Hard work paying off for NBC

Turning things around after going 6-5 last high school football season didn’t happen overnight for Northern Bedford. Just ask Black Panthers coach Garry Black.

“It’s not because of what happened from August until now,” Black said. “You get in spots like this when you start putting the work in in December, January, February, March, April.”

The position the Panthers are in is one that has them one win away from the program’s first district championship since 1995 when they take the field tonight at Somerset Area High School at 7 p.m. to decide who gets to wear the District 5 Class 1A crown. All that stands in the way of Northern Bedford and its lengthy title drought is Windber and one of the most formidable running games in the region.

The Panthers enter the contest as the top seed, sporting a 9-2 record. Windber is 8-3 and was the second seed.

“The seniors were here as sophomores when we played for (a District 5 championship in 2015). We didn’t come home winners that year, but they’ve been there,” Black said. “They played three playoff games that year, one last year and two this year, so they know what it’s like to be in playoff games.

“It is special to play for this.”

Northern Bedford has gotten this far largely on the strength of one of the best defenses in the Altoona Mirror coverage area, and perhaps all of Central PA.

Through 11 games, the Panthers have surrendered just 95 points. Northern has shut out Tussey Mountain and Williamsburg. They only allowed six to Mount Union, 14 to Bellwood, and, last week, gave up 12 to an extremely explosive Shade team in a 28-12 semifinal-round win.

Northern Bedford is terrific against the pass — Jaden Fernandez leads the area in interceptions with eight and Garett Clouse is one of the top safeties around. However, the Panthers have stood even better against the run.

Panther opponents average just 3.3 yards per carry this season. Only Mount Union has surpassed 200 yards on the ground this year against NBC, and the only other team that even got more than 150 was Bellwood.

Lineman Tristin Guyer leads the team with 82 tackles, including 22 for loss. Clouse, Alex Fouse and Colby Imler all have more than 50 stops for the Panthers, and six other Panthers have at least 20 tackles.

“The way we played, especially at the end of the year, certainly adds confidence,” Black said, “for games like this.”

That self-assurance will be needed tonight, because Windber is a whole different type of offensive animal.

The Ramblers don’t throw much because they run the ball with amazing proficiency. Using a traditional single-wing, Windber has managed to amass 364.5 rushing yards per game this season. In last week’s 49-0 semifinal dismantling of third-seeded North Star, Windber rolled up 470 yards on the ground.

That’s actually just their fourth-best rushing game this season.

Cody Simanski has almost double the yards this year that Northern Bedford has allowed — 2,189 — and he’s scored 28 touchdowns. Evan Quinn averages just under 100 rushing yards per game.

“Other teams run wildcat. It’s not the same as trying to defend the single-wing,” Black said. “Windber lines up in this, and they have their plays, and they just try to pound it down your throat.”

“We’ve been able to run the ball over pretty much everybody, so we’re pretty excited for (the D5 final),” Windber coach Matt Grohal said.

Grohal, though, knows the Panther defense isn’t like most the Ramblers have faced this season.

“They’re probably the best defense we’re going to face all year,” Grohal said. “They’re aggressive. Their linebackers play downhill. We know we’re going to have our hands full.”

Like Northern Bedford, Windber has undergone a turnaround this season. The Ramblers were 4-6 in 2016 and didn’t even make the playoffs.

“This group of seniors has been playing for three years now. We only had four seniors last year and three the year before,” Grohal said. “These guys have matured and come together as seniors.”

Black is hoping his team has matured and come together a little bit more.

“These kids have worked hard to get here,” Black said. “Hopefully we’re able to bring it home this year.”

D5 1A championship

Who: Windber Ramblers (8-3) vs. Northern Bedford Black Panthers (9-2)

When: Tonight, 7 p.m.

Where: Somerset Area High School

Coaches: Windber — Matt Grohal (45-33, seven years). Northern Bedford — Garry Black (24-11, three years).

Last meeting: Windber, 34-7 (Nov. 12, 2011, District 6 Class 1A semifinals)

All-time series: Windber, 3-1

How they got here: Windber — defeated Conemaugh Valley, 35-14; defeated Blacklick Valley, 46-24; defeated Shade, 35-0, defeated Conemaugh Township, 47-6; defeated Ferndale, 27-20; lost to Portage, 42-8; defeated North Star, 48-20; lost to Berlin Brothersvalley, 38-22; defeated Meyersdale, 39-35; lost to Northern Cambria, 37-20; defeated North Star, 49-0, in the semifinals. Northern Bedford — defeated Moshannon Valley, 23-6; defeated West Branch, 33-13; defeated Glendale, 34-7; defeated Tussey Mountain, 43-0; defeated Everett, 54-6; lost to Juniata Valley, 24-7; defeated Williamsburg, 49-0; defeated Claysburg-Kimmel, 14-7 (OT); defeated Mount Union, 14-6; lost to Bellwood-Antis, 14-7; defeated Shade, 28-12, in the semifinals.

When Windber has the ball: Windber offense — QB Tommy Hanik (jr., 13), RB Evan Quinn (sr., 4), RB Cody Simanski (sr., 44), RB Dylan Thomas (sr., 20), WR Jeremy Layton (jr, 8), T Jason Kirkwood (sr., 63), T Antonio Campitell (jr., 68), G Chase Bassett (jr., 60), G Trenten Bunk (sr., 52), C Ty Gephart (sr., 70). Northern Bedford defense — DE Trevor Allison (sr., 51), DE Tyler Wirth (sr., 57), DT Tristin Guyer (sr., 50), DT Kyle Guyer (jr., 52), LB Alex Fouse (jr., 58), LB Colby Imler (so., 25), LB Josh Dasher (sr., 33), LB Kyler States (so., 23) or Steven Kline (so., 54), CB Case Donaldson (jr., 3), CB Jaden Fernandez (sr., 1), S Garett Clouse (sr., 22).

When Northern Bedford has the ball: Northern Bedford offense — QB Andrew Foor (sr., 5), RB Colby Imler (so., 25), RB Josh Dasher (sr., 33), WR Jaden Fernandez (sr., 1), WR Garett Clouse (sr., 22), TE Bentley Zimmerman (jr., 80), T Kyle Guyer (jr., 52), T Trevor Allison (sr., 51), G Steven Kline (so., 54), G Luke Welsh (so., 56), C Ethan Quarry (sr., 74). Windber defense — DT Landon Gipe (jr., 40), DT Trenten Bunk (sr., 52), NG Chase Bassett (jr., 60), LB Tammy Hanik (jr., 13), LB Evan Quinn (sr., 4), LB Tyler Kimmel (fr., 2), LB Cody Simanski (sr., 44), CB Jeremy Layton (jr., 8), CB James Shearman (fr., 15), S Dylan Thomas (sr., 20), S Evan Custer (so., 1).

What’s next: The winner plays the District 10 champion (Farrell or Cambridge Springs) on Nov. 17 or 18.

Notable: Northern Bedford is the No. 1 seed, Windber is No. 2. … Northern is looking for its first district championship since 1995. … All four previous meetings between the Panthers and Ramblers were playoff games. … Northern Bedford only has allowed 1,196 rushing yards this season. … Simanski has 2,189 yards rushing, while Quinn has 1,062. … Dasher needs 1 yard to reach 1,000 rushing.

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