Hardnosed defense and timely big plays keyed the Elkers 26-6 win over Brookville in Friday night’s District 9 Class 2A semifinal at Memorial Park Field. The victory improved them to 8-3 – they’ll play 10-1 Karns City in next week’s championship game at a neutral site. The top-seed Gremlins were 35-7 home winners over Central Clarion (4-6).

The vaunted “D” forced the potent Raiders offense to punt six times, recorded a safety and halted drives with an interception and fumble recovery.

Ridgway took a 3-0 lead into the halftime locker room courtesy of a 30-yard Jack Benninger field goal with 3:12 left in the second quarter.

The lead was upped to 10-0 on play two of the second half when quarterback Domenic Allegretto connected with tight end Tyler Merritt for a 53-yard score. Benninger booted the PAT.

After forcing a punt. Ridgway moved to the Brookville 26-yard line before Allegretto was sacked, threw an incompletion and Eric Salberg gained two yards. Elker head coach Mark Heindl decided to punt which proved to be a key move when Camron Marciniak’s kick was downed at the one by Allegretto. Two plays later Salberg tackled Jackson Zimmerman in the endzone for a safety making it 12-0.

After both teams punted, Allegretto hit Will Howard in stride for a 38-yard gain to the four-yard line. The QB scored from a yard out on fourth down and Benninger was true again making it 19-0 with 6:31 left in the game.

Aided by a pass interference and personal foul the Raiders moved to the Elkers 27. Quarterback Charlie Krug completed a 12-yard pass to Truman Sharp and a play later connected with Noah Peterson in the endzone with 4:41 remaining. The PAT was no good.

After punting, Ridgway iced the victory when Salberg knocked the ball from Krug and Brayden Renaud recovered it a the four-yard line. Marciniak scored on the next play and Benninger hit his third PAT making it 26-6 with 3:45 left.

Brookville managed to move the ball to the Ridgway 21-yard line, but Krug was sacked on fourth down allowing Allegretto to twice take a knee.

“We had a heck of a week of practice after the kids had a couple days off last week (bye) and we knew they were rejuvenated and had something special in them,” said Heindl. “Credit Brookville they came here with a heck of a game plan and those kids didn’t quit, they battled to the end, but our defense tonight was impressive, and it was an all-around team effort.”

The Elkers held the Raiders to 26 yards rushing on 26 carries and 183 total yards (unofficial). Seventy-one of the 157 passing yards came on three plays.

Salberg rushed for 72 yards to go along with an interception and the safety. Allegretto completed eight passes for 157 yards and the TD.

Also, key were onside kick recoveries by Rayce Milliard to open the second half and by Aaron Sorg after the Raiders score.

Heindl borrowed an oft used adage when talking about the game which saw neither team generate much offensively in the first half.

“Offense wins game, but defense wins championships.”

The Elkers coach again credited the effort by the Raiders. Ridgway earned home field for the game with a 14-13 win in Brookville three weeks ago.

“Their kids didn’t quit and the battled until the end but to be going to a fifth district championship in the last six years is pretty cool.”

The Elkers won the Class AA titles in 2018 and 2019 after winning two-straight Single-A championships.

Many area scribes selected Brookville to win and more than likely will select Karns City next week. The Gremlin beat Ridgway 35-0 on Oct. 15 in Johnsonburg. That game was closer than the final score. That discussion will be saved for next week. In the meantime – “We’re going to enjoy this and then get ready for a shot at another title,” said Heindl.

 Karns City defeated Brookville 16-14 to claim last year’s title.

Class A Playoffs

Redbank Valley (10-1) will look to win a second-straight title next week. The Bulldogs beat Port Allegany (6-5) 35-14 and will play Union/AC Valley (9-2) who beat Smethport 14-8.

Also on Friday, district 3A champ Clearfield which beat St. Marys last week for the title was beaten 54-12 by Bedford in District 5/9 Subregional action.

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