DUBOIS, Pa. – Rematches from the regular season have become the trend in District 9 football since the KSAC and the AML came together a year ago to reorganize the look of District 9 football with the D9 Football League.
(The Coudersport Falcons and Redbank Valley Bulldogs square off Saturday for the D9 Class 1A Championship at DuBois’ E.J. Mansell Stadium. Coudersport routed Redbank Valley, 56-0, in their regular-season meeting. Graphic by Jared Bakaysa of JB Graphics. See more of Bakaysa’s work here)
And that hasn’t changed this year, as Coudersport and Redbank Valley will rematch in the District 9 Class 1A championship game at 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, at E.J. Mansell Stadium in DuBois. The game will be broadcast on D9Sports.com and exploreClarion.com.
The main question is can the second-seeded Bulldogs (9-2) flip the script from an Oct. 12 trip to Coudersport that saw the top-seeded Falcons (10-0) dominate with a 56-0 victory.
Recent history might be on Redbank Valley’s side, as team’s that lost the regular-season matchup have gone 6-3 in postseason play since the start of last year’s playoffs, thanks in large part to Coudersport flipping the script three times last year on its way to its first D9 title since 2006.
Redbank Valley flipped a result a week ago when it used defense and special teams to beat Union/A-C Valley, 32-6, just a couple of weeks after the Bulldogs had lost to the Falcon Knights.
Coudersport managed to avoid the upset a week ago using a strong second half to beat Smethport, 35-6, a team it had also beaten during the regular season. The Falcons and Hubbers were tied at six until deep into the first half before Coudersport took a 12-6 halftime lead.
Looking back at the first meeting this season between Coudersport and Redbank Valley, both teams entered the game unbeaten but it was all Falcons.
• Coudersport led 36-0 and set the Mercy Rule’s running clock into motion four plays into the second half and outgained the Bulldogs, 373-83.
• Redbank Valley, in 14 possessions, managed just four offensive snaps in Coudersport territory.
• Falcons quarterback Hayden Keck and running back Travis Gleason ran for 111 and 108 yards respectively with Keck running the option offense to near perfection.
• Two plays after the Falcons made it 36-0, Bulldogs quarterback Gunner Mangiantini suffered a season-ending broken collarbone injury.
The results since that game have been a mixed bag for Redbank Valley with the Bulldogs losing for a second week in a row, 28-6, to Union/A-C Valley the following week that sent the squad into a three-way tie for the D9 League Small School Division title with the Falcon Knights and Keystone.
But Redbank Valley recovered, obviously, blowing out Punxsutawney in its regular-season finale, and then, after a week off, using a pair of pick-6s (Sam Hetrick and Joe Mansfield), a blocked punt that set the Bulldogs up inside the 15-yard line and a fumble recovery that set them up inside the 10-yard line to beat Union/A-C Valley in the semifinals.
Coudersport hasn’t stopped rolling, allowing just five touchdowns and 32 points all season with six shutouts while owning a pair of wins over Smethport and a victory over Cameron County since the Redbank Valley regular-season win. The Falcons limited Smethport to 45 yards of offense and just minus-5 yards on the ground in last week’s victory.
The Falcons haven’t lost to a District 9 team since the end of last year’s regular-season — a 41-27 loss to the Bulldogs and a 21-20 loss to Smethport that decided the Small School North champion. The streak now stands at 13 in a row counting last year’s postseason run with wins over Redbank Valley, Clarion-Limestone and Smethport in the final.
Coudersport averages 297 yards rushing per game and Travis Gleason (141-1,178, 19 TDs) and Keck (109-725, 13 TDs) account for most of that. Brandt Kightlinger is up to 248 yards and six TDs on 32 carries.
Gleason missed last week’s game with an injury and his status is uncertain for this week. Kightlinger ran for 100 yards on 12 carries against the Hubbers while Keck ran for 104 yards on 16 carries with three touchdowns. He also threw a TD pass to John Minor, finishing with 47 yards on 3-for-5 passing.
Throwing just 49 passes this year, Keck has completed 29 of them for 764 yards and six touchdowns against just two interceptions. Minor has 10 catches for 318 yards and four TDs.
For the Falcons’ stingy defense, linebacker Kolby VanWhy was the Small North Defensive MVP. Cale Ayers, the Offensive Lineman of the Year and another key defensive lineman with Kightlinger, Minor at cornerback and Keck with his team-high four interceptions in the secondary, are other key contributors. Thomas Wilson, who also missed last week’s game with Gleason, was leading the team in tackles per game.
Redbank Valley averages 32.1 points per game while giving up 14.9 points. They’re also averaging 324 yards of offense — 213 rushing and 111 passing per game.
Freshman Cam Wagner, who replaced Mangiantini at quarterback, has completed 37 of 77 passes for 421 yards with six TDs and two interceptions, most of that since Mangiantini’s injury.
Ray Shreckengost (110-738, 10 TDs), Kobe Bonanno (62-425, 9 TDs) and Hudson Martz (67-391, 6 TDs) are the leading rushers.
Wagner’s primary receiving targets are Ethan Hetrick (26-431, 4 TDs), Sam Hetrick (22-332, 6 TDs) and Javin Brentzel (28-185, 1 TDs).
Defensively, the Bulldogs are led by their Small School South Defensive Lineman of the Year Ethan Hetrick (48 tackles, 13.5 sacks), and fellow all-conference defensive end Mansfield (team-high 74 tackles, 10 sacks) and linebacker Chase Bish (56 tackles). Sam Hetrick, at defensive back, leads the team with five interceptions.
NOTES: The District 9 champion meets either District 10 champion Farrell or D5’s Tussey Mountain in next week’s PIAA quarterfinal round. Those teams meet Saturday at Slippery Rock University starting at 1 p.m. … Last year, Coudersport lost 58-6 to Farrell in the quarterfinals. The Steelers went on to win the state title, beating Lackawanna Trail 55-20. … Coudersport is seeking its second straight title and sixth overall with other championships coming in 1994, 2001, 2005, 2006 and last year. The Falcons lost in the finals in 1988, 1990 and 2009. In its 20th season of going to the playoffs since 1988, the Falcons own a D9 playoff record of 21-14. They are 1-1 against the Bulldogs in the postseason, winning last year and losing to the Bulldogs 24-16 in 2015. … Redbank Valley is playing in its 21st season of the district playoffs since 1992 and owns an 11-18 record. The Bulldogs won titles in 1992 and 1996, advancing to the PIAA Class 2A playoffs in 1991 without playing in a district playoff game. They lost in championship games in 1994, 1995, 2004 and 2013.
Editor’s note: The Ridgway vs. Clarion preview will be posted Friday night