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Different Season: Keystone, Union/A-C Valley Kick Off Class A Playoffs After Facing Regular-Season Adversity

KNOX, Pa. (EYT/D9) — It’s been a long time since the Keystone football team has felt the joy of winning a playoff game.

The Panthers are determined to end that drought when they host Union/A-C Valley in the first round of the District 9 Class A playoffs on Friday night.

The last time Keystone won a postseason game was in 1989.

“I don’t really know if the number of years really is a motivational thing for our team,” said first-year Keystone coach Todd Smith. “They didn’t experience all that. I think they just want to win this game because they want to move on in the playoffs. That’s what motivates them.”

Both teams had to overcome adversity this season. Both teams had to run a difficult gauntlet through a new region alignment that stacked the schedule with tough opponent after tough opponent.

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

It was a slog, to say the least. Both Keystone and Union/A-C Valley felt the sting of that tough slate, namely in the injury department.

“All the teams that went into the playoffs are good teams,” Smith said. “Class A this year has been outstanding. (Union/A-C Valley) has a nice team and we have to be ready. If you’re not ready to play in the playoffs, then there’s something wrong.”

Smith said now that the difficult regular season is over, the tests his team took on a weekly basis may pay off now.

The Panthers (6-4) lost two games this season essentially on the final plays of the game. They also fell to No. 1 seed Port Allegany, 20-10, but led 10-8 deep into the second half.

“Boy, now that we’re through it, I think, yeah, it’s a benefit,” Smith said. “All the teams in our region were really good and it was difficult to get through it. But at this point, it’s a good thing. If you asked me this during it, I might have said something else.”

Keystone was ravaged by injuries during the heart of that schedule, losing starting quarterback Rayce Weaver to a season-ending elbow injury and also losing leading rusher Kyle Nellis to an ankle injury for several weeks.

Other players were hobbled.

Now, though, the Panthers are about as healthy as they have been.

“We weathered the storm with some injuries and some adversity and the kids have done a really nice job,” Smith said. “We’re able to get a home game and the kids are really excited about it. The community has been great. Really supportive of our team. We’re really happy to be able to have a playoff game in front of our home crowd.”

For Union/A-C Valley, the reset button has been pressed.

(Photo by Stephanie Crissman)

A somewhat disappointing, up-and-down 5-5 regular season is in the rearview mirror.

“Our records and 0-0,” said Union/A-C Valley coach Brad Dittman. “What we did throughout the season doesn’t matter — it matters, but it’s about playing good football right now, cleaning up the details we needed to clean up and working together as a team and a family.”

Union/A-C Valley has shown signs this season.

Brody Dittman has played well at quarterback in stretches and the line has begun to play better after some shuffling.

Defensively, the Falcon Knights have a wealth of talent, led by its anchor, senior defensive lineman Landon Chalmers.

“We have to match their intensity,” Dittman said of squaring off against Keystone. “It’s a home playoff game for them and they’re looking to prove a point.”

The two teams met in Week 2 with Keystone coming away with a 43-7 win.

“They embarrassed us the first time,” Dittman said. “We saw them eight weeks ago and we’ve moved some guys around since then. It comes down to playing fundamental football and eliminating the things that have killed us all season long, like putting drives together and not being able to finish them.”

Union/A-C Valley will have to deal with even more threats from Keystone this time around.

Back in Week 2, Aidan Sell still had a cast on his right arm and hand. He doesn’t have one now and the senior has turned into another key offensive cog at running back to augment the play of Nellis and Tyler Albright.

Sell has rushed for 418 yards on just 47 carries since converting to running back out of necessity.

“It’s a scary thing to think they found another weapon somewhere along the way,” Dittman said. “Coach Smith up there, he’s doing a heck of a job. They don’t make many mistakes and regardless of who is on the field for them, they play hard.”

Nellis cracked 1,000 yards on the season last week against Moniteau and has 16 touchdowns. Albright caught three touchdown passes last week against Moniteau from sophomore quarterback Drew Keth, who has improved each game since taking over for Weaver.

Smith is happy with where his team is right now, but he’s not taking too much stock in how his team performed against Union/A-C Valley two months ago.

“Both teams are different teams right now,” Smith said. “That first game doesn’t really mean anything. It’s a new season. Everybody’s 0-0 right now and they’ve done a really nice job since that game to turn their season around. I give them a lot of credit for what they’ve done.”

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