ST. MARYS – In a game filled primarily with defense, one touchdown made the difference as to which of these county rivals goes to the district playoffs.
Cole Gerber's 1-yard touchdown run with 2:56 left in the fourth quarter was enough to give Elk County Catholic a 7-0 win over Ridgway Friday night at Dutch Country Stadium and push Elk County Catholic to a District 9 Class A playoff berth.
The Crusaders moved to 6-3 overall and 3-2 in the AML South while Ridgway drops to 5-4 overall and 2-3 in the AML South.
"One possession was going to make the difference in this game," Ridgway coach Mark Heindl said. "A credit to Elk Catholic, they'll represent the AML well in the playoffs. My hat's off to them."
Elk County Catholic started with the ball early in the fourth quarter at its own 35-yard line and methodically moved the ball down the field behind running from a trio of ECC running backs, Gerber, Brock McCullough and Hank Cappiello. Cappiello converted a 3rd-and-2 at the 43-yard line with a 5-yard run and a first down, Elk's first of the drive and fifth of the game at that point. Gerber converted a second third down as he ran for six yards on a 3rd-and-2 at the 44-yard line of Ridgway. ECC then wound up facing a 4th-and-1 at the 29-yard line but Gerber was able to push forward for a first down on a 3-yard run. Vallone was stopped on a 6-yard loss on the first-down play setting up Ridgway's defense in an advantageous position. ECC gained eight yards on the next play but Ridgway gave up a personal foul penalty on the 8-yard gain which gave the Crusaders an automatic first down at the 12-yard line of the Elkers. After gains of four and seven yards, Gerber punched it in from a yard out for the only points of the game. Gerber finished with 96 yards on 21 carries for the Crusaders.
"It was hard going in the mud but they stuck with it and punched one in," Elk County Catholic coach Travis Skrzypek said. "They just stuck with it, they fixed the blocks up front. There's a lot of communication going on between the coaches and the kids on the field. They found what worked, they stuck with it and kept on grinding. They used a lot of clock and didn't leave much for Ridgway."
Heindl said the Crusaders began to assert themselves on the line during the 15-play drive which ultimately was the difference in the outcome.
"It's about controlling the line of scrimmage," Heindl said. "We preached that to our kids and we have some work to do. But we can live another day, we still got another week to go but a credit to Elk Catholic, they controlled it."
Ridgway took over and still had a chance starting from the 33-yard line with 2:49 left. Elker quarterback Jordan Lundin ran for four yards and then Lundin completed a 2-yard pass to receiver Jake Himes. Lundin then found Mike Cappiello on the sidelines for an 8-yard gain and a first down. After an incompletion, Lundin was sacked for a 2-yard loss, one of five sacks ECC garnered in the game.
On 3rd-and-12, Lundin appeared to complete a pass to Eric Matheson which would have been good for a first down but the Elkers were called for an illegal shift and the catch was negated. Ridgway was flagged six times for 47 yards on the night.
Lundin was sacked for a 12-yard loss on 3rd-and-17 which set up a 4th-and-29 with no timeouts. Lundin threw a desperation heave which was intercepted by McCullough to seal the game for the Crusaders.
The Crusaders opened the game with the football and garnered a pair of first downs as ECC worked the ball as far as the Ridgway 30 but ultimately turned the ball over on downs. Ridgway also had a pair of first downs on its opening drive but punted the ball back to the Crusaders. ECC went three-and-out but then had a mistake as the punt snap was bobbled with Ridgway set up at the 16-yard line of the Crusaders with a golden chance to strike first.
On the first play of the ensuing drive, Ridgway had a 13-yard run but fumbled the ball and the Crusaders recovered it at its own 3-yard line as the first quarter expired.
Ridgway still had the field position advantage as ECC went three-and-out and had to punt. Mike Cappiello returned the punt 20 yards to the ECC 15-yard line. Ridgway netted zero yards and the Elkers then missed a 32-yard field goal, turning the ball over to the Crusaders.
"Our kids, I can't say enough about them, they didn't quit," Heindl said. "There were a couple times they could have folded. We were in position and we had the big turnover at the 1-yard line and the missed field goal. Those are the breaks of the game and our kids will come back and we're going to try our best to finish at 6-4."
ECC and Ridgway could not get a first down on each of its next two offensive possessions, each resulting in punts. The Crusaders took the ball at its own 42 and picked up a first down on 3rd-and-1 at the 43 as Gerber ran for three yards. ECC was backed up at the 45-yard line needing 15 yards for a first down and promptly was given a first down as Ridgway was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to put the ball at the 30-yard line. ECC could not connect on a pair of long passes as the half ended scoreless.
The third quarter saw the punters continue to get plenty of action as Ridgway punted twice and ECC punted once. Near the end of the third quarter, ECC fumbled at its own 48-yard line and the Elkers recovered it but Ridgway went three-and-out and had to punt.
Ridgway had only 60 yards of total offense while ECC finished the game with 133 yards. Sam Delhunty led the Elkers with 43 yards rushing on 11 carries.
"It was a good week of practice," Skrzypek said. "The kids actually paid attention well and really focused in on what they were trying to do, they were calling stuff out. That was nice to see that the focus in practice was there into the game."
Heindl said the big play which helped Ridgway win at Kane last week was something which could not be developed against the ECC defense.
"It never developed and those are things we have to work on," Heindl said. "We were in position a few times in this game and we didn't capitalize. Those are things we're going to take into next week against Clarion-Limestone."
The Crusaders will now wait for their playoff matchup to be determined as they will have a bye week in Week 10.
"They were looking forward to this week after the two losses," Skrzypek said. "They were ready to get back in it, fix the mistakes and make the playoffs."
Ridgway is scheduled to play at Clarion-Limestone next Friday with a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.