ST. MARYS – A barrage of rushing yards from a trio of Elk County Catholic players led to a 28-6 victory for the Crusaders over Ridgway Friday night.
"I thought both the offensive and defensive lines played really well. The whole team performed well," Elk County Catholic coach Travis Skrzypek said.
Brock McCullough led the Crusaders with 165 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Teammate Hank Cappiello had 81 rushing yards on 16 carries and Joe McLaughlin finished with 41 yards on nine carries. As a team, Elk County Catholic ran for 323 yards.
"The yards that they got, their kids earned them," Ridgway coach Mark Heindl said. "Cappiello, he's a heck of a running back with McCullough. I thought we did a good job against them. Like I say every week, our best defense has to be our offense. We got to get working on that."
Ridgway opened the game deep in its own territory after a coffin corner kickoff buried the Elkers at their own 8-yard line. Ridgway was able to garner a pair of first downs on an 8-yard 2nd-down run from Logan Wickett and an 11-yard run from Zac McKnight. Ridgway would have to punt the ball three plays later.
The Crusaders opened its initial possession from the 36-yard line. A 13-yard scramble from ECC quarterback Mitchell Vallone led to a 38-yard sprint to McCullough's left for a 7-0 Elk County Catholic lead.
The teams exchanged three-and-outs and Ridgway then had to punt on its next possession after getting one first down.
The Crusaders would start from their own 24-yard line and methodically moved the ball down the field with a 13-play drive which took nearly seven minutes off the clock. Elk County Catholic made five first downs on the drive. A key play was a 3rd-and-5 conversion on Ridgway's 29-yard line as Vallone hit McLaughlin on a 15-yard screen pass connection. Vallone would sneak it in the end zone from a yard out which put ECC ahead 14-0.
Ridgway would have a strong offensive drive on the ensuing possession. McKnight opened the drive with a 49-yard sprint down the right side to take it to the ECC 21-yard line. After a 3-yard run by Sam Delhunty, Wickett would run 10 yards for a first down at the 8-yard line. After two runs netted minus-1 yards, McLaughlin would get an uncontested sack for a 7-yard loss which pushed it to 4th-and-goal at the 16-yard line. Ridgway quarterback Ben MacDonald was sacked by Shea Meyer on fourth down which turned the ball over on downs. Heindl said the blocking was better on Ridgway's best drive to that point in the game.
"We just started blocking people," Heindl said. "You got to block to the whistle and that's the thing that we preach week to week. That drive they figured them out and got after them. We were in the red zone, we just couldn't capitalize."
Elk County Catholic turned the momentum swing into a quick touchdown two plays later. After McLaughlin ran for 11 yards, McCullough sprinted up the middle, made a cut to his left and sprinted 71 yards for a touchdown an a 21-0 Crusader lead.
"ECC's 4-0 for a pretty good reason," Heindl said. "We held pretty tough with them. We gave up those three big runs in the first half and that came back to bite us."
With time winding down in the first half, Ridgway would get two first downs but had the drive stall near midfield. A Hail Mary pass to end the first half fell incomplete in front of the end zone which put the game to halftime.
The Crusaders took the opening kickoff and went down the field in eight plays for a touchdown. On 3rd-and-2 at the Ridgway 31-yard line, Vallone found Cappiello on a screen pass for a 31-yard touchdown pass which stood after the Crusaders were called for a personal foul for taunting. ECC had five penalties for 50 yards while Ridgway committed three penalties for 20 yards.
"We've got to clean it up," Skrzypek said. "The flags are getting ridiculous, and that will be taken care of next week."
After a Ridgway three-and-out, ECC would milk the rest of the third quarter and four minutes of the fourth quarter with an 18-play drive. The Crusaders ultimately turned the ball over on downs from the 22-yard line.
"A credit to our kids, the second half they came out and played pretty good defense," Heindl said. "We just got to get the ball moving on the offensive side."
Ridgway's touchdown came with 24 seconds left in the game as McKnight scored in the right corner from three yards out as the Elkers marched down the field in the latter stages of the game. McKnight led the Elkers with 80 rushing yards and also caught a 50-yard pass to open up the scoring drive.
Elk County Catholic (4-0) is scheduled to play at Johnsonburg (1-3) next Friday. Ridgway (1-3) is scheduled to host Brockway (4-0) next Friday for Homecoming.
"We go back to work, we got Brockway coming to town next week for Homecoming so there's a lot of stuff we have to work on," Heindl said.