JOHNSONBURG — Friday's matchup between Ridgway and Brookville was a tale of two halves, with the Elkers' dominant opening two quarters being the difference in a 28-14 victory at Johnsonburg's Memorial Stadium that gave the home side its second straight District 9 League Large School Division title.
Ridgway (8-1) scored all 28 of its points in the first half while holding Brookville's high-flying offense to just 15 total yards and zero points.
Brookville flipped the script in the second half though, as quarterback Jack Krug found his rhythm and the Brookville got rolling. The Raiders scored touchdowns on their first two drives of the third quarter to cut their halftime deficit in half with 4:01 left in the third quarter.
Neither team scored again though, as Ridgway's defense bent but didn't break over the final 16 minutes. The Elker defense held Brookville on downs on the Raiders' ensuing two possessions, including one that stalled at the Ridgway 14 with 7:55 to play.
Brookville (7-2) drove deep into Elker territory one final time in the last minute of the game, but Ridgway capped its title-sealing victory in style when senior Jack Cowan made a leaping interception in the end zone. The pick was one of two by the Ridgway "D" on the night
One kneel down by fellow senior Paul Gresco was all that was needed to start the celebration in the Paper City.
Ridgway outgained Brookville 259-15 in the first half, while Brookville won the yardage battle 266-115 over the final two quarters. Ridgway ran 57 plays to Brookville's 55 on the night.
"Our first half was the difference," said Ridgway coach Mark Heindl. "Credit to Brookville, though. They came out (in second half) and made that big play and stole the momentum from us. I think the time of possession and number of plays they had in the second half definitely made up for what we did in the first half.
"But push come to shove, championship football you want to be playing your best. And, our defense was tested big time in the second half. To seal the deal in the end zone down there by Jack Cowan was huge.
"We could have broke tonight, but we didn't and we're Large School champs. Everyone counted us out after the Kane game, and I'm just proud of our kids and the way they responded."
The teams traded punts to open the game before Ridgway seized the momentum on a 53-yard touchdown run by Gabe Watts on a quarterback draw. The first of four Gresco extra points made it 7-0 with 7:16 left in the opening quarter.
Ridgway forced a punt on Brookville's ensuing drive, then a 14-yard catch by Austin Green, coupled with a Brookville penalty, quickly had the Elkers at the Raiders' 29.
Watts capped the drive three plays later with a 7-yard touchdown scamper to make it 14-0 with 2:04 remaining in the first quarter. Watts had 86 yards on nine carries.
A huge two-play sequence changed the complexion of the game early in the second quarter. The Elkers were driving for another score, but after a penalty pushed them back outside the red zone, bad snap before Gresco was ready resulted in a turnover.
Brookville's Airen Kelso came up with the loose ball from under the pile at the Brookville 45. Krug went right to air, looking to capitalize on the turnover.
However, Green came up with a huge defensive play when he tipped the pass to himself and hauled in the interception as he went to the ground at the Ridgway 47.
It took Ridgway just four plays to hit paydirt and grab all the momentum back. Senior Jake Wickett finished off the quick scoring drive when out-jmped Ian Thrush in the back of the end zone on a 23-yard touchdown grab from Gresco to put his team up 21-0 with 8:17 showing on the second quarter clock.
Gresco finished the night 11 of 17 for 151 yards and the one score.
Wickett added a 2-yard TD run with 2:20 remaining in the half to help send the Elkers into the break with a commanding 28-0 lead. The only thing that didn't go the Elkers' way in the first half, and the game overall, was penalties. Ridgway was flagged 15 times for 138 yards compared to seven for 77 for the Raiders.
Brookville gave the Ridgway faithful cause for concern in the third quarter by scoring twice in two possessions while shutting down a Ridgway offense that moved the ball in the first two quarters.
Robert Keth scored both those touchdown — on a 2-yard run and 37-yard catch to make it a game at 28-14. But, the Ridgway defense did it things from there to help seal the victory.
Keth finished with eight grabs for 136 yards, while teammate Kyle MacBeth had four catches for 108 yards. Krug was 22 of 42 for 321 yards (281 in 2nd half) with the one TD and two picks.
Ridgway wraps up the regular season on the road Friday night against Union/A-C Valley.