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D9 Class 2A Football Championship Game Preview: Ridgway Goes for Four Straight vs. Clarion

DUBOIS, Pa. – When top-seeded Ridgway meets second-seeded Clarion in the District 9 Class 2A football title game at 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, at E.J. Mansell Stadium in DuBois it will pit five school districts that are used to making title-game appearances.

(Ridgway and Clarion clash for the District 9 Class 2A football title at 6 p.m. Saturday in DuBois. Graphic by Jared Bakaysa of JB Graphics. See more of Bakaysa’s work here)

Clarion, which is made up of a co-op between Clarion, Clarion-Limestone and North Clarion is making its 14th trip to the District 9 title game, while Ridgway, which is made up of a co-op with Johnsonburg, is making its sixth appearance.

But when you add in the number of D9 title-game appearances by C-L (eight as a stand-alone football-playing school) and Johnsonburg (two as a stand-alone football-playing school) – North Clarion has never played football by itself – you end up with at least one of these school districts having been in 23 District 9 football title games with the title game now in its 32nd year of existence (in some years multiple schools were in the championship game) or in nearly 72 percent of all years that a championship game has been played.

This is a rematch of a regular-season contest played Oct. 4 that was all Ridgway (10-1), as the Elkers rolled to a 42-0 win over Clarion (10-1) handing the Bobcats their lone loss of the season.

In the game, the defending Class 2A champions, who are looking for their fourth straight District 9 title after winning Class 1A titles in 2016 and 2017, held Clarion to 289 yards of offense while outgaining Clarion 445 to 289 including raking up 315 yards on the ground.

Jake Wickett and Gabe Watts each scored twice for the Elkers with Wickett rushing 10 times for 150 yards and two scores and Watts chipping 13 carries for 68 yards and two scores.

Paul Gresco also was 8 of 10 passing for 130 yards and a touchdown while rushing for a score as well. Matt Dush caught the touchdown pass and had four catches for 61 yards while adding two carries for 82 yards.

Clarion played the game without running back Austin Newcomb and was led by Colton Zacherl’s 18 carries for 110 yards – Zacherl is out for the season with a knee injury but Newcomb is supposed to be back Saturday after leaving the semifinal game against Kane in the first half.

Cutter Boggess added 10 carries for 81 yards and three catches for 68 yards in the loss with Cal German going 8 of 21 passing for 106 yards.

Gresco has been as close to perfect as a quarterback can be this year for Ridgway completing 72.5 percent (116 of 160) of his passes for 1,882 yards, 16 touchdowns and just four interceptions.

He spreads the ball around between Dush (38 catches, 644 yards, 4 TDs), Wickett (24 catches, 401 yards, 4 TDs) and Austin Green (27 catches, 488 yards, 6 TDs).

Likewise, the Elkers run game is one by committee with four runners gaining at least 400 yards led by Watts’ 551 on 78 carries with 10 touchdowns.

Wickett has scored a team-high 11 times on the ground while carrying the ball a team-high 85 times for 543 yards with Dush adding 57 carries for 503 yards and seven touchdowns and Tyler Watts chipping in 58 carries for 422 yards and two scores.

As a team, Ridgway averages 220.8 yards per game on the ground and 173.8 yards per game through the air.

Clarion also has enjoyed balance on offense averaging 259.2 yards per contest on the ground and 179.6 through the air.

Despite playing in just nine games – and missing time in two of those – Newcomb still leads Clarion on the ground with 121 carries for 1,209 yards and 21 touchdowns while also catching eight passes for 201 yards and three scores.

Boggess added 591 yards and three scores on the ground on 86 carries and has caught 22 passes for 484 yards and three scores.

Sophomores Breckin Rex (21 carries, 312 yards, 3 TDs) and Cooper Shall (16 carries, 146 yards, 1 TD) saw a lot of action in the second half last week after Newcomb went out with Shall carrying the ball seven times for 51 yards.

Junior quarterback Cal German went over the 2,000-yard passing mark in the win last week and is 86 of 153 (56.2 percent) for 2,087 yards, 28 touchdowns and four interceptions.

German’s favorite receiver is Ethan Burford, who went over 1,000 yards receiving last week and has 1,139 yards and 17 touchdowns on just 35 catches meaning he scores nearly once every two times he touches the ball.

Hunter Craddick adds nine catches for 188 yards and five touchdowns, including one last week, for the Bobcats.

Both of these teams are strong on defense with Ridgway giving up 117 points on the year, although Karns City did score a season-high 27 on the Elkers last week, while Clarion has given up 156 – although all 13 last week were scored by Kane’s special teams and defense.

Robert Briggs leads the Ridgway defense averaging 10.7 tackles per game while Greg Simon adds 7.3 stops per contest, Damon Kelley 6.6, Gabe Watts 6.5 and Wickett 5.5.

Watts (23 tackles for a loss) and Kelley (17 tackles for a loss) blow up plays in the backfield. Twelve of Watt’s TFLs are sacks, while Kelley has 8.5 sacks.

Wickett (3), Kelley (2), Green (2) and Jack Cowan (2) are a big reason Ridgway has picked off 13 passes this season.

Clarion’s defense is paced by Boggess’s 8.4 tackles per game with Ben Smith adding 7.7 and Kyle Bottaro and Newcomb seven each. Also in on the stop game is Craddock with 6.5, Mitch Knepp with 6.3 and Kaoz Baker with 5.6.

Craddock had a team-high eight sacks going into last week’s contest with Kane with Knepp adding 5.5, while Newcomb has picked off a team-high three passes followed by two for Smith.

The winner plays the winner of the Wilmington vs. Chestnut Ridge game in the PIAA quarterfinals next week.

NOTES – Ridgway is trying to become the second District 9 team to ever win four straight District 9 football titles joining Karns City, which won six in a row between 2012-2017 including four in Class 2A (2012-15) and two in Class 3A (2016-17) … Clarion head coach Larry Wiser is looking for win No. 234. He is 233-100-1 in his 32nd season at the helm of the Bobcats (he took the 2010 season off) … Mark Heindl is 73-58 in his 12th season at Ridgway but is 40-10 in the past four years including 21-3 the last two seasons … Clarion won District 9 Class 1A titles in 1997, 2009 and 2013 and a Class 2A crown in 2017 … The Bobcats were 1A runners-up in 1987 (to Johnsonburg), 1990 (to Clarion-Limestone), 1999 (to Cameron County), 2000 (to Curwensville), 2005 (to Coudersport), 2008 (to Cameron County), 2011 (to Port Allegany) and 2012 (to Port Allegany) and finished second to Kane in Class 2A in 2017 … Clarion-Limestone won District 9 Class 1A titles in 1990 (over Clarion), in 1993 (over Ridgway), in 2002 and in 2003. The Lions were D9 1A runners-up in 1991 (to Smethport), 1992 (to Smethport), 1998 (to Smethport) and 2004 (to Curwensville) … Ridgway won the D9 1A title in 1989 (over Johnsonburg), 2016 and 2017 and won the Class 2A title in 2018. The Elkers were runners-up in 1993 to C-L … Johnsonburg won the District 9 1A title in 1987 (over Clarion) and finished as runners-up in 1989 (to Ridgway) and 1996 (to Smethport) … Ridgway has won its last four District 9 playoff games by a combined 24 points including 34-27 over Karns City last week, 14-7 over Brockway in the 2018 2A title game, 15-7 over Moniteau in the Class 2A semifinals in 2018 and 9-7 over Curwensville in the 2017 Class 1A title game … In the past two seasons, Ridgway has beaten Clarion by a combined score of 60-15 having topped the Bobcats, 28-15, in the 2018 regular season.

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