JOHNSTOWN - Richland 2,000-yard quarterback Matt Shaffer's passing gets most of the attention in the Rams' potent offense, but Tyrone coach Steve Guthoff warned before the game that the 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior is also pretty dangerous running the ball.
As it turned out, his concern was justified.
Shaffer threw for 109 yards and two touchdowns, but he also ran for 136 yards on 14 carries, including 64 on his last four attempts, to set up 1,400-yard rusher Tanner Solarczyk, who ran for 160 yards on 24 carries and scored three touchdowns to carry the top-seeded Rams past the fourth-seeded Golden Eagles, 43-18, in a District 6 Class AA semifinal Friday night at Herlinger Field.
"We saw that a lot of the running they were doing was because of the front we were playing," Guthoff said. "We did a decent job taking away some of the zone stuff they were doing. There's always an answer for everything, and I thought their line played well offensively."
"That's what a shotgun spread does," Richland coach Brandon Bailey said. "It spreads everybody out and it makes it difficult on the defense. [Shaffer] is a tremendous athlete, and he was able to make big plays throughout the night."
The Golden Eagles (9-3) played the Rams (12-0), ranked third by the Pennsylvania Football News, close for most of the game, thanks to the running of James Oliver, who ran for 165 yards on 20 carries and scored on runs of 54 and 4 yards.
"It was another tough game from James," Guthoff said. "He's going to be playing a lot of football on Saturdays [in college]. I'm excited to see him play on Saturdays next year. I thought our offensive played really well tonight."
The Rams scored on their first possession, driving 79 yards on nine running plays and finishing with a 4-yard Solarczyk run. Nico Pecora ran in the two-point conversion.
The Eagles responded with an 80-yard scoring march, including the last 54 by Oliver, who darted down the Tyrone sideline and into the end zone with 3:47 left in the first quarter.
Richland then went on a 14-play, 90-yard drive, converting a fourth-and-1 along the way, and scoring when Pecora broke a couple tackles on a short Shaffer pass and scored on a 19-yard play. Tyrone's Nick Getz, a key cog in the Eagle offense, injured his knee on defense on the drive and missed the rest of the game.
Without Getz, Erik Wagner was limited to 5-of-13 passing for 23 yards and two fourth-quarter interceptions.
The Eagles kept responding, going 66 yards on 13 plays and reaching the end zone when Oliver took the pitch from Wagner scored on a 4-yard run with 4:01 left in the half.
Guthoff was also concerned about getting into a shootout with Richland, and that's what was happening in the first half. The Rams went 69 yards on eight plays, including a 41-yard Solarczyk run, and ended the drive with a Shaffer 4-yard pass to Elijah Metzgar with 24 seconds left in the half. Richland led, 21-12, at halftime.
"Their goal was to keep the ball out of our hands," Bailey said. "We only had three drives in the first half, and we had three touchdowns."
The Rams extended their lead with a 4-yard Solarczyk run on the first series of the second half. Shaffer, whose statistics included five drops by his receivers, connected on two passes on the drive. The Eagles did hold Richland's 800-yard receiver, Kyle Flick, to no catches in the game.
Later, after a Pecora pass on a fake punt was incomplete, the Eagles got to within 11, 29-28, when Wagner scored on a quarterback sneak from the 2 with 2:46 left in the third.
The Tyrone defense came up big again when Cameron Bakhsheshe intercepted Shaffer at the Tyrone 25. On the next play, Oliver scampered for 27 yards. But the Rams' defense responded, holding fullback Elijah Sleeth to a yard on second down, Bakhsheshe to a 1-yard reception and two incomplete passes, the last on fourth-and-eight.
"Our kids stepped up and made plays when they had to," Bailey said.
The Rams chewed up yardage and time from there, going 54 yards on 11 plays, converting a fourth-and-goal with Solarczyk 2-yard run. Shaffer had runs of 13, 14, 14 and 13 on the drive.. Pecora picked off Wagner and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown with 1:20 left in the game.
"We played hard, but that goes without saying," Guthoff said, "because that goes with being a Tyrone football player. You play hard all of the time. We're not intimidated by anybody, and we'll go anywhere and play hard. [Richland] was an exceptionally good football team with a lot of guys back.
"We're proud of our guys. It was a great season. We came out and gave them a football game. There was great leadership from the seniors, but we have a lot of guys back, and we're looking forward to that."
The Rams - the defending district champions - will take on the winner of tonight's semifinal between Central and Forest Hills in next week's championship at Mansion Park.
"Forest Hills is my alma mater, and my father [Don] is the coach, and I always cheer for him," Brandon Bailey said, "but if they don't win, we know Central is a really good football team. Whoever is on the other side, we'll show up and be ready to go."
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Tyrone6 6 6 0 -18
Richland8 14 7 14 -43
R-Solarczyk 4 run (Pecora run), 7:03
T-Oliver 54 run (pass failed), 3:47
R-Pecora 19 pass from Shaffer (Gindlesberger kick), 9:36
T-Oliver 4 run (pass failed), 4:01
R-Metzgar 4 pass from Shaffer (Gindlesberger kick), :24
R-Solarczyk 4 run (Gindlesberger kick), 9:16
T-Wagner 2 run (kick failed), 2:46
R-Solarczyk 2 run (Gindlesberger kick), 2:10
R-Pecora 60 int. return (Gindlesberger kick), 1:20
RUSHING: Tyrone-Oliver 20-165, Sleeth 5-25, Wagner 3-14. Richland-Solarczyk 24-160, Shaffer 14-136, Farina 5-44, Metzgar 1-11, Joy 1-8, Naglic 1-3, TEAM 2-(-2).
PASSING: Tyrone-Wagner 5-13-2-23. Richland-Shaffer 10-18-1-109, Pecora 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING: Tyrone-Getz 1-12, Crawford 1-11, Bakhsheshe 2-0, Sleeth 1-0. Richland-Pecora 5-59, Urban 1-16, Farina 1-12, Metzgar 2-12, Washel 1-7.
INTERCEPTIONS: Tyrone-Bakhsheshe. Richland-Pecora, Naglic.
Passing (comp.-att.-int)5-13-2 10-19-1