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Redbank Valley, Hickory Ready to Battle WPIAL Champions in PIAA Semifinals

Redbank Valley sophomore quarterback Braylon Wagner. Photo by Madison McFarland/JB Graphics.

Redbank Valley and Hickory are one win away from a berth in their respective state championship games.

The Bulldogs are in this position for the second time in three years after a 44-0 win over District 10 champion Cambridge Springs in the Class 1A quarterfinals last week.

Hickory, meanwhile, beat Central-Martinsburg 26-13 last week in the Class 3A semifinals to advance to the PIAA semifinals for the first time since 2014.

Now the two teams will face off against formidable WPIAL champions.

Redbank Valley will face unbeaten Fort Cherry, while Hickory draws Belle Vernon, the defending state champs in Class 3A.


The Redbank/Fort Cherry game will be at Farrell’s Pegues Sports Complex, while Hickory and Belle Vernon will be at North Allegheny. Both games are Friday with 7 p.m. kickoffs.

Here’s a closer look at each.



For the second time in three years, Redbank Valley is in the state semifinals. In 2021, the Bulldogs beat Bishop Canevin, 23-14.


This time around, they get a Fort Cherry team that won its first WPIAL title in program history, 42-28 over South Side.

“I think in 2021, we didn’t settle, but we looked at it as icing on the cake,” said Redbank Valley coach Blane Gold. “I think the mindset is a little different now. It’s a situation where they expect to be here. Most people still have us as the underdog, though. We understand that, but we also understand what it takes to be successful.”

The Bulldogs’ offense has been a juggernaut all season, scoring over 40 points in 10 of their 12 wins.

Starting quarterback Braylon Wagner returned to action last week after being injured and threw for 203 yards and four touchdowns. On the season, the sophomore is completing 70 percent of his passes for 2,744 yards with 43 touchdowns and five interceptions. He has also rushed for 300 yards and eight touchdowns.

The Bulldogs also boast something very few teams in the state do – a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in Ashton Kahle (58-1,211-15) and Mason Clouse (57-1,069-18).

Drew Byers leads the ground game with 932 yards (5.9 ypc.) and 12 touchdowns.

Defensively, the Bulldogs have held eight of their opponents to single digits. It’s a defense led by Caden Adams (86 tackles, 11 tackles for loss), Brandon Ross (81 tackles, 20.5 TFL), Kahle (eight interceptions) and Clouse (seven interceptions, 76 tackles), among others.

“That team in 2021 was super athletic, and we have a group of guys this season that have worked hard with film study and in the weight room to be successful and make their game better,” Gold said.

That Bulldog defense will be tested by one of the top quarterbacks in the state in sophomore Matt Sieg. He has directed in offense that has scored at least 42 points in 13 of their 14 wins (they beat Bishop Canevin 33-21 in the WPIAL semis).

Sieg is completing 57 percent of his passes for 1,338 yards and an 18-3 touchdown to interception ratio. He’s even better on the ground, rushing for 1,785 yards (11.3 ypc.) and 33 touchdowns.


“He’s an incredible athlete,” Gold said. “Any time you get James Franklin (Penn State coach) landing a helicopter to wish you good luck, you know you’re big time, especially as a sophomore.”

Sieg already has a Penn State offer among a handful of Power 5 offers already.

Senior Ethan Faletto has also rushed for 1,015 yards (9.0 ypc) and 16 touchdowns.

Shane Cornali (24-488-5) leads the receivers.

Gold also praised their offensive line.

“For a single A program, they have a phenomenal offensive line,” Gold said. “As a team, they are comparable to Central Clarion. Sieg is a similar in terms of style of play as Jase Ferguson (Central Clarion quarterback).”

For Gold’s squad, not much has changed in the lead up to this one.

“At this point in the year, we don’t want to do something completely different than what got us here,” Gold said. “We’ll play to our strengths. At the same time, on defense, our defense, within the district, went against a very good Port Allegany offense and held them to a total of 20 points in two games. We’ll tweak little things, but don’t want to get away from identity. “

The winner will face the winner of the Steelton-Highspire/South Williamsport game for the state title next Thursday.

Win or lose, Gold knows that this team, particularly the senior class, is a special group.


“This senior class, their leadership has been phenomenal,” Gold said. “For a program to be in the position we’re in for the second time in three years is pretty special.:


HICKORY (11-2) vs. BELLE VERNON (11-1)

From one high-powered offense to another, Belle Vernon stands in the way of Hickory and a berth in the PIAA 3A state championship game.

Hickory’s defense has allowed just 38 points in its four playoff wins, and faces its stiffest test yet in the defending Class 3A state champion Leopards.

For Belle Vernon, it all starts with Quinton Martin. All Martin has done this season has rushed for 958 yards (9.7 yards per carry) and 14 touchdowns to go along with 44 receptions for 649 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Penn State commit is the top ranked recruit in the state of Pennsylvania, per 247 Sports.

“It all starts with the Penn State recruit, Quinton Martin,” said Hickory coach Bill Dungee. “He’s really an all-purpose guy. He’s all over the field. As a team they are battle-tested.”

Dungee also noted the play of quarterback Braden Laux, who has completed 63% of his passes for 1,477 yards and a 17-10 touchdown to interception ratio. Laux is also a Division I recruit, heading to Eastern Michigan next season.

Hickory’s defense, particularly the secondary, has been excellent. Tylon Cousin shuts down one side of the field at corner, while freshman Jadon Phillips has emerged as a young star with seven interceptions on the season, including three last week against Central and a pick six against Sharon in the D10 title game. Timmy Krivsoh also has five interceptions on the season.

“We feel like we have some really good athletes,” Dungee said. “Jadon Phillips, he’s a dog. He’s a smart kid with a big heart. And then on the other side you have Tylon shutting things down.”

Krivisoh leads the team with 123 tackles, while Sean Kennedy has 85 and Keenan Scullin 84.

Offensively for the Hornets, it’s a group that has continued to get better after a 3-2 start to the season with losses to Sharon and Farrell.

“We sat there at 3-2 after the Farrell loss, and I just told them to continue to keep the faith,” Dungee said.

Zander Telesz has emerged at quarterback for the Hornets, completing 55% of his passes for 1,334 yards and a 16-6 touchdown to interception ratio. He has also rushed for 526 yards and nine touchdowns.

Freshman Kelvin Morrison leads the Hornets with 783 yards rushing (8.6 yards per carry) and nine touchdowns, while Kennedy has 529 yards rushing (6.1 ypc) and eight scores.

Belle Vernon’s lone loss of the season came to Thomas Jefferson, 24-19 on Sept. 22.

The winner will face the winner of the Wyomissing/Northwestern Lehigh game for the state championship on Dec. 9 (Saturday).

“Just really proud of this group and how they keep grinding and focusing,” Dungee said. “This is a great opportunity.”


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