JOHNSTOWN, Pennsylvania – Coach Brandon Bailey thought his Richland High School football team had more than a win against an undefeated opponent Friday night at Herlinger Field.
The current Rams squad won their eighth straight game, 49-42, against a very strong Penn Cambria team in a game that wasn’t really decided until the last minute.
Such a win, Bailey said, put those Rams in a position to build on a pretty impressive run from their predecessors, who won 45 games and four Class 2A District 6 championships over the past four years.
“It’s huge for our program,” Bailey said after his team scored 28 points in the second half and held off a late charge from the determined Panthers.
“We talked before the game about legacies and our kids from this team creating their own legacies. We’ve had some great players and teams over the past few years. It is a chance for these children to create their legacy in our program.
Richland’s offensive line resembled those Rams units that have played such a big role in the program’s past success.
The Rams rushed for 339 yards on 52 carries, including junior Evan McCracken’s 191 yards and five touchdowns on 36 carries.
Senior quarterback Sam Penna completed 7 of 14 passes for 103 yards and a touchdown. Penna also ran for 135 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown.
“I felt we could win the line of scrimmage. They had an injury in the first half and we really had it under control,” Bailey said. “The only times we didn’t score in the first half were self-inflicted injuries.
“We challenged our kids at halftime. Two weeks in a row, we haven’t thrown a bunch of passes. Our team is a group of selfless people. They just want to win games.
In fact, Richland (8-0) didn’t kick the ball at all in the second half.
Penn Cambria (7-1) had another big effort from quarterback Garrett Harrold, who passed for 216 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. He rushed for 33 yards and scored on a 17-yard run.
Senior Zach Grove gained 80 yards and scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter as the Panthers scored twice within a touchdown but failed to recover onside kicks.
“It was an amazing high school football game with a lot of great high school football players on the field,” Penn Cambria coach Nick Felus said.
“One game will not define our season,” Felus added. “It was a great high school football game. They made more plays than us. We didn’t win it. That’s how it is. We’ll quickly turn the page and be ready for Forest Hills.
Penn Cambria went 60 yards after the opening kickoff and took a 6-0 lead as Garrett Harrold connected on a 10-yard touchdown pass to brother Gavin Harrold. The missed extra kick.
Richland responded by going for 70 yards on four plays. Penna threw to Austin Yarnick on a 35-yard touchdown pass. Noah Ritko’s kick gave the Rams a 7-6 lead at 7:33.
“It was massive,” McCracken said of Richland’s response to the Panthers’ score. “We’re not used to being downcast. But when they score, we like to come back and get that score to start that momentum. That score lit a fire beneath us and we just kept on, kept on rolling.
Jordan Nicholls blocked a Penn Cambria punt and the Rams took over at 28. Two plays later, Penna broke a 27-yard dash for a 14-6 lead.
Ethan Box’s interception gave Richland possession of his 40 and set up a drive capped by McCracken’s 4-yard run to make it 21-6 with 1:51 left in the first quarter .
“We joked all week that this might look like an Arena Football League game where you only have to stop or two,” Bailey said. “With the punt blocked, a few interceptions, those are huge plays.”
Penn Cambria regained momentum after Luke Shuagis recovered a Rams fumble at Richland’s 41-yard line. Garrett Harrold ran for 17 yards for a touchdown. The conversion pass fell through, making it 21-12 at 9:45 of the second quarter.
Later, Garrett Harrold and Gavin Harrold teamed up on a fourth pass that resulted in a 10-yard touchdown. Andrew Dillon’s kick put Penn Cambria 21-19 at 2:54.
Richland moved 45 yards of the Panthers’ 23 in the closing seconds of the half, but the drive ended with an incomplete fourth down in the end zone when time expired.
“We were down 21-6. But our children, they are so resilient,” Felus said. “There is so much character in this locker room. They just kept fighting and we knew they would.
McCracken had a pair of 1-yard carries in the third quarter to increase the margin to 16 points. But Penn Cambria’s Garrett Harrold passed Shuagis 22 yards, then connected with his brother Gavin on the two-point conversion to make it 35-27 in three quarters.
Despite the high score, “Both defenses played very well. It was just who had the ball last,” McCracken said.
McCracken scored on a 20-yard run on the fourth, but Penn Cambria answered with a 2-yard touchdown run by Grove that was followed by a two-run conversion pass to Vinny Chirdon.
Once again, McCracken scored on a 3-yard run to make it 49-35.
Grove responded with his 8-yard touchdown run to set up the final.
“We played hard all four quarters,” Felus said. “I thought the way we bounced back was very impressive.”