Dragon football team can put up points, too

All eyes will be on Richland when the District 6 Class AA football playoffs open on Friday night, and with good reason.

The Rams are undefeated. They’ve scored nearly 50 points per game. They made it to the state semifinals last year, and many of the key players from that team are back this year.

A very dangerous team might be dwelling in the planet-sized shadow Richland is casting, however: the Central Scarlet Dragons.

Quietly, if that can be believed, the Dragons have put up 40.2 points per contest, have eclipsed the 50-point mark three times and enter the playoffs with four straight games in which they’ve scored 42 or more.

And the only thing that’s kept the Dragons from carrying a perfect record themselves is two losses to two teams that are a combined 19-0.

Hard to believe a team with that resume could fly under the radar. But that’s just how Dragon coach Dave Baker likes it.

“We’re right where we would like to be,” Baker said.

The Dragons open the 6-AA postseason as one of seven squads trying to upend the Rams on Saturday night when they host Central Cambria at Roaring Spring Athletic Field as the No. 3 seed in a quarterfinal round game.

Tyrone is the only other team from the Mirror coverage area in the bracket – the Golden Eagles host Bald Eagle Area in the four-five game on Saturday. Forest Hills travels to Mount Union and Richland entertains Ligonier Valley in the two Friday night quarterfinals.

The last two teams standing will face off at Altoona’s Mansion Park, probably on Nov. 22.

While Richland is a strong favorite entering the tournament, there can be little argument that Central would provide one of the more entertaining matchups with the Rams from a fans’ perspective and look to be as well-equipped as anyone to give the Rams a test. The Dragons have faced a schedule that included six playoff teams, including District 6-9 Class AAA top seed Clearfield, Cumberland, Md. power Fort Hill, District 5-8 Class AA top seed Chestnut Ridge and Tyrone.

The Dragons possess two game-breaking skill players. Bradi Moore and Austin Cunningham both have more than 890 yards rushing and have combined for 37 touchdowns. Cunningham also has passed for 1,067 yards. Moore has caught 25 passes and is a threat to score on kick and interception returns, as well.

To top things off, Central is on a four-game win streak, having outscored the opposition 201-34 in the last month.

“We think we’re playing better now. We’ve improved our team a little bit. Pretty much everybody is healthy,” Baker said. “We’re playing as good as we ever have this year.”

Before a potential showdown with Richland in the finals, though, Central needs to get by the winner of the game between Mount Union and Forest Hills in the semifinals – Forest Hills upset the Dragons in last year’s quarterfinals. And, to make that happen, the Dragons need to beat Central Cambria, a team that easily could get overlooked itself.

“We definitely are on-guard, especially me myself. I have had to be on-guard for most of my life, because we were on the underside looking up for most of the time,” said Baker, who for about 30 years coached at Williamsburg, one of the smaller schools in the state that sponsors football. “It’s a familiar place for me. For the rest of our team, we have told them that we better be at our best.”

Central Cambria, which is making its first playoff appearance since 2010, won just four games the last two years and enters this postseason having given up more points than it has scored. The Red Devils, though, have been a very proficient playoff spoiler in the recent past, having upset top-seeded Bedford in the 6-AA first round in 2004 and knocked off higher-seeded Tyrone teams in 2007 and 2008.

“It’s exciting to be here. Central Cambria, traditionally, has made a lot of noise in the playoffs,” Red Devils coach Bill Corrente said.

The Devils win primarily with defense and big plays and are among the area leaders with 28 turnover takeaways. Corrente feels his team might be uniquely qualified to duel with the Dragons.

“We’re experienced [facing] explosive players. You look at the teams we have played in the [Laurel Highlands Conference], Richland and Bishop Guilfoyle and you can go on and on,” Corrente said. “Some we fared well. Some we didn’t. I think we’ve learned from the teams we played.”

In the other quarterfinal on Central and Central Cambria’s side of the bracket, Mount Union will put its 9-1 record and second seed on the line at the start against perennial title contender Forest Hills; the Rangers, while seeded seventh, are a wild card because they’ve had a bunch of injuries this season, have played a more demanding schedule than the Trojans and beat a higher-seeded Central team last year. The Trojans, though, definitely are for real and seem a good bet to advance to the semifinals.

“I think a lot of people have the idea that Mount Union isn’t [seeded] where they should be. But they are. They are a good team,” Baker said. “We scrimmaged them, and they are good. And they are better than they were then.”

In the other side of the bracket, Richland figures to have little problem moving on against a Ligonier Valley team that has dropped four straight games entering the playoffs. Tyrone figures to be the top seed’s semifinal foe; the Eagles beat BEA 14-0 earlier this season.

The Golden Eagles possess one of the region’s most dangerous rushers in James Oliver but will need to be clicking in all phases if they are to beat the Rams and move to the finals. Whoever is there, Central hopes to be waiting for them.

“We have yet to prove where we think we should be as a team,” Baker said. “We have yet to show the level of competition we think we should be able to achieve. In order to do that, we’re going to have to do that. We have yet to show our best, and we had better do it.”