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Strong line play from Coudersport and bullish running from Coudersport running back Mitch Freeman led to a 36-13 victory over Ridgway Friday night at Memorial Field.
Freeman finished with 140 yards on 21 carries for the Falcons. Coudersport as a team ran up 305 yards on the ground. Counterpart Caden Whitman was held to 60 yards on 12 carries after rushing for over 200 yards in Week 1.
The third quarter and third down propelled the Falcons after halftime, converting multiple times to keep drives going. Leading 14-13, the Falcons drove 65 yards in just six plays for an opening second-half touchdown, finished off by a 20-yard touchdown run by Alex Hershey on a third-and-2. Coudersport also capitalized on a third-and-3 as Whitman had his longest run of the night with a 30-yard scamper. Zac McKnight saved the Whitman run from becoming a touchdown.
"There were times we had them in a third-and-long and then we give up the big play for a first down," Ridgway coach Mark Heindl said. "When your defense is on the field as much as we were, the outlook isn't too good at the end. They didn't quit and they'll come back to work on Monday."
Ridgway's offense could not get anything going on its ensuing possession and went three-and-out. Coudersport took the ball from the Ridgway 43-yard line and methodically worked its way down the field with a 9-play drive. Falcon quarterback Ethan Hite ran a bootleg 10 yards for a first down on a third-and-5 from the 16-yard line and then finished off the drive with a 1-yard plunge to push the Falcon lead to 28-13. Heindl said Coudersport's bootleg proved to be effective all game long.
"Third down, that was huge," Heindl said. "They kept rolling the quarterback out, that's a credit to Coudesport. We kept biting hard to the inside, they took advantage of it."
Ridgway again had to punt after only three plays of offense but took advantage of sloppy play by Coudersport as the Falcons muffed the punt and Ridgway recovered. The Falcons had five fumbles on the game with Ridgway recovering two.
Ridgway would turn the ball back over to the Falcons but Hershey would make an impact on the defensive side of the ball as he intercepted a pass to end the Ridgway drive.
"We had them on the ropes going into the half," Heindl said. "When you come out in the second half and you run seven total plays with seven minutes to go in the fourth quarter, your defense is on the field quite a bit. I give credit to our kids, not one of them quit. When you're undersized and as young as we are, we could have easily folded our tents but we took a pretty elite team to the brink for two quarters. We had a nice drive going in the fourth quarter. Just little mistakes here and there, they're fixable mistakes but we got a lot of work to do."
The Falcons then put the game away as Coudersport marched 94 yards in 13 plays, chewing up over seven minutes on the clock. Coudersport converted two third downs and a fourth down on the drive which was highlighted by a 41-yard run by Freeman. Freeman plunged in from a yard out for the touchdown and the 36-13 lead.
Heindl said Ridgway was a turnover away from potentially getting back into the game in the second half.
"There were a couple times Coudy got some drives going, a turnover here and there and we're right back into it," Heindl said. "The third quarter was the deciding factor. We didn't play a complete team effort because our offense wasn't on the field that much. Those are things we have to work on as a group."
Ridgway's special teams opened the game in style as Zac McKnight ran the opening kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown. McKnight then added the extra point for a 7-0 Ridgway lead.
Coudersport drove to the 24-yard line of Ridgway but faced a fourth-and-15 on its initial drive of the game. Freeman caught a screen pass for 12 yards but could not convert for the first down, turning the ball over on downs deep in Ridgway territory. Ridgway could not get a first down and had to punt. A short punt and short return left the Falcons with the ball at the Ridgway 35-yard line. Hite scrambled for a first down on a third-and-2 from the 27-yard line with an 18-yard scamper. Two plays later, Freeman crossed the goal line from two yards out. Coudersport converted the 2-point conversion for an 8-7 lead.
After another Ridgway three-and-out, Coudersport again got excellent field position as the snap back to the punter was high. A desperation pass was intercepted by Freeman and the Falcons had it at the Ridgway 30-yard line. Five plays later, Hite found Zac Elenchin for a 19-yard touchdown connection and a 14-7 Falcon lead.
A poor kickoff left Ridgway with starting field position near midfield. After Ridgway punted, Coudersport turned the ball over on a third-down play which left the Elkers with the ball at the Falcon 21-yard line. A false start penalty on third-and-3 seemed to derail Ridgway's chance as the Elkers would eventually turn the ball over on downs.
Coudersport would eventually punt and Ridgway would punch it in the end zone just before halftime. Ridgway quarterback Ben MacDonald found McKnight for a 4-yard touchdown pass. The extra point was blocked but Ridgway trailed only by one at 14-13 entering halftime.
"They're a veteran team and Coudersport's a very good football team," Heindl said. "Our kids are going to be too, it's going to take time for as young as they are. They come back to work every day, I'm proud as heck of that."
The road for Ridgway (1-1) doesn't get any easier as the Elkers host defending D-9 champion Port Allegany (1-0) at 7 p.m. next Friday. Coudersport (1-1) will host Johnsonburg (0-2) next Friday for a 7 p.m. kickoff.