CLARION - Big plays have hurt the Chestnut Ridge High School football team all season, and Lions coach Max Shoemaker was concerned entering Friday night's PIAA Class AA first round playoff game that District 9 champion Karns City would be able to exploit that again.
He just didn't figure the Gremlins would do it on special teams and defense.
Ridge finished with more than 400 yards in total offense - with Jacob Mock and Beau Bosch both rushing for more than 160 yards. However, Karns City scored on an 80-yard kickoff return in the third quarter and posted the only points of the fourth quarter on Christian Turner's 6-yard scamper with a popped-up fumble to edge the Lions, 35-29, on a blustery, snowy evening at Clarion University's Memorial Stadium.
Photo for the Mirror by Eric Elliott
Chestnut Ridge’s Jacob Mock runs away from Cory Ritzert.
"We did pretty much what we wanted to do on the offensive side, except late when they stifled us a couple of times," Shoemaker said. "It was a couple of big kickoff returns and the fumble return. You can't afford to do that in a playoff game. That's why we lost.
"It was a great high school game. We just came up a couple of plays short. Give Karns City credit. They made one more play than we did."
That play came with 8:27 left. After being pinned deep in its own end by a punt, Ridge had to try to convert a third-and-5 without Bosch, who was shaken up on the previous play. Karns City's Adam Whited hit Ridge backup quarterback J.D. Weyandt as he tried to pitch on the option. The ball instead came down in the arms of Turner at the 6, and he bowled into the end zone to break a 29-29 tie in what had been an offensive slugfest to that point.
"I just saw that ball go up in the air, and I just went for it," Turner said. "Our line kind of got it together and got a great push. That's what pulled it out for us."
While Karns City improved to 10-3 and will get to face WPIAL champion Aliquippa next week, Ridge finished the year 6-6. The Lions were sidelined despite 169 yards on the ground by Mock and 165 by Bosch, on 29 and 23 carries, respectively. Much of their 360 yards rushing was gained by powering right at the Gremlins.
Mock scored on runs of 10,13 and 10 yards.
"The key was just to run at them and do our best, and for our linemen to come off the ball. They eventually caught on in the second half," Mock said. "We were excited. We were trying to go for the big upset. I think we proved we were better than what we were, and that the Chestnut Ridge organization was better than everybody thought."
Karns City only ran one play from scrimmage in the third quarter but managed to go into the final 12 minutes tied because of Matt Conto's 80-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Ridge had a chance to take the lead in the closing minute of the third quarter, but Sean VanMeter's 36-yard field goal was partially blocked.
Conto also had a 66-yard kickoff return in the first half to set up Whited's 20-yard touchdown jaunt. Karns City won even though it was outgained, 409-286.
"We needed that. We said we needed something to happen on special teams tonight," Karns City coach Ed Conto said. "There were a lot of opportunities there when either team could quit, and neither team did."
Ridge had a last gasp after recovering a KC fumble at its own 17 with 2:06 left. After driving to the Gremlin 35, though, Dakota Mohney picked off a desperation pass by Weyant with Bosch, who had returned to the game, moved to wideout.
"My heart sank at first [after the fumble return for a touchdown], but then I looked at the clock, and we still had a chance," Mock said.
The teams combined to 451 yards in the first half. Mock scored on runs of 10 and 13 yards, then Bosch gave the Lions a 21-17 lead on a 2-yard dive with 3:40 left in the second quarter. Mohney, though, spun and broke tackles on a 33-yard run less than two minutes later to put Karns City back in front, and Ridge ran out of time as it drove into Gremlins territory just before the intermission.
Bosch had 124 yards rushing in the first half, while Mock reached the 1,000-yard mark for the season in the second quarter and entered the third quarter with 87 yards.
This was the third game the Lions lost this season by six points or fewer. Mock is one of five offensive starters Shoemaker will graduate. Ridge, which was making its first PIAA playoff appearance, started six underclassmen on defense, as well. Bosch, also a 1,000-yard rusher, will lead a strong group of returnees.
"I couldn't be more proud of a group for just accepting things. They were a fun group to work with because they liked the game and they liked each other," Shoemaker said. "They weren't the most talented. They lacked speed. But, with their blue-collar mentality, we did what we could."
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Chestnut Ridge14 7 8 0 - 29
Karns City14 9 6 6 - 35
CR-Mock 10 run (VanMeter kick), 7:08.
KC-Rhoades 19 run (Moore kick), 4:05.
CR-Mock 13 run (VanMeter kick), 3:28.
KC-Whited 20 run (Moore kick), 3:08.
KC-Moore 24 FG, 10:39.
CR-Bosch 2 run (VanMeter kick), 3:40.
KC-Mohney 33 run (kick failed), 2:01.
CR-Mock 10 run (Mock run), 7:36.
KC-Conto 80 kickoff return (kick failed), 7:23.
KC-Turner 6 fumble return (kick failed), 8:27.
RUSHING: Chestnut Ridge-Mock 29-169, Bosch 23-164, M. Wiley 5-29, Lohr 2-4, Weyant 1-(-6). Karns City- Whited 8-85, Mohney 6-63, Turner 5-23, Kepple 3-15, Everetts 2-6, Moore 5-14, Rhoades 3-39, TEAM 1-(-1).
PASSING: Chestnut Ridge-Bosch 6-12-0-49, Weyant 0-2-0-0, TEAM 0-2-0-0. Karns City-Kepple 2-4-0-42
RECEIVING: Chestnut Ridge-Lohr 2-8, Colledge 1-8, Weyant 3-33. Karns City-Everetts 1-20, Whited 1-22.
INTERCEPTIONS: Chestnut Ridge-none. Karns City-Mohney.