NEW BETHLEHEM, Pa. – In a game that was a defensive struggle from start to finish, Redbank Valley scored a third quarter touchdown that gave them the lead for good, as the Bulldogs defeated Union/ A-C Valley by a 10-7 score line.
The lone score of the first half was a Redbank Valley safety, and the two teams exchanged third quarter touchdowns for the only points of the second half.
The Redbank Valley defense was tenacious all night making key tackles and big stops in clutch situations. Dalton Bish made a big impact in the secondary, while Kobe Bonanno plugged up holes and cut off running lanes in the trenches. Union/A-C Valley’s defense was equally stingy, forcing two fumbles and blocking a punt on special teams.
Gunner Mangiantini led the way for Redbank Valley’s offense, rushing for 39 yards while throwing for 71 yards and a touchdown. Trenten Rupp had two big catches for 28 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown grab. Tanner Merwin threw for 152 yards and a touchdown for the Falcon Knights. Karter Vogle had four catches for 84 yards and a touchdown, and Caden Rainey added six catches for 51 yards.
The first half was defined by defense and vital turnovers. After the first four drives of the game yielded little offensive opportunity, Redbank Valley drove deep into Union/A-C Valley territory. On a third and long situation from Union/A-C Valley’s 28-yard line, Gunner Mangiantini broke free for a big gain, but fumbled the football. The Falcon Knights recovered the fumble, giving them possession inside their own five-yard line. Another series of defensive standoffs ensued, as both teams tried and failed to establish their ground game. The Falcon Knights scored their second turnover of the night, pouncing on an errant backwards pass. Union/A-C Valley was unable to turn the turnover into points, as the Bulldog defense forced another three-and-out.
After the Bulldogs’ drive fizzled out, a well-executed punt by Hudson Martz pinned the Falcon Knights inside their own ten yard line. There, the Bulldogs busted through the line and forced a big sack on the goal line. After some debate, the officials correctly ruled the sack a safety, giving Redbank Valley a 2-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
The Falcon Knights had a chance to respond at the end of the quarter, using a mix of passes and runs to get inside the Bulldogs ten yard line. In crunch time, the Bulldogs’ defense stood firm, stopping Union/A-C Valley on fourth down from the five yard line to end the half.
The second half brought some early excitement, as the Falcon Knights passing game found some rhythm. Merwin connected with Vogle on a long pass to enter Redbank Valley territory, and four plays later, the pair connected again down the sidelines for a 29-yard touchdown. A successful PAT put the Falcon Knights up 7-2 early in the third quarter.
Not to be outdone, Redbank Valley embarked on a long drive of their own. Mangiantini was the focal point of the offense, gaining yards on the ground and through the air. On a third and four from Union/A-C Valley’s 22 yard line, Mangiantini hooked up with Rupp on a slant for a touchdown. Mangiantini found Marquese Gardlock to convert the two-point opportunity, giving the Bulldogs a 10-7 lead.
The third quarter ended after the Falcon Knights failed to capitalize on a long drive, turning the ball over on downs deep in Bulldogs territory. Redbank Valley’s Dalton Bish made several key defensive plays on the drive, preventing Merwin from hooking up with his favored target, Caden Rainey. “[Rainey] is a baller,” said Redbank Valley coach Blane Gold, who praised Bish’s defensive work in key situations: “When it came to the big moments, [Bish] was right there.”
The fourth quarter was all about field position, as the Bulldogs kept pinning the Falcon Knights deep in their own territory. Needing a touchdown or field goal to get back in the game, Union/A-C Valley struggled to move the chains, registering two consecutive three and outs. Redbank Valley’s defensive line was beastly in the fourth quarter, with Kobe Bonanno leading the charge. “Kobe Bonanno is a weapon,” said Gold. “To have a guy with his athleticism and instincts that weighs 270 pounds is special.”
With just under 2:00 left in the game, Union/A-C Valley took possession of the football on their own seven yard line, needing to go the length of the field to tie or win the game. Despite getting a first down, the clock ran out on the Falcon Knights before they could enter Bulldogs’ territory, sealing Redbank Valley’s 10-7 victory.
The Bulldogs’ team motto is “F1n1sh,” with the two 1’s representing the fact that Redbank Valley lead last year’s district title game (which ended in defeat) with 11:00 left. Coach Gold believed his squad lived up to their motto down the stretch: “We’ve been preaching forever to finish, and that’s what [we] did tonight.” Redbank Valley’s strong finish boosts them to a perfect 3-0 on the season, while Union/A-C Valley drops to 3-1.
The Bulldogs have another big game next week, facing off against Keystone in a game that Gold described as a “dogfight.” The game has playoff implications for both teams, and will take place at Keystone on October 9 at 7:00. Union/A-C Valley will play non-conference opponent South Side next Friday in Hookstown, PA.
Catch the full media interview with Redbank Valley head coach Blane Gold below: