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PREVIEW: Redbank Valley Turning the Page on Last Year’s Magical Story, Hoping to Write New Chapter in 2022

NEW BETHLEHEM, Pa. (EYT/D9) — As they walked off the field at Hersheypark Stadium on a crisp December afternoon, members of the Redbank Valley football team felt the sting of defeat.

(Above, from left: Carsen Rupp, Cam Wagner, head coach Blane Gold, Aiden Ortz and Tate Minich.)

Even though the campaign ended with a loss, it was a season full of memorable plays and authoritative victories. It was a dream year that doesn’t come along very often.

The Bulldogs went 13-2 and reached the PIAA Class A championship game, falling by a touchdown to Bishop Guilfoyle.

Just to get there, Redbank had to pull of a major upset, a 23-14 win over District 7 power Bishop Canevin. Of the 525 victories in school history, dating back 100 years to the New Bethlehem High School days, it may have been the biggest.

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

But it’s a new season. That somber walk off the state championship field is replaced with confident strides to the practice field for the returning players. They are determined to at least try to recreate the magic of 2021.

In their minds, however, they know this is a new year, a new season, a new team.

“It was pretty special — it was a once-in-a-lifetime year last year,” said senior Cole Bish. “We’re not really looking to recreate it. We’ve definitely moved on and are ready to write our own story this year.”

That story will have some new protagonists. Many of the leads from last year’s production — some best actors in the history of the program — are gone to graduation.

Quarterback Bryon Bain and his 30 touchdown passes is at Indiana University of Pennsylvania to play baseball; Joe Mansfield, a terror at defensive end, has taken his relentlessness to Westminster College; Wide receiver and defensive back Marquese Gardlock is at California University of Pennsylvania. Chris Marshall, Gunner Mangiantini, Bo Shreckengost, Kolby Barrett, Tyson Adams and the other seniors on the roster last season must also be replaced.

There’s a lot of talent back, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Understudy Cam Wagner gets his chance to star at quarterback. He showed his ability in the past, winning playoff games in relief of Mangiantini in two separate seasons.

The senior takes the reins of an attack that has a stable of quick wide receivers who made their own impact a year ago.

Guys like Tate Minich, who had 41 receptions for 530 yards; Aidan Ortz, who added 26 catches for 319 yards; and Ashton Kahle, who hauled in 13 passes for 166 yards.

They are all fast and lightning quick.

Redbank Valley coach Blane Gold thinks the offense could be even more potent than a year ago.

Scary thought.

Gold, like his players, is trying not to measure everything by 2021 standards.

“We made some memories last year. We’re going to remember it for the rest of our lives,” Gold said. “I’m not gonna lie. When people reference us beating the WPIAL champs, it still puts a smile on my face. But these guys are hungry. Now it’s time to put all that away. It’s time to put everything from last season away because none of that matters now.”

There are more questions on defense, where there are some very big shoes to fill.

Mansfield graduated with 35 career quarterback sacks, 36 hurries, 241 tackles — 59.5 for a loss — nine forced fumbles, eight fumble recoveries and even three blocked punts.

Gardlock was a shutdown corner who teams rarely tested. Marshall was a safety who made arguably the biggest play in the 100 year history of the program when he returned an interception 98 yards for a score against Bishop Canevin in the state semifinal to key the comeback win.

“For three years, we basically didn’t have to worry about one half of the field because Joe was over there,” Gold said. “The first thing that we do is we always make sure that we have one really good athlete, possibly our best and most physical athlete, at defensive end.”

This year, that’s Brandon Ross.

The junior was a good bookend to Mansfield last year with 64 tackles — 17 for a loss — and 6.5 sacks.

Ross said he worked hard this offseason to get even bigger, strong and faster. He wants to wreck havoc.

“I’ve been ready since the end of the state championship game,” Ross said.

Sophomore Broc Monrean will be the other defensive end. He has a chance to be another up-and-coming defender for Redbank.

“He was kind of a tall and lanky linebacker, but he is a guy who worked really hard in the weight room,” Gold said.

The Bulldogs have question marks at linebacker, but the secondary should be a strength again with Minich, Kahle and Mason Clouse.

The key is going to be getting pressure on the quarterback.

“We feel confident with the back half,” Gold said. “We have to be able to generate a pass rush and stop the run.”

Redbank also has an X-factor this season.

Owen Clouse, the single-season record holder for goals scored on the soccer pitch for the Bulldogs, will be the kicker. He has a strong leg and was booming 35-yard field goals in camp with ease.

“Kicking field goals is something that’s never been part of our game,” Gold said. “Owen is a guy who’s really buying in and working really hard. He’s very close friends with everyone on the team, so he’s taken ownership of that. If we have a chance to score three points or put an extra point on the board, it’s something he takes a high level of pride in.”

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