NEW BETHLEHEM, Pa. (EYT/D9) — The hunter now becomes the hunted.
There’s a different vibe on the banks of the Redbank Creek as the quarterback’s cadence rises into the humid, late-summer air.
There’s confidence, sure. Why shouldn’t the Redbank Valley football team have a little swagger after going 7-1, avenging lopsided losses to Coundersport by beating the Falcons in the District 9 Class A title game and snagging a state playoff victory to boot before falling in the quarterfinals?
(Photos by Shelly Atzeni)
But there’s also that unease that goes with being on top. There’s one eye glancing over a shoulder pad, knowing now that every Class A team in the district will be gunning for the Bulldogs.
“If you would have talked to us last year, we would have mentioned that the purple and white of Coudersport was who we were chasing,” said Redbank Valley coach Blane Gold. “They were back-to-back champs. We got to the district championship game two years ago and they throttled us.
“The role is reversed now. (We) have the target on our backs now. That can be heavier than what we did last year.”
The Bulldogs are very cognizant of that fact and Gold has preached on an almost daily basis since the final whistle of the dream 2020 season that no one is going to care that Redbank Valley is the defending champion.
Gold has also beat the drum that if Redbank is to repeat, the Bulldogs are going to have to do everything even better this season.
“Every single day in practice, every single day in the weight room we have to do more because we’re going to get the best from every team on Friday night,” Gold said.
The players are listening.
To a man, they know nothing is going to be handed to them in 2021. If anything, Friday nights are going to be an even bigger grind with teams treating a clash with the Bulldogs like their Super Bowl.
They’re prepared for those rigors.
“Living up to the expectation, I think, is going to motivate us more,” said senior quarterback Gunner Mangiantini. “We know how good we are. We’re ready to prove it.”
Redbank Valley is a big favorite to repeat as Class A champion because of the wealth of talent on the roster. It’s difficult to find a more eclectic group of playmakers at any level, let alone in Class A.
In camp, there’s a three-headed quarterback battle between Mangiantini, junior Cam Wagner and senior Bryson Bain, who just joined the team this season.
“Competition is a good thing,” Gold said.
Mangiantini threw for 494 yards and eight touchdowns last season before an injury ended his campaign. Wagner stepped in and didn’t miss a beat, passing for 409 yards and eight TDs himself. Wagner led the Bulldogs to a win over Northern Bedford, 28-15, in the state playoffs before Redbank’s run ended in a narrow loss to Reynolds.
Mangiantini was just finally cleared in early August.
“It’s a tough situation for Gunner because he’s never really had a chance to improve his game,” Gold said. “He’s had season-ending injuries each of the two years he was a starter. He’s a guy who doesn’t shy away from competition, either.”
Whoever ends up running the show at quarterback, they’ll have plenty of options.
Redbank had five players catch 12 or more passes last season and three of them return in Marquese Gardlock, Tate Minich and Chris Marshall.
Gardlock led the team with 270 receiving yards on 17 receptions. Marshall caught 14 passes for 206 yards and five touchdowns and Minich had 15 receptions.
Gardlock and Marshall are both big targets; Gardlock is 6-foot-4, Marshall 6-3.
“Our skills this year, they are the best we’ve ever seen at Redbank,” said senior guard Kolby Barrett. “That’s something you don’t see too often in a single-A school. That’s why expectations are super high because of the talent on our team.”
Leading rusher Ray Schreckengost also returns.
Barrett is a four-year starter and anchor on an offensive line. Kade Minnick, Anthony McGuire, Carsen Rupp and Christian Clinger, among others, figure to play a big role up front.
(Redbank Valley senior offensive lineman Kolby Barrett)
“That’s where it’s at and that was our weakest spot last year. They started to play well during the playoff run,” Gold said. “Kolby Barrett is a four-year starter and there’s a lot of pressure on him because of the expectations we have. He should be in the discussion for lineman of the year.
Those big receivers will also play a big role on defense this year.
Marshall will move from corner to safety and has already shown signs of brilliance in camp with a one-handed interception that got a lot of buzz on social media.
“We’re really excited for Chris moving from corner to safety and putting Tate Minich at corner,” Gold said. “Chris has more of a ballhawk ability.”
Of course, the secondary’s job is made easier by the pass rush Redbank generates.
Three-time all-state selection, senior Joe Mansfield, is back to terrorize opposing quarterbacks. “Cheat Code,” as he’s called, can be virtually unblockable at times with his blend of speed, quickness and moves to get to the passer.
“We have a good defense this year,” Mansfield said. “I think it’ll be a good year for all of us.”
Last year was certainly a good year for all of the Bulldogs with their first district crown in 24 years. If they want to go back-to-back they’ll have to deal with the large target on the back of their new jerseys.
“We all know what we can do and what we’re capable of doing,” Barrett said. “Our biggest problem this year is we have to make sure to stay together as a team, and I think we can do big things.”
COACH: Blane Gold
LAST YEAR: 7-1, District 9 Class A champions. Won a state playoff game before falling in the quarterfinals.
STRENGTHS: The Bulldogs’ roster is loaded with talent on both sides of the ball. The offense has playmakers everywhere and there’s a fierce three-way quarterback battle in camp. … The defense is also formidable with Mansfield leading the way as a difference-maker and disruptor on the defensive line. Mansfield is a three-time all-state selection. … The secondary is also stout with Marshall, Gardlock and Minich capable of shutting down passing attacks.
WEAKNESSES: It’s difficult to find a glaring one. Last year, the offensive line struggled at times, but even that area looks improved in 2021. … Enormous expectations may be the Bulldogs’ biggest issue, that and the fact every team they square off against will be gunning for them.
OUTLOOK: Redbank is the clear favorite to win another District 9 championship.
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