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Blue Devils hoping to slow down unbeaten Rams

November 1, 2012
By Philip Cmor (pcmor@altoonamirror.com) , The Altoona Mirror

As evidenced by the Rams' 39.7 points and more than 400 yards per game - along with a 9-0 record - opponents haven't had much success slowing down the Richland High School football team this season even when they've had a full week to prepare.

Now put yourself in Bellwood-Antis' coach John Hayes' shoes: He has to find a way to do it with two fewer days of practice because this week's storm caused his district to leave school early on Monday and cancel classes for Tuesday.

Maybe Hurricane Sandy is a Richland fan.

"They present a very balanced multitude of threats that makes it very difficult," Hayes said of preparing for a Ram offense that uses a variety of players and formations behind a very experienced offensive line. "Under normal circumstances, it would present quite a challenge, and even more so with less time to prepare for it, because it's quite a lot more than anything we've seen this year."

In spite of what Hayes is saying, if any team has the personnel to pull it off, it's his Blue Devils, who also come into Friday night's game at Memorial Stadium with a perfect record and having faced very few challenges.

Kickoff for the clash of 2011 District 6 runners-up - which, ironically, will have no impact whatsoever on this year's playoff seedings - is slated for 7 p.m.

"We gave them some information to familiarize themselves before they left school [on Monday]. Hopefully, we'll get a good work day in on Wednesday, and Thursday is usually a lighter day, but it will have to be a lot more involved than normal."

Now bolstered by the return of linebacker Ian O'Shea, who was injured the first half of the season, the Devils have held five straight opponents to 14 points or less and three of those to single digits.

Although they've handled Tyrone's and Northern Bedford's potent offenses and scrimmaged Central, this week's challenge might be as big as they've taken on this season. Richland, which lost to eventual state finalist Tyrone in last year's District 6 Class AA championship, has five receivers with at least nine catches, a 1,200-yard runner in Tanner Solarczyk and, in Matt Shaffer, a quarterback who has thrown for more than 1,100 yards and rushed for nearly 400 while splitting time at the position.

"You can't [simulate their athleticism]. You can show them formations. You can show them what they try to do out of certain formations. You try to emulate it as best you can, but there is no way - none of us are deep enough to have the kind of talent to put that kind of speed out there," Hayes said. "Most of our scout team is underclassmen."

Of course, Bellwood has some pretty good speed of its own. O'Shea was on a pair of PIAA Class AA medalist track relays with quarterback Seth Worthing, and Worthing's twin brother/top receiver, Cameron, also was on one of them.

Casey Gray, a 1,000-yard rusher, might be fast enough to join them, but he plays shortstop for the B-A baseball team in the spring.

"They're very well-coached, they are very disciplined and, on top of that, they are tremendously athletic. They are probably one of the speediest teams we've played this year," Richland coach Brandon Bailey said.

Like Richland, Bellwood is trying to get back to a district championship game this year - the Devils lost to Penns Manor in the District 6 Class A final at Mansion Park one day after Richland played there for the 6-AA crown last year.

Oddly, this game won't play any part in the seedings for this year's tournament. Both already have clinched the No. 1 seed in their respective classification. Since neither has been defeated, no other team in the running for a playoff spot will gain by either winning.

There is, though, plenty of momentum and status to be had for the winner.

"It isn't often that you have a perfect regular season. That's motivation right there," Hayes said. "They want to finish it off in the best fashion just like we do going into the playoffs. No matter what the result of the game is, we tell the kids we are now in another season. So you have to forget about what happened or take positives from it."

Bailey said he doesn't intend to hold anything back from trying to go 10-0 and didn't expect any quarter from Bellwood. In fact, the lack of district implications could make it more entertaining.

"Both teams have a lot of pride,"Bailey said. "For both of us, there's really nothing to lose."

 
 

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