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Stingy Redbank Valley Defense Is Smothering, Stifling Opponents This Season

NEW BETHLEHEM, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Call it “Gardlock Island.”

It’s not a pleasant destination for teams playing against Marquese Gardlock and the Redbank Valley football team.

(Photo by Madison McFarland)

In fact, most Bulldog opponents do everything they can to avoid that particular patch of gridiron real estate.

Gardlock, a senior cornerback, has yet to give up a completion to a player he is covering man-to-man this season. It’s one of the reasons why it’s so hard to score against Redbank Valley (6-1), which enters its final home game of the season against familiar foe Coudersport (3-3) Friday night giving up a paltry 6.5 points per game.

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Redbank Valley, Keystone, and Union/A-C Valley sports coverage on Explore and is brought to you by Heeter Lumber.

“Teams haven’t been throwing his way,” said Redbank Valley coach Blane Gold. “He’s also shadowing (the opposing) team’s best receiver. He has one interception, but there’s so many times when he has one-on-one matchups where he’s deflecting passes when they’re taking chances.”

With half the field effectively shut down, the Redbank defense has been taking care of business on the rest of the field with an experienced group up front and a linebacking corps mixed with old and new.

Joe Mansfield, a three-time all-state selection, has been wreaking havoc of late. With two quarterback sacks last week in a 49-6 win at Bucktail, the senior became the first player in Bulldog history with 30 career sacks. He now has 31.5 in his career.

Mansfield has 37 tackles — 16 for a loss — seven sacks, 13 hurries, four forced fumbles and a punt block this season.

“Joe’s not a one-trick pony,” Gold said. “His tackles for losses are way up. There’s times when I think Joe had an off night, then I look at the stat line and it’s something crazy like seven tackles, three TFLs, and a sack and blocked punt, a batted pass and five pressures. It’s almost like I’ve gotten spoiled. He’s obviously a special player.”

He’s not alone on Redbank Valley’s defense.

Sophomore Brandon Ross has five sacks as a defensive end on the other side from Mansfield and also has 12 tackles for a loss. Junior Zeldon Fisher leads the team in tackles at linebacker with 43 in his first season as a starter, and Ray Schreckengost and Kolby Barrett have gobbled up blockers in the interior of the defensive line.

And then there is the secondary — led by Gardlock — which has been difficult to throw against.

“We’ve had success stopping the run,” Gold said. “But one thing I look at is, if you look at the numbers that Brockway quarterback (Brayden Fox) is putting up — he’s having a really impressive year — we held that offense to 22 yards. In my mind, that was the most impressive performance we’ve had.”

Even the 6.5 points per game is a bit misleading.

In a 22-20 loss to Keystone in Week 1, the Panthers scored on two interception returns and a kick return for a touchdown. Redbank Valley’s first-team defense has given up just 12 points in seven games.

It’s helped a potent offense relax, knowing it doesn’t have to put up 30 points per game to win.

“You always look at the phrase where offense sells tickets and defense wins championships,” Gold said. “As long as we stay healthy, we can keep getting better.”

That’s a scary thought.

Coudersport comes in at 3-3, but the Falcons have won three of their last four after an 0-2 start.

They are fighting for their playoff lives.

“That makes them a dangerous team,” Gold said.

There’s history there.

Coudersport pummeled Redbank Valley twice in 2019, beating the Bulldogs 56-0 and 42-13. Last year, Redbank finally got the monkey off its back with a 28-12 win over the Falcons in the District 9 playoffs.

“We have a tremendous amount of respect for them because of the way they really thumped us two years ago,” Gold said. “Last year, getting that win in the playoffs, was kind of like exorcizing some demons for us.

“It’s Senior Night. It’s our last home game of the year,” Gold added. “So, it’s a big game for us. We have to ignore that 3-3 record.”

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Redbank Valley, Keystone, and Union/A-C Valley sports coverage on Explore and is brought to you by Heeter Lumber.

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