T-D HS Football

Stats only part of Shaffer’s value to Richland

By: Mike Mastovich

Matt Shaffer’s statistics certainly make the Richland High quarterback worthy of Tribune-Democrat Offensive Player of the Year honors.
Shaffer’s 36 wins at the Rams’ starting quarterback, including 12 this season, also provide credibility.
But there are intangibles that make Shaffer one of the area’s top quarterbacks over the past three seasons.
The 6-foot-2 senior was a respected leader on a team that included 25 seniors and numerous experienced players. Among that group were some of the region’s top play makers.
“His leadership on a team with so many seniors was fantastic,” Richland coach Brandon Bailey said. “It’s not easy with so many talented players to distribute the ball to everyone. He found the open receiver whether that was his No. 1 receiver or the No. 9 guy. Matt would take what was given. He did a great job as a senior quarterback.”
Shaffer completed 150 of 253 passes for 2,410 yards, 30 touchdowns and nine interceptions as a senior. With him under center, the Rams were District 6-AA runner-up one season after taking the district crown and advancing to the PIAA semifinals during a 14-win season in 2012.
Shaffer earned the 2013 Tribune-Democrat Offensive Player of the Year after receiving votes or mentions from nearly all of the coaches polled in the newspaper’s coverage area, regardless of district or conference affiliation.
Other area players in contention for the award included sophomore leading rusher Braden Fochtman of Berlin, Shaffer’s teammates Tanner Solarczyk and Kyle Flick, Portage’s Caleb Kephart, Ligonier Valley’s Alec Bloom and Somerset’s Tanner Stull.
Shaffer has been an effective passer throughout his three years as starting quarterback. For evidence, look to his District 6 record 73 career touchdown passes.
This season, he used his legs to break big plays and in some instances, demoralize an opponent seemingly on the verge of forcing a Richland punt or stopping a drive. A 28-24 last-minute, comeback win over visiting Somerset probably provided the best example as Shaffer converted multiple third- and fourth-and-long plays with runs and then found Flick in the end zone in the final seconds.
“Physically I knew I had to get faster and bigger in the offseason,” Shaffer said. “I was doing anything I could to free up Tanner and Kyle. Really, the line did a great job.”
Shaffer complemented the ground game led by last season’s Offensive Player of the Year, Solarczyk, who ranked second in the area with 1,664 rushing yards.
He had one of the region’s top receivers as a target in Flick, who caught 45 passes for 945 yards.
“Keeping the award at Richland for a second straight year is an honor,” said Shaffer, who rushed for 754 yards and 13 touchdowns during a 12-1 season. “This shows what the school has done and the kind of kids we have at Richland.
“This award is basically the whole team’s award. I couldn’t have done it without the other 10 guys. This is more their award than mine.”
The roster is deep with talented players who are products of a Richland youth system. The current group fit into a diverse offensive philosophy and a stifling defensive approach under Bailey and his staff.
“Chemistry was big on our team,” Shaffer said. “We all grew up playing together. When we weren’t playing games or practicing, we always played pick-up games, practicing and getting better.
“We knew what everyone was capable of achieving, and we held each other accountable.”
Shaffer threw for more than 2,000 yards in back-to-back seasons. He had 20 or more passing touchdowns in each of the past three seasons. Overall, he completed 393 of 670 passes for 6,229 career passing yards.
“Matt was a real team leader,” Bailey said. “He was a durable and reliable player. He started every game the last three seasons and we had a 36-5 record.
“Matt is an extremely gifted athlete,” the Rams coach added. “His ability matches his work ethic. He increased his speed with his work ethic. With the success of our passing game, there was more of an opening for him to run the football.”

Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/masty81.