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Warriors, Lions set for title tilt

November 8, 2012
By Philip Cmor ( , The Altoona Mirror

A high school football fan looking to take in the most unlikely district championship game they could imagine might find a trip to Northern Bedford's Panther Community Stadium worthwhile on Friday night.

That's where Chestnut Ridge and Everett will square off for the District 5 Class AA championship at 7 p.m. Or is that the District 5-8 Class AA subregional championship? Because the only Class AA team from the Pittsburgh City League opted out of the playoffs, this week's winner gets a bye next week and is effectively a double champion.

Both teams are 5-5. Neither has won a district championship before. Both teams run a lot more than they pass.

One of the coaches had a great deal of success beating the team he now guides. The other coach was running a team in Oregon a couple of years ago and has nearly 100 more career losses than wins. One team started 0-3, the other 1-3.

Although Ridge and Everett are both double-A schools in Bedford County, the former rivals haven't met on the field in five years and have no common opponents other than Central.

"The fact that it's local is perhaps more relevant than the fact that it's for a district championship," said Ridge coach Max Shoemaker, who won nearly 100 games and five D5 titles in the early 1990s with the Lions' archrival, Bedford. "Winning a championship is a nice feather in your cap, but I think our kids are more excited about playing somebody local instead of halfway across the state."

Ridge has been playing games in Reading and Maryland because it is an independent after it used to be a member of the Inter-County Conference with Everett.

The Lions were a playoff team a season ago when District 5 was joined with District 6. Everett, meanwhile, hasn't sniffed the postseason since 2009, when it was bounced from the Class A playoffs in the opening round by Berlin.

In the next two years, the Warriors won three games. Things weren't looking much better this season when the Warriors lost their first three games.

However, Everett bounced back and won five of its next six before losing at District 6 Class AA juggernaut Central last week. Even in that game, the Warriors acquitted themselves nicely.

"Their coaches said we played them as tough as anybody all year," Everett coach Mark Kirk said.

Kirk himself is a story. He's been on the sidelines in one capacity or another for 35 years at schools in Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, Indiana and as far west as Oregon. His career head coaching record is 69-163-4, but the way his Warriors ended the regular season was indicative of an ability to find a way to turn things around.

"We had to evaluate the personnel a little bit. The first evaluation wasn't really good," Kirk said. "The kids have been really, really resilient. They hadn't had a lot of success in the previous two seasons, and, to drop the first three [and come back], I'm really proud of these guys.

"The great thing about this group is they really like to play football."

Of course, it doesn't hurt either that some of those guys that like to play football are absolutely huge. Among Kirk's starters on the lines are 333-pound Phil Cummings, 252-pound Chris Weist, 305-pound Justin Weist, 240-pound Hunter Valentine and 227-pound Eli Claycomb.

The prime beneficiary of all that beef up front is senior scatback Barkley Rhoat. After a modest start to the season, Rhoat is on a string of four consecutive 100-yard games and averages 9.4 yards per carry, a nice stat on a team that runs more than 75 percent of the time.

"Barkley's faster than he looks. We want to get him into space as much as we can," Kirk said.

Ridge, which came on strong after a sluggish first quarter to beat Bedford last week, 33-7, will be without one of its big guys up front, 251-pound Shane Davis, because of an injury.

"We'll be overmatched size-wise, and they have some good speed. Those are two big concerns," Shoemaker said. "We'll have to play a good defensive game. When we've fallen it's because we've given up big plays."

Shoemaker's offense has been pretty potent, too, though. The Lions average more than 240 yards per game rushing. Quarterback Beau Bosch, whose girlfriend, ironically, is from Everett, has run for 1,096 yards and 17 touchdowns, while Jacob Mock has 840 rushing yards.

"We're excited for the opportunity," Shoemaker said. "This is a bridge we need to cross to get where we want to be."

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