all ball carriers on the night. He finishes his career with 7,323 yards. Timko was only 5 for 16 passing for 17 yards and the two INTs. The Golden Tide was hit with 111 yards in penalties, many of which came at inopportune times. Curwensville’s band did an excellent job and drew quite a few positive comments. They even added a Christmas song to their repertoire.
Ridgway is now 9-3 and advances to the state playoffs where they will meet Farrell, the team who knocked them out last season. MacDonald led the Elkers with 19 rushes for 93 yards. Mitchell was 3 for 7 passing for 26 yards. He contributed 23 yards running the ball. There are two more items to note which are quite interesting. The only time the Tide had the ball in Elker territory was on Stewart’s 85 yard touchdown run. They never once snapped the ball on Ridgway’s side of the field. On the other hand, every time Ridgway had the ball, they got off at least one play in Curwensville territory. Nine of their eleven drives ended in Tide real estate, while the other two ended at their own 47 and 49 yard lines.
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