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Redbank Valley, Bishop Canevin Both in Uncharted Waters in PIAA Class A Semifinals

PITTSBURGH, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Three years ago, the Bishop Canevin football program was on life support.

A 1-9 season had the school thinking about pulling the plug.

(Photo by Madison McFarland)

Just a few flips of the calendar later, the Crusaders are 13-1 and captured their first WPIAL championship in 31 years.

“They were talking about possibly folding,” said second-year Bishop Canevin coach Rich Johnson after his team beat OLSH for the district title. “Two years later we’re walking out of here with a WPIAL championship.”

Bishop Canevin will be walking into North Hills’ Martorelli Stadium Friday night to play Redbank Valley, another program that will be doing something that no team before it has done.

The Bulldogs are in the PIAA Class A semifinals for the first time in school history. So are the Crusaders.

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

“This is two teams that are in pretty similar situations,” said Redbank Valley coach Blane Gold. “Both of us are here for the first time. They were 1-9 two years ago and we were getting blown out in the district championship two years ago. They won their first district title in 31 years. Last year we won our first in 24 years.

“When we watch film, there are no doubt matchups that are in their favor,” Gold added. “But at the same time, these are two teams who are here for the first time, teams that are going to have that lump in their throat. We’re going to go out and see who can swallow that lump and play.”

The Bishop Canevin turnaround has been stunning.

It’s been helped along by a fast and physical defense that swarms to the football and an offense that utilizes a two-quarterback system seamlessly.

Two years ago, the Crusaders were losing games by scores of 68-0, 57-0 and 55-0. This year, Bishop Canevin has turned the tables and won games by scores of 69-0, 50-0 and 43-0.

A potent offense to go with that defense has helped.

The quarterback duo of sophomore Jason Cross and freshman Kole Olszewski has combined to throw for 2,305 yards and 31 touchdowns this season. Xavier Nelson, a 5-foot-9 junior, has 35 receptions for 916 yards and 16 scores. Leading receiver Lasae Lacks, a 5-8 junior, has 45 catches for 859 yards and 14 TDs.

Redbank Valley, though, has a strong secondary with big defensive backs in 6-3 Chris Marshall and 6-5 Marquese Gardlock. The Bulldogs also have a good pass rush led by defensive ends Joe Mansfield and Brandon Ross.

“Obviously, this is a matchup you’re happy to have Marquese back for,” Gold said. “He missed two playoff games and we saw the impact. When he’s back in the game, he was targeted three times (last week) and had two interceptions and a deflected pass.”

Redbank will rely on senior Brenden Shreckengost in the running game again. Last week he rushed for 137 yards and the go-ahead touchdown in the 21-14 win over Northern Bedford County. He also had a kickoff return for a touchdown.

“This is probably a matchup more conducive for him because we need as much quickness on the field that we can,” Gold said. “When you get to this point, it’s all about matchups.”

Redbank Valley has been tested over the last three weeks. Against Port Allegany in the District 9 semifinals, the Bulldogs fell behind 14-0 before rallying to win 35-14.

A week later in the district championship game, Redbank led 21-0 before Union/A-C Valley rallied to tie the game at 21-21. The Bulldogs regrouped and pulled out a 28-21 victory.

And last week, Redbank Valley trailed 7-0 and 14-7 before coming back each time to eventually win by a touchdown.

“Some of these battles we’ve had the past three weeks have prepared us,” Gold said. “If we fall behind 14-7 or 21-7, we can look back at what we’ve done the last couple of weeks and if we can play and get our minds right, we have the capability of overcoming it.”

The last thing Gold wants, though, is to fall behind against Bishop Canevin.

The Crusaders were an unlikely WPIAL Class A champion this year as the No. 3 seed. Perennial powers Clairton and Cornell were seeded ahead of them. Bishop Canevin knocked off Cornell and Clairton was upset by OLSH.

There is a thing called the WPIAL hangover. It’s such a grind to win the District 7 title and it’s such a big deal for the players — after all, they won it at Heinz Field — that there is inevitably a letdown.

Gold said his team has to take advantage of that if Bishop Canevin does come out with that WPIAL hangover.

“We’re gonna throw haymakers and we’re gonna let it all hang out,” Gold said.

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

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