CLARION, Pa. — It’s a PIAA Class 1A playoff rematch Friday night as District 9 champion Redbank Valley faces District 5’s Northern Bedford at Clarion University’s Memorial Stadium with a 7 p.m. kickoff.
Rematch, yes, with a slightly different backdrop.
Last year, the Bulldogs beat the Panthers, 28-15, for their first-ever state win at Windber High school. It was a far warmer day that resembled a warm September afternoon as opposed to Friday’s forecast high temperature of 31 degrees.
A lot of the difference has to do with the schedule. Last year, the teams met 18 days earlier on the calendar due to the truncated season schedule induced by COVID-19.
Also, the bracket is different. This is a quarterfinal matchup as opposed to a first-rounder last year. While the Bulldogs (11-1) were repeating their District 9 title run with a 28-21 win over Union/A-C Valley last week also at CUP, Northern Bedford (9-3) traveled to Greenville High School and beat Reynolds 25-22.
Reynolds beat Redbank Valley in last year’s quarterfinals, 19-14.
This year, the Bulldogs-Panthers winner lands in next week’s semifinal against the WPIAL champion and they’ll know who awaits them by kickoff. Our Lady of Sacred Heart meets Bishop Canevin in the WPIAL final Friday afternoon at Heinz Field at 2 p.m.
On the other side of the bracket, it’s the District 6 final with Juniata Valley taking on Bishop Guilfoyle Friday in Altoona and District 4 champion Canton playing District 2 champion Old Forge Saturday afternoon.
Only the Bulldogs and Old Forge return from last year’s quarterfinalists. Neither team reached the semifinals.
Last year’s matchup at Windber saw the Bulldogs build a 21-0 halftime lead as they wound up picking off two Northern Bedford passers five times and limiting the Panthers to minus-five yards of rushing.
But most of the Panthers’ offense has been retooled while the Bulldogs have a new starting quarterback in a mostly returning lineup for the most part on both sides of the ball.
While the Bulldogs jumped out to a 21-0 lead against Union/A-C Valley before needing a fourth-quarter touchdown run by Ray Shreckengost to set the final margin, Northern Bedford trailed 14-7 at halftime before scoring four straight unanswered touchdowns to take control of its game against Reynolds.
Three of the Panthers’ TDs came in the third quarter as sophomore quarterback Eion Snyder hit freshman receiver Aaron Bowers, a 6-foot-3, 185-pounder, with TD passes of 28 and 26 yards.
Senior Kainen Brown ran for TDs of 7 and 3 yards while Snyder’s 14-yard TD pass to senior Brooks Snider put the Panthers up 35-14 in the fourth quarter. Sophomore Adam Johnson ran for 118 yards on 15 carries while Eion Snyder completed 9 of 18 passes for 173 yards. Bowers caught four of those completions for 134 yards alone.
Last year against the Bulldogs, Snider caught two passes for 29 yards while Brown caught a pass for 18 yards.
For Redbank Valley, Shreckengost ran for 84 yards on 16 carries while Brenden Shreckengost went for 48 yards on eight carries. The lone TD scored by a returning player was Chris Marshall’s game-opening 33-yard pass from quarterback Cam Wagner. Marshall caught four passes for 69 yards.
It was a slow start to the season for Northern Bedford, which started 1-3 with three straight losses to Class 2A playoff teams. After that, the Panthers topped D9’s Curwensville (41-20), Everett (24-0), this week’s D6 Class 1A finalist Juniata Valley (7-6), Claysburg-Kimmel (36-0), Tussey Mountain (34-7) and Mount Union (37-15) before another rout of Tussey (47-0) in the D5 final before last week’s win over Reynolds.
Curwensville lost its Class 1A playoff opener to Smethport, 46-27.
Northern Bedford averages 238 yards per game offensively — 138 rushing and 99 passing. Johnson (127-692, 7 TDs), senior Griffin Keller (62-320, 5 TDs) and Brown (43-243, 6 TDs) lead the running game. Snyder has thrown for 1,059 yards, completing 82 of 145 passes with 14 TDs and eight interceptions. Bowers (28-468, 7 TDs) and Snider (18-243, 4 TDs) are the primary targets.
Brown leads the defense with 5.3 tackles per game while Bowers has a team-high six interceptions.
Five players have scored between five and a team-high eight TDs by Johnson. The Panthers’ 39 TDs have all come from their offense.
Redbank Valley, winners of 11 straight since an opening 22-20 loss at Keystone, averages 305 yards of offense per game — 168 rushing, 137 passing. First-year senior quarterback Bryson Bain (130-for-213, 1,915 yards, 28 TDs, 5 Ints.) is close to a 2,000-yard season while senior running Ray Shreckengost (161-878, 16 TDs) leads the running game.
Bain’s top receivers are Tate Minich (37-486, 7 TDs), Marquese Gardlock (25-445, 4 TDs), Marshall (34-529, 10 TDs), Aiden Ortz (19-253, 3 TDs) and Ashton Kahle (9-154).
The Bulldogs have scored 71 TDs, 60 from their offense and 11 coming from the defense and special teams.
Zeldon Fisher (6.5), Brenden Shreckengost (5.3), Joe Mansfield (5.0) and Brandon Ross (4.3) lead the Bulldogs’ defense in tackles per game. Mansfield (9.5) and Ross (5.5) are the sack leaders while Kahle and Ortz have four and three interceptions respectively to lead the unit.
The Bulldogs’ defense has been pretty stingy this year, giving up just 111 yards and 8.9 points per game. The Bulldogs have yielded only 506 yards rushing on 345 attempts while opposing passers have completed 71 of 165 passes for 826 yards with 15 interceptions. Of that total, 407 passing yards have come in their past two games against Union/ACV and Port Allegany.