T-D HS Football


Richland notches second straight undefeated season

By: Mike Mastovich

JOHNSTOWN — Undefeated teams make the big play at the critical moment.
Richland has proven as much during the past two regular seasons.
The Rams defense added another chapter to a story line that includes 20 consecutive regular-season victories during Friday night’s 35-14 nonconference win over District 6 Class A power Bellwood-Antis.
The Blue Devils had closed within seven points of the Rams just before halftime at Herlinger Field.
On the opening drive of the third quarter, Richland players uncharacteristically lost their cool and drew the ire of the officiating crew. Simultaneous 15-yard penalties for a personal foul and an unsportsmanlike call put Bellwood at the Richland 15-yard line. Two plays later, the Blue Devils had first-and-goal from the 5.
“They were down there for four downs and our kids stepped up and continued to make plays inside the 5-yard line,” Richland coach Brandon Bailey said. “We were able to get the ball and get out of that mess.
“There were a lot of red jerseys there and they decided they weren’t going to let him in.”
Bellwood’s Tanner Snyder got within inches of the goal line on a third down play. On fourth down, quarterback Jake Burch bolted up the middle only to meet most of the Richland defense.
“They just beat us off the ball,” said veteran Bellwood coach John Hayes, who felt Snyder might have crossed the goal line on third down. “We thought we were in the play before. It was too far away for me to see but the consensus was. ... But, hey, that’s the game. They were more physical down there than we were and they made the big stop.”
The Rams defense viewed the goal line stand as an opportunity for redemption.
“With the penalties leading up to that, we got discouraged but we had to play through all of that,” said Richland senior linebacker Jacob Urban, who was a force throughout the night. “We just stayed tough. Everybody did what they were supposed to do. Everybody was hard-nosed and we stopped them.
“We kind of figured the sneak was coming on that one.”
Still, the Rams took possession inside the 1.
On the next play, Bellwood pressured Richland quarterback Matt Shaffer, whose pass was intercepted by Burch near the 20. But Shaffer was hit late in the end zone, resulting in a flag and first down at the 15.
“That was a huge momentum change,” Urban said. “The crowd really started getting into it after that.”
The Rams proceeded to march the length of the field, capping a 99-plus-yard drive with Shaffer’s 9-yard run with 1:51 left in the third quarter. It was the third of four rushing touchdowns by Shaffer on Friday. Shawn Gindlesberger’s kick made it 28-14 as Richland took control.
“That’s got to be pretty demoralizing for the other team and it put us up a couple scores,” Bailey said. “It gave us a comfort level for the rest of the game.”
Richland completed the program’s first back-to-back undefeated seasons since the 1957, 1958 and 1959 Rams each had
9-0 records. Richland also was unbeaten in 1971 (9-0) and 1969 (8-0-1), and Tribune-Democrat year-end news clippings had the inaugural 1940 Richland team at 6-0, though Bailey said some records at Richland had that team going 6-1.
“I think we’re ready for the playoffs,” Urban said. “I think this was a good build-up game to get us ready. I think we’ll carry the momentum right into the playoffs.”
Shaffer put the Rams up early with a 25-yard touchdown run at 8:49 of the first quarter as he converted a fourth-and-3 play.
His 3-yard run and Tanner Solarczyk’s conversion run gave the Rams a 14-0 advantage with 3:56 showing in the first.
Bellwood played the final three quarters without 1,261-yard rusher Casey Gray, who apparently was injured late in the first quarter and spent much of the second quarter being attended to by trainers at the end of the bench. Gray had 17 rushing touchdowns this season.
“Losing him, he’s an inspirational leader and he gives us a lot of diversity,” Hayes said of Gray. “But we have good kids and other kids who did well. Hopefully he’ll be OK for next week.”
Bellwood’s Tanner Snyder scored on a 1-yard run, and Trenton Creppage’s extra point pulled the Blue Devils within 14-7.
Tanner Solarczyk, who rushed for 139 yards on 18 carries, had a 1-yard touchdown to put the Rams ahead by two touchdowns.
Late in the opening half, Richland opted not to punt on a fourth-and-7 from its own 35. Bellwood took possession after an incomplete pass and added Matt McMillan’s 1-yard score 46 seconds before intermission.
“We came out thinking that we were going to be able to do something and we did,” Hayes said of the late momentum. “Certainly the penalties helped (the second-half drive) along a little bit. Not getting in at that point was huge. Give them credit. They made the stops.”
Shaffer’s two second-half touchdowns sealed it. He completed 13 of 22 passes for 176 yards to go with his four rushing TDs.
“He finds his way into the end zone,” Bailey said. “Some of those he just kind of made his way into the end zone even when there was nothing there for him.”