DUBOIS — If round one between Ridgway and Karns City was the anticipated defensive struggle, then round two was an unexpected shootout in the District 9 Class AA semifinal.
Ridgway outslugged the Gremlins, 34-27, in a game that featured 792 yards of total offense, 116 plays and just two punts between the two teams — a stark contrast from the 19-13 rock fight Ridgway won over KC in early October.
With the win, the Elkers (10-1) advance to their fourth consecutive District 9 championship. Ridgway has won in each of its previous three championship game appearances.
“My credit (goes to Karns City). They came to play today, and they’re a physical football team. We got away with one here today,” Ridgway head coach Mark Heindl said. “(Karns City) made us a better team.”
Indeed, the Elkers were pushed to the brink by the Gremlins once again. In the first game, it took a last-minute goal line stand to preserve a victory, and in the rematch, Ridgway had to withstand another late Gremlin rally to hang on.
After a scoreless first quarter, the teams traded scores to a 14-14 tie at halftime. Ridgway picked up touchdown runs from Matt Dush (25 yards) and Jake Wickett (seven yards), while Karns City scored on a one-yard Luke Garing run and 32-yard Anthony Kamenski pass to Kaden Scherer.
Kamenski’s pass to Scherer came with just 40 seconds remaining in the half.
The back-and-forth affair continued into the second half. In the third quarter, Wickett scored again, this time from nine yards out, and then Karns City answered with a two-yard Kamenski run. Kamenski finished with 87 yards passing and a touchdown, and added 165 yards rushing and a touchdown on the ground.
On the ensuing Elker drive, Dush caught a pass from Paul Gresco along the sidelines and made a pair of Karns City defenders miss en route to a 52-yard touchdown that put Ridgway up 28-20.
Dush finished the game with eight receptions for 166 yards and the receiving touchdown, and added 45 yards rushing and a score on the ground on seven carries.
Meanwhile, Gresco went 19-for-23 for 329 yards and two touchdowns.
Heindl says a scheme the Gremlins employed forced the Elkers to open up their passing game. The Ridgway offense that had averaged 231 yards per game on the ground was held to just 114 by Karns City. By contrast, Gresco’s 329 yards passing were more than double his season average of 154.5 yards per game.
“(Karns City) gave us a lot of the same schemes they did down in Karns City and it forced us to throw,” he said. “Paul did a great job, and he had great protection up front. The receivers ran some great routes, but Karns City took the run away for us at key times.”
In doing so, the Gremlins sacrificed pass defense over the middle, Heindl noted.
“Karns City took their safety out of the middle of the field, so it opened up some things for us,” he said.
And then after Dush’s score, Ridgway got the break it needed. Karns City drove the ball to the Ridgway 24 on its ensuing drive, but the Gremlins stalled out and turned the ball over on downs.
Ridgway made sure to capitalize, as the Elkers capped a 76-yard drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Gresco to Alex Bon on a fourth-and-four. The score put Ridgway up 34-20.
The Gremlins weren’t going to go down without a fight, though. Kamesnki drove Karns City down the field, and then Garing struck for his second touchdown of the day, this one from six-yards out, to draw KC to within 34-27.
On the ensuing onside kick, Karns City nearly came up with the football, and in fact a Gremlin came out of the pile with the ball. However, officials ruled Ridgway had established possession and went down before the ball popped back out.
Needing just a first down to put the game on ice, the Elkers ran three times. But Karns City forced a three-and-out and spent its final two timeouts to preserve about 40 seconds of game time.
But Ridgway’s defense stiffened up at the game’s most crucial moment. After giving up a first down, the Elkers recorded a sack to push the Gremlins back 12 yards, and more importantly for Ridgway, chew up significant amounts of time.
After spiking the ball with six seconds remaining in the game, Karns City attempted one final play, but gained just 12 yards as the clock expired.
“It was championship football. Karns City has some tough, hard-nosed kids, and they weren’t going to give in,” Heindl said. “To see what those kids did, you have to give credit to Karns City.”
Ridgway now moves on to the District 9 championship against Clarion, who defeated Kane 27-13 on Saturday night.
“We’re a step closer (to a fourth consecutive District championship,” Heindl said. “We punched our ticket, and there wasn’t a lot of people who gave us a chance after the Kane game. We’re excited, and we earned the right to be here right now. We’re going to enjoy this win.”
Karns City 0 14 6 7—27
Ridgway 0 14 14 6—34
First Downs: KC: 22, R: 19; Rushes/Yards Rushing: KC: 46-262, R: 31-114; Yards Passing: KC: 87, R: 329; Comp-Att-Int: KC: 6-14-0, R: 19-23-0; Penalties: KC: 4-30, R: 8-65; Fumbles-Lost: KC: 0-0, R: 1-0; Total Yards: KC: 349, R: 443 Offensive Plays: KC: 61, R: 55
Passing: KC: Anthony Kamenski: 6-14-87-1-0; R: Paul Gresco: 19-23-329-2-0
Rushing: KC: Hunter Rowe: 7-31, Luke Garing: 9-28-2, Anthony Kamenski: 25-165-1, Kaden Scherer: 5-38; R: Gabe Watts: 7-19, Jake Wickett: 8-35-2, Tyler Watts: 2-2, Matt Dush: 7-45-1, Paul Gresco: 4-13
Receiving: KC: Kaden Scherer: 6-108-1; R: Matt Dush: 8-166-1, Austin Green: 4-65, Gabe Watts: 1 (-2), Alex Bon: 4-54-1, Jake Wickett: 2-47
R: Matt Dush, 25-yard run (Paul Gresco PAT), 8:52
KC: Luke Garing, 1-yard run (Owen Collwell PAT), 5:24
R: Jake Wickett, 7-yard run (Gresco PAT), 2:02
KC: Kaden Scherer, 32-yard pass from Anthony Kamenski (Collwell PAT), 0:40
R: Wickett, 9-yard run (Gresco PAT), 9:04
KC: Kamenski, 2-yard run (2-pt run failed), 5:02
R: Dush, 52-yard pass from Gresco (Gresco PAT), 1:21
R: Alex Bon, 14-yard pass from Gresco (PAT failed), 4:04
KC: Garing, 6-yard run (Collwell PAT), 1:37