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OH SO CLOSE: Redbank Valley Falls to Fort Cherry, 33-23, in PIAA Class A Semifinals

FARRELL, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Brandon Ross greeted his Redbank Valley football teammates after the game, giving a pat to the shoulder pad, a tap on the crown of the helmet.

“No crying,” the senior captain and standout offensive and defensive lineman said. “No crying.”

No reason, too, even after a tough 33-23 loss to undefeated District 7 Class A champion Fort Cherry in the PIAA semifinals at Farrell High School on a damp and foggy Friday night.

No reason because of what Ross, the senior class and the Bulldogs have accomplished over the past four seasons.

(Pictured above, Redbank Valley’s Brandon Ross greets his teammates after the hard-fought loss to Fort Cherry)

Redbank Valley came oh so close again to advancing to the PIAA championship game, as they did in 2021.

But there was just too much Matt Sieg.

After holding the Fort Cherry star sophomore quarterback to 71 yards rushing in the first half, Sieg found running room a lot more plentiful in the second half thanks to a combination of adjustments and fatigue by the Redbank Valley defense, which had the chase the strong and quick runner all over the field all night.

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Sieg finished with 256 yards on 33 rushes and four touchdowns to carry the Rangers past the Bulldogs and into the state title game.

“We obviously had a hard time tackling,” said Redbank Valley coach Blane Gold. “That kid is a phenomenal runner and a runner we have not seen up to that stature this year.”

While it took Sieg a bit to get going, Redbank Valley hit the new turf at Farrell High School running.

Ashton Kahle caught a contested pass over the middle from Braylon Wagner and sprinted into the end zone for a 34-yard touchdown on the Bulldogs’ opening drive for a 6-0 lead following a blocked extra point.

It was just the kind of start Redbank was looking for.

But Fort Cherry responded with an 11-play, 65-yard drive, capped by a 2-yard run by Sieg, for a 7-6 lead with 4:49 left in the first quarter.

It looked like it was going to be an offensive show.

Both defenses had other ideas.

The score stayed that way until Owen Clouse hit a line-drive 33-yard field goal with 2:06 remaining in the first half to put the Redbank up, 9-7.

The Bulldogs then turned the Rangers away on two late drives to keep it that way heading into the break.

(Redbank Valley sophomore quarterback Braylon Wagner reflects on the field after the tough loss)

“We knew it was going to be an absolute dogfight,” Gold said. “When you get to this level, you’re not blowing teams out. I think both of these offenses came in averaging in the mid-40s points per game and it was an absolute dogfight until the end.”

For Fort Cherry, it was an uneven first half of play. That was the main topic in the locker room at halftime, Sieg said.

“We just played sloppy football in the first half,” said Sieg, who also added 147 yards passing. “We had a lot of dumb penalties and didn’t execute very well. We knew we had to clean it up in the second half and we’d be fine.”

Fort Cherry (15-0) also made a key adjustment at the half.

The Rangers began using their other 1,000-yard running back, Ethan Faletto, on jet motions, either giving him the ball or having Sieg fake and run it himself.

What it did was keep the swarming, aggressive and fast Redbank defense in place just a beat longer, opening up some better running lanes for both ballcarriers.

“They did a great job with adjusting to that,” Gold said. “That was something we didn’t see in the previous two games on tape. Unfortunately, it took us a series to adjust to that.”

Gold lamented two big opportunities in the second half that didn’t go Redbank’s way.

After Fort Cherry used that adjustment to drive down the field for a score on a 5-yard run by Faletto to take a 13-9 lead, when the Rangers got the ball back, they fumbled twice on botched handoffs on the jet motion.

Both times, Fort Cherry recovered to avoid disaster deep in its own end.

Gold was hoping one of those miscues could have turned the tide like the Chris Marshall 98-yard interception return for a touchdown did two years ago against Bishop Canevin in the semifinals that helped Redbank move on to the state championship game.

It just didn’t come this time around.

“The two thing that really stick out is — it wasn’t anything we did — but they had that one drive where they put the ball on the ground twice,” Gold said, slightly shaking his head. “Sometimes you need some magic to happen. Sometimes you need a Chris Marshall pick-6. We just didn’t get the bounce.”

Still, Redbank Valley overcame the shift in momentum and seized some of its down.

Wagner hit Kahle in stride with a perfect pass for a 68-yard touchdown in the third quarter to give the Bulldogs a 16-13 lead.

Wagner finished 17-of-36 for 299 yards and three touchdowns. Kahle caught six passes for 137 and two scores.

Fort Cherry, though, was resilient, scoring on a 1-yard run by Sieg after his 32-yard carry set it up, to give the Rangers the lead for good at 20-16.

Sieg scored again on a 20-yard run with 4:35 remaining in the fourth to push the advantage to 26-16.

(Redbank Valley coach Blane Gold talks with his team after the game)

But with its back against the wall, Redbank Valley went 68 yards in six plays, scoring on a 31-yard pass from Wagner to Owen Clouse to trim the lead to 26-23 with 2:29 on the clock.

Owen Clouse, a senior, was playing his first game at wide receiver. He ended up with four catches for 87 yards.

“Credit to that kid for stepping in when we needed a body in there,” Gold said.

A penalty for roughing the passer on the touchdown gave the Bulldogs a golden opportunity on the ensuing kickoff, but Fort Cherry recovered the onside kick attempt.

Sieg then took over, grinding out a first down before bursting left, turning the corner and cruising 37 yards to put the game out of reach and send Fort Cherry to its first state championship game.

“It means the world,” Sieg said. “Not just for me, but for the team and for this community. Look at the crowd we had tonight. It was amazing. The stands were packed. It’s just special to bring this to the community.”

Few communities are as tight as New Bethlehem and few teams became as tight as the Bulldogs.

After the loss, the seniors lined up and were met by a procession of underclassmen and coaches, each giving thanks for what they have meant to the program.

“The winningest class in the history of our program,” Gold said. “Three district titles. A (41-7) record. They hung banners. It was a pretty phenomenal group. They took the program to new heights and I think they really put a lot of respect in the name of this program across the state.”

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