Bradford strives to keep pace with Ridgway tonight in Johnsonburg

Ridgway’s Jake Wickett hauls in a pass during the Elkers’ 25-21 loss to Kane. Ridgway hosts Bradford at Johnsonburg High School tonight. 


JOHNSONBURG — For Bradford, tonight’s game against Ridgway presents an opportunity to continue the signs of growth exhibited against Kane last week. For the Elkers, it’s a chance to keep the season’s momentum rolling in their quest for another District 9 Large School Division championship.

Ridgway enters tonight’s contest, which will be held at Johnsonburg High School, with a 2-1 record, and are fresh off a 42-7 shellacking of Moniteau. It was a nice rebound from Week 1’s 25-21 loss to Kane.

“I think that Kane game really woke up our kids and made them realize how important each game this season is,” Ridgway coach Mark Heindl said. “One thing (the kids) can’t control is time, and we’ve been preaching to our kids about it, and they’ve had a great two weeks of practice (since Kane).”

Bradford, meanwhile, has struggled to an 0-3 record which has seen the Owls kept off the scoreboard twice.

But in last week’s 47-6 loss to Kane, Bradford started showing a few signs of life, particularly in the first half. The Owls scored their first touchdown of the season, and also cut down on turnovers and penalties compared to games prior.

In fact, the Owls likely would have been able to stay in the game through the first half had special teams miscues not handed the Wolves a 33-6 advantage at the break.

But if Bradford is to keep that small bit of positivity going, head coach Jeff Puglio says the Owls will have to play with physicality while also managing to keep the turnovers and penalties at a minimum.

Ridgway’s always-staunch defense is giving up 12.67 points per game, in large part because of dominance in the trenches. The Elkers have recorded 17 tackles for loss and five sacks thus far.

“We know we’re going to have to match their physicality. They come after you,” Puglio said of the Elkers. “I thought we had some good signs this week, some signs of life. Then we fell back into some bad habits, too, but we were able to pull out of it… It’s up to our guys to decide if we want to go after (Ridgway) or not.”

Physicality has certainly been the name of the game for the balanced Ridgway offense, too. The Elkers average about 150 yards passing and 202.7 yards rushing per game, and Heindl says the offensive line is to thank.

“That balance is a credit to our offensive line. When we sustain blocks and get some protections, it allows us to do a lot of different things,” Heindl said. “After Week 1, we had some things to polish up, and our kids responded well last week against Moniteau, and we expect the same from them against Bradford.”

Along with battling in the trenches, Puglio says Bradford will need to tackle better against Ridgway if it wants to stay in the game.

“We haven’t tackled very well this year. That’s been obvious, and our guys know that,” he said. “We need to get after them, and one thing we really want to see is if we get one guy to wrap up, we want five or six more to get involved.

“Right now we’re watching and waiting for guys to make plays. We need to start attacking and have that aggressive mentality.”

That aggressive mentality will have to be shown early and often. Should the Owls have any hopes of pulling off the upset, a strong start like last week’s against Kane is of the utmost importance. That fact has weighed heavily on the minds of Ridgway, too.

“It’s very important for us to start fast, because Bradford is a dangerous football team,” Heindl said. “They don’t get enough credit… Week in, week out, they’re steadily improving in various phases, and our kids know you can’t let a team like that hang around.”

Tonight’s game kicks off at 7 p.m. at Johnsonburg, which merged with Ridgway as part of a co-op in 2014. The school will be celebrating its homecoming week, so the Elkers are expecting a packed house for their game.

“Anytime you get to play in the Paper City, it’s a special occasion,” Heindl said. “What’s unique about our co-op is our stands are packed whether it’s in Ridgway or Johnsonburg. With it being homecoming in Johnsonburg, a lot of people will be out. If our kids can play like they’ve practiced this week, it should be a good night.”

Here are predictions from elsewhere around the District:

Punxsutawney at St. Marys: First-year St. Marys head coach Chris Dworek has the 2-1 Flying Dutchmen headed in the right direction, while Punxsy is 0-3. ST. MARYS BY 20

Brockway at Kane: The Wolves have quickly asserted themselves as a premier team in D9’s Large School Division, while the 0-3 Rovers are struggling. KANE BY 25

Elk County Catholic at Port Allegany: Both teams are suffering from injuries, as ECC is down to 16 players while Port A is without its star running back Josh Rees. Still, the Crusaders have shown they can hang tough with anybody. ELK CATHOLIC BY 10.

Otto-Eldred at Union/A-C Valley: The Terrors broke into the win column last week and got some momentum, but Union/A-C Valley will be too much for O-E. UNION/A-C VALLEY BY 14.

Curwensville at Smethport: The Hubbers are off to another 2-0 start, while Curwensville hasn’t shown it can run with the better teams in the Small School Division. SMETHPORT BY 17.

Sheffield at Redbank Valley: Redbank Valley will be in contention for the Small School Division title this year, while Sheffield’s struggles haven’t relented. REDBANK VALLEY BY 30.

Clarion at Brookville: It’s the premier matchup of the week, as each team enters with a 3-0 record. Brookville’s high octane offense will keep the Raiders in it, but expect Clarion to eventually pull away. CLARION BY 13.