Rivals Bedford, Ridge to meet in finals

What is too much of a good thing when it comes to high school football?

One thing is for sure. It wouldn’t be beating your biggest rival for the second time in three weeks to win your second district championship in a row.

That’s what Chestnut Ridge is trying to do this week in District 5-8 Class AA.

“The atmosphere, the intensity, the hype, our guys understand that. It might be a slight advantage for our guys. I’d rather be on this side than that side when that would be our first exposure to that,” said Lions coach Max Shoemaker, whose team will take on Bedford on Friday night at Northern Bedford’s Panther Community Stadium in the district final.

Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Both teams bring 8-3 records into the title tilt. Ridge is the top seed by virtue of a 27-21 win scored at Bedford on Nov. 1.

How much of an advantage that turns out to be remains to be seen. On the one hand, the Lions did just beat the Bisons on their home field, rushing for a season-high 312 yards. However, there’s always a school of thought that it’s hard to beat a team that is fairly evenly matched with you twice, and that the losing team might have a bit of a benefit in that it knows exactly where improvements need to be made to make the outcome different the second time around.

“Naturally, you have some feeling of what was effective, what wasn’t. That’s probably the biggest plus,” said Shoemaker, who won nearly 100 games and several district titles coaching Bedford in the 1990s. “As far as negatives, I know in our situation, it was a competitive ballgame. I think our kids understand, given a different situation or a different night, the shoe could be on the other foot.”

Bedford has a clear area on which to focus on improving from the initial meeting. Ridge quarterback Beau Bosch ran for 153 yards and three touchdowns two weeks ago. Lion fullback Matt Wiley rambled for 147 yards and another score.

The Bisons have struggled on defense at times this season, both stopping the run and the pass.

“They’re both very good runners, and Bosch can certainly throw the ball, as well,” Bedford coach Kevin Steele said. “They have a good offensive line, as well. We had some key breakdowns as far as not doing what we needed to be doing in our option responsibilities. We have to do a better job of that on Friday.”

Bedford also had its second-lowest rushing total of the season when it played Ridge in the regular season. However, the Bisons were missing one of their best players – running back-linebacker Kody Blevins – that night, and he’s back now from some health issues.

The Bisons came back last week to hang 34 first-half points on the board in their semifinal win over Everett. Steele thought his team was eager to get another shot at the Lions, who smashed Westinghouse 55-20 last week.

“They’re our local rival, and we didn’t come out on the right end of the scoreboard the first time around,” Steele said. “Obviously, the stakes are a little bit bigger this time around. Our kids are looking forward to the opportunity. I’m sure their kids are, as well. It should be a great football game for the district championship.

“I’m sure both communities are excited for it, and both teams are, as well.”

Like Ridge, Bedford runs an option offense that is averaging more than 200 yards per game on the ground, and Bison sophomore quarterback Austin Montgomery surpassed the 1,000-yard passing plateau last week. Bedford’s biggest strength, though, is its ability to make big plays: The Bisons have forced 27 turnovers this season while committing just eight and five different Bedford players have scored at least six touchdowns.

This group of Lions already has established itself among the more accomplished in Ridge history and is hoping to add to its legacy not only on Friday night but perhaps in the weeks that follow.

“We take each week in and of itself. This week, we have an opportunity for a district championship. Last year, we won our first on-the-field championship. This past week, we won our first home playoff game,” Shoemaker said. “There’s some things that we’ve set our sights on, and our goal certainly is to win a second district championship.”