SLIPPERY ROCK - Cross off another milestone for the Richland football team.
The Rams advanced to the PIAA Class AA Western Final for the first time with a 38-12 win over Hickory on Saturday at Slippery Rock University's Mihalik-Thompson Stadium.
The victory matches Richland (14-0) against top-ranked Aliquippa on Friday at North Allegheny High School. The winner advances to the PIAA championship game.
"We have a lot of respect for their program," Richland coach Brandon Bailey said. "It's a great challenge and we look forward to the challenge."
The Rams are eager to see how they stack up against the Quips, the District 7 champs and perennial postseason participants.
"It'll be exciting," said Richland's Tanner Solarczyk, who ran for 149 yards and scored three touchdowns. "I think we're all looking forward to playing a team like that. If we beat them and make history, that'd be great."
Richland continued to leave its mark in program annals with a strong showing against the Hornets (11-2). The Rams' defense frustrated Hickory senior running back DeShawn Coleman, a West Virginia University recruit. Richland limited him 85 yards rushing on 10 carries. He broke free once - for a 45-yard TD run in the third quarter.
"Our goal was to shut Coleman down and I'll say we did that pretty well," Solarczyk said. "Our offensive and defensive lines were playing great against them. They owned them."
Richland's defense limited the Hornets to 90 yards on the ground.
"Our goal was to try to tackle them before they got out because we knew they have tremendous team speed," Bailey said. "We were able to achieve that."
In addition, the Rams forced four turnovers on the day. Perhaps the biggest came in the first quarter. After Richland took the opening kickoff and marched 79 yards for a touchdown, the Rams forced a fumble on the kickoff and recovered it at the Hickory 6. Four plays later, quarterback Matt Shaffer lunged over the line for a 13-0 advantage.
Solarczyk scored on a 9-yard run early in the second quarter for a 21-0 advantage. The Rams boosted that to 28-0 after recovering another Hornets fumble. Shaffer found Solarczyk for a 15-yard scoring strike with 3:49 left in the first half.
The Hornets drove to the Richland 24, but Elijah Metzgar intercepted a pass to end the scoring threat. The Rams trekked to the Hickory 21 and settled for Bobby Colvin's 37-yard field goal to post a 31-0 halftime lead.
"All the balls were bouncing our way in the first half. We got out to a 31-0 lead at halftime and we knew we just needed to hang on in the second half," Bailey said. "We're looking forward to playing Aliquippa now."
Coleman broke the Hornets' shutout early in the third quarter with a 45-yard jaunt to trim the deficit to 31-6.
Both teams' offenses stalled until late in the fourth quarter. Solarczyk capped off an 82-yard drive with a 3-yard run to boost the Rams' lead to 38-6 with 6:47 to play.
Hickory capped the scoring when Matt Voytik lofted a 24-yard scoring strike to Anthony Cannone with 3:40 left on the clock.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Richland13 18 0 7 - 38
Hickory0 0 6 6 - 12
R-Shaffer 1 run (Colvin kick), 6:46
R-Shaffer 1 run (run failed), 4:48
R-Solarczyk 9 run (Pecora run), 11:15
R-Solarczyk 15 pass from Shaffer (Colvin kick), 3:49
R-Colvin 38 field goal, 16.9
H-Coleman 45 run (kick failed), 10:36
R-Solarczyk 3 run (Colvin kick), 6:47
H-Cannone 24 pass from Voytik (pass failed), 3:40
RUSHING: Richland-Solarczyk 26-149, Shaffer 12-41, Shertzer 1-(-2), Hoover, 1-2, Pecora 1-(-13), Farina 1-3, Fesko 1-1. Hickory-Coleman 10-85, Voytik 7-(-16), Palumbo 1-4, Tindall 3-12, Pope 1-5, Lewis 1-0.
PASSING: Richland-Shaffer 12-27-2-135, Pecora 1-1-0-30. Hickory-Voytik 15-33-1-196.
RECEIVING: Richland-Shertzer 3-41, Flick 4-68, Solarczyk 3-21, Pecora 3-37. Hickory-Coleman 2-40, Palumbo 3-47, Tindall 4-32, Pope 4-42, Cannone 2-30.
INTERCEPTIONS: Richland-Metzgar. Hickory-Pope, Coleman.
Passing (co..-att.-int.)13-28-2 15-33-1
Yards passing 165196