Central Martinsburg outlasts Richland for District 6 AA crown
Written by: Billy Splain on Saturday, November 23rd, 2013
You know it’s going to be a rough, tight, knock down and drag’em out game when you have a team fake a punt from their own 18, a 3 minute scoring drive and a goal line stance to start the game. As a matter of fact, those three series took up the ENTIRE first quarter in a game that saw the Central Dragons abandon their usual big play, quick strike offense in favor of a ball controlling, smash mouth victory to claim their first district title since 2008 over Richland 27-22.
Nobody saw this coming, nobody” said Central coach Dave Baker of the win. You could say on the first series he was showing that very statement as Baker sent punter Bradi Moore onto the field facing third and 2 from their own 18. Bradi had a secret and used it to scamper 4 yards for a first down to begin a 6 minute drive that would not end with a score, but it did show the Rams they could be in for a long night. “Bradi was the only one who knew it was a fake, we all lined up and played the punt” said Dragon qb Austin Cunningham.
That first series of the night would end with a punt and Richland took over at their own 28. The Rams wasted no time getting to the end zone on a 9 play, 3 minute drive that was capped with Ram qb Matt Shaffer scampering in from 8 yards out. Nick Pecora added the 2 point conversion to give Richland an 8 point lead.
The ensuing kick gave Central the ball at their own 5 yard line because of great kick coverage by Michael Somiari. The Dragons then proceeded to take another 6 minutes off the clock driving to the Ram 1 yard line on a 15 play drive that ended with Cunningham getting stuffed at the one foot line of 4th down. The Rams failed to move the ball and were forced to punt.
Central had its first good field position of the night at the Ram 31. It only took three plays to capitalize when Cunningham, who had 27 rushes for 150 yards and 2 scores, called his own number and literally plowed the remaining 10 yards of a 20 yard scoring run through the entire Richland defense, pulling at least 5 defenders with him into the end zone. “I thought our whole team was outstanding, but Cunningham was great. He got first downs, touchdowns and just made all the right decisions” said Baker of his quarterback’s efforts.
The Rams weren’t about to give up easily. They drove to the Dragon 42 on the next series but another problem would soon rear its ugly head for the defending champs: turnovers. Shaffer launched a pass over the middle on third down that was intercepted by Cunningham at the 35 with 1:30 left in the half.
Central decided to go for the lead instead of running out the clock. Cunningham hit his wide receiver twice in the drive for 24 and 17 yards to bring his team to the 7 of Richland and from there, Zach Slagenweit kicked a 24-yard field goal to give the Dragons a 9-8 lead and the momentum it needed going into the locker room for the half.
Richland was held to three plays to start the second half and the Dragons continued to hold that momentum. They got help from mother nature as, facing fourth and 8 from their own 22 the Rams attempted a punt. The wind sent the ball straight up and to the sidelines resulting in a four yard kick.
Central continued to “pound the rock.” Austin Conrath plowed through the Rams defense for a 5 yard score to give his Dragons a 15-8 lead. The key was the short 6 play drive took up 3 minutes. That doesn’t seem like a lot of time but add that to another 6 minute drive to end the third quarter and it didn’t leave Richland much time to work with.
They didn’t need it. On second and 13 Shaffer found Kyle Flick streaking down field and hit him with a perfectly placed pass that went for 71 yards to the Dragon 18. The senior QB then called his own number for the 2 yard score following a 16 yard run by Tanner Solarcyk. Solarcyk, who entered the game with over 1,500 yards and 18 touchdowns, was pretty much held in check only managing 84 yards. “That was key for us, we knew we had to slow Tanner down and contain him. I thought we did a good job of that” said Cunningham. Shawn Gindlesberger hit the point after and the score was tied at 15 to start the fourth quarter.
Central decided it had enough. On what was probably their best drive of the night, the Dragons went 62 yards on 10 plays to take the lead for good. Cunningham hit a wide open Justin Helsel and 24 yards later the receiver celebrated in the endzone. The 2 point play failed leaving the score at 21-15.
Disaster then struck the Rams again. On the ensuing kick Mike Mock recovered the muffed kick and the Dragons were in control. Five plays later Cunningham got his second 20 yard scoring run to make the score 27-15 with 4:23 remaining in the game.
Richland battled back in exciting fashion, driving 70 yards in only 2 minutes to make it a 5 point game on Solarcyk’s 3 yard run. With three time outs remaining the Rams still had a chance. They attempted an onside kick but the Dragons recovered at their 43. The Ram defense stiffened, sending the Dragons back to their 29 on 3 consecutive losses.
Richland had one last shot, but Mock came down with the interception to end the Rams season. “Man, I was just going crazy in my mind. I was SO excited, I’ll never forget that” said Mock of the pick.
Central will face the winner of the Girard/Hickory contest in the second round of the PIAA state playoffs.
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