The Elkers are looking to punch their ticket to the District 9 Class AA championship game tonight with a win over visiting Brookville at Memorial Park Field (7 p.m.).
Both teams are 7-3, but Ridgway earned the home game with a 14-13 road win over the Raiders on Oct. 22. The winner will face the victor of tonight's game in Karns City between the top-seed 9-1 Gremlins and four-seed, 4-5 Central Clarion.
The Elkers are looking for a fifth district title in six years. They were the 2A winner in 2018 and 2019 after winning the Class A title the two previous seasons. However, they were denied a fifth straight last year in Brookville, where the Raiders took that semifinal game 49-15.
Ridgway head coach Mark Heindl is thrilled his team has another home game.
"The kids are having a great week, and they understand that being in the district semifinals for a sixth-straight year is pretty special. Not only is that special, but the fact we get to host it makes it even better. So, we know all our fans are going to load the stands for a beautiful night of football, and the way the kids are looking, I think they’re going to see something special."
The Elkers block of an extra point with 44 seconds left was the difference in the win three weeks ago. They took a 7-0 lead with 7:49 left in the first half courtesy of a 65-yard run by senior quarterback Domenic Allegretto and junior kicker Jack Benninger's extra point. The lead was extended to 14-0 when Allegretto hit junior Eric Hoffman for a 25-yard score, and Benninger kicked what proved to be the game-winning PAT with 4:01 left in the third quarter. Brookville sophomore quarterback Charlie Krug threw TD passes of 12 and 21 yards to junior Noah Peterson in the final frame.
Heindl talked about the second meeting between the teams.
"There's an advantage seeing each other once, but even though it was only three weeks ago, there are also differences. Obviously, seeing what we did down there after the losses and how they handled going down to Brockway a week later, knocking a good Rovers team out of the playoffs (42-28), showed they can bounce back. So, it's going to be one [heck] of a football game."
There were skeptics that the Elkers could turn their season around after losing three of four, including two in a row at Central Clarion (33-14) and to Karns City (35-0) in Johnsonburg on Oct. 15.
Heindl talked about the rebound, especially after senior starting quarterback Jonathan Hinton was lost in the Central Clarion game for the season.
"We were holding out hope with Jonathan and his situation, but then we got the news and knew we had to keep that next-man-up mentality. It was all about senior leadership. They realized their season could end after eight quarters, or they could extend it. So, seeing how they responded on and off the field says a lot about them."
Besides the losses to Central Clarion and Karns City, Ridgway lost at DuBois 21-6 on Sept. 24. Besides the losses to the Elkers and at home to Karns City (41-7) on Sept. 24, the Raiders were beaten at Large Division Champion St. Marys (19-14) on Oct. 8. The Dutch handed the Gremlins their lone loss - 35-28 in Karns City on Oct. 1. Central Clarion lost its first four games to non-league foe Slippery Rock (38-7), Karns City (37-13), Brookville (40-14), and St. Marys (42-39), all on the road. Their Week 2 game was canceled due to a COVID-19 situation at Moniteau. Slippery Rock replaced Punxsutawney, who also had COVID issues. The Wildcats won four in a row before falling in the season-finale at home, 38-7 to district 3A champion Clearfield.
While all four 2A teams had off last week, it was especially beneficial for the Elkers, who have been dealing with nagging injuries. While they didn't completely stay away from football, Heindl said the break was a good thing.
"After getting a couple days off, the guys got rejuvenated, and we as coaches got rejuvenated. Then to see how these kids responded is incredible, and we're having a lot of fun."
This week, the team practiced at Memorial Field in Johnsonburg to allow the Ridgway field to come back to life after it became a muddy mess during the regular-season finale - a 41-13 victory over Philipsburg-Osceola.
"I credit Jim Delhunty, Mark Caruso, and Nate Greenthaner of our maintenance staff who have done a phenomenal job. They let it dry, we stayed off it, and they rolled it on Monday and Tuesday, it's looking good, and we're excited about playing on it," Heindl said.
WDDH – 97.5 FM – The Hound will broadcast the game. A live stream can be found at the Mega Rock Facebook page – MegaRockFMFan.
Tonight's Class A Semifinals
5-seed Port Allegany (6-4) at 1-seed Redbank Valley (9-1)
3-seed Smethport (8-2) at 2-seed Union/AC-Valley (8-2)