DUBOIS — When Ridgway traveled to Karns City on Oct. 4, the game was a defensive slugfest that came down to the wire.
The Elkers (9-1) narrowly escaped with a 19-13 win that night, and the game was decided on a goal line stand by Ridgway’s defense in the waning seconds.
Head coach Mark Heindl says Ridgway is anticipating another tough game from the Gremlins (8-3) today in DuBois.
“They’re a good football team, and any time you’re into the second round of the playoffs, you’ll get the best from both teams,” he said. “We expect Karns City to give us one heck of a football game.”
If the Elkers, winners of eight consecutive games, are to replicate their success against the Gremlins, it begins with eliminating mistakes that were prevalent in their game at KC, Heindl says.
Ridgway had two touchdowns called back on the night, faced a first-and-42 at one point in the third quarter, and was whistled for 60 yards in penalties on that drive alone.
“Obviously, we have to cut down on the penalties. That was a killer for us at Karns City,” Heindl said. “We had good drives going, but shot ourselves in the foot… We have to eliminate our own mistakes if we want to talk about moving on to the next round.”
In addition to penalties, Heindl wants to see improvement out of his defense this time around, particularly on third downs and on preventing explosive plays.
The Elkers were burned on a few long runs during the game, and then were hit on a couple long passes after getting sucked in to stop the ground attack. In all, Heindl recalls that the Elkers gave up seven plays for 10-plus yards.
Ridgway also gave up a few first downs on third-and-long situations, which allowed Karns City to extend drives and stay in the game.
“We have to be prepared in all phases, and we’ve been impressing that on the kids,” Heindl said. “You can’t take a play off, or (Karns City) will make you pay for it.”
Aside from those tweaks and improvements, it will be business as usual for the Elkers: control the trenches, use a balanced attack offensively and play stingy defense.
But for Heindl, it all comes back to playing clean football.
“We’re going to stay balanced. We just have to cut down on our mental mistakes and control the line of scrimmage,” he said. “We have to eliminate our mistakes and capitalize (on Karns City’s), because one play could cost either team.”
On offense, the Elkers have utilized a handful of running backs to stay fresh. That unit has accounted for 2,210 yards on the ground thus far.
That potent run game allows Ridgway to open things up for quarterback Paul Gresco, who has thrown for 1,545 yards and 14 touchdowns this year.
Getting the offense going won’t be without its challenges, though. In the first matchup, Karns City threw some schemes at Ridgway that the Elkers had to adjust to on the fly.
One such adjustment was getting Gresco moving on the ground. The quarterback entered the first game against the Gremlins with just 47 yards rushing on the year, but rumbled for a 50-yard touchdown run on the night.
Heindl is expecting the Gremlins to play a similar game this time around.
“They did a great job with their schemes. They’ll definitely employ some schemes they threw at us the first time,” he said. “And we’re expecting a few wrinkles off of those.”
And the first-seeded Elkers have certainly had time to prepare for those new looks. While the No. 5 Gremlins were battling to a 28-22 win at fourth-seed Keystone, Ridgway had a first round bye.
Heindl gave his team a few days off from practice to recharge and get healthy, and the result was a great week of practice, according to the coach.
“They had a great week. They had off from last Thursday to Sunday, and then got back at it on Monday,” he said. “We got a little refreshed, and we’re ready to roll.”
This afternoon’s game kicks off at 1 o’clock.
Kane vs. Clarion
The other Class AA semifinal features a rematch in DuBois, as well. A week after upsetting No. 3 Brookville, the sixth-seeded Kane Wolves (6-4) will look for their next upset against No. 2 Clarion (9-1).
The Bobcats topped Kane 47-28 on Sept. 27, and the loss was the start of a four-game slide for the Wolves that wasn’t snapped until last week’s 28-22 win at Brookville.
Kane did itself no favors in that first matchup, as the Wolves turned the ball over three times and allowed Clarion to jump out to a 20-0 lead before fighting to get back into the game.
If the Wolves are to stay in the mix this time around, they’ll need to win the turnover battle and slow down some of Clarion’s playmakers, particularly in the run game.
Bobcat running back Austin Newcomb is rushing for an astounding 11.4 yards per carry (1,155 yards on 101 attempts), and has scored 20 touchdowns so far. He ran for 165 of Clarion’s 504 total yards in the first matchup with Kane.
For the Wolves, they’ll need Jake Alcorn to make his customary explosive plays. Alcorn leads Kane in both rushing (94 carries, 536 yards, five touchdowns) and receiving (21 receptions, 528 yards, six touchdowns). He also shoulders the bulk of Kane’s kickoff and punt returns.
Kane and Clarion kick off at 6 o’clock.