Richards Bows Out After 12 Years As Trojan Coach
SALTSBURG--If the Trojans beat the invading Purchase Line Red Dragons (3-5), they'll be able to include a winning record in their memories of 2003.
But, regardless of the final score, tonight's game will be the last hurrah for 15 seniors and, apparently, for their coach, Glenn Richards.
After last Friday's home stand, a "disheartening" 22-13 loss to Ligonier Valley, Richards indicated he is ready to step down. "I hate to say it," Richards said. But, "this is it. After 12 years, I'm going to go."
Richards' two-year contract is up at the end of the current year, as are the supplemental agreements for all those hired as coaches and activity advisers by the Blairsville-Saltsburg School District. District officials indicated Monday they'd received no formal word on Richards' intentions.
While noting his love of football and his high regard for his players, Richards cited a string of unlucky seasons and growing animosity from some fans as factors contributing to his decision.
"These guys and I put in a lot of time, and we're not practicing to lose...I think I'm not meant to win here. I think I have a lot of critics that do not want to see me succeed.
"As a head coach, you have to accept certain things. But I don't want my family to go through this stuff."
Friday's game was the fourth loss in a row for Saltsburg, following as many wins at the beginning of the season. "You go 4-0 and people's expectations get high," Richards said. "We were fortunate to win some of those games...We played with some heart at the beginning. But, against better teams, that doesn't work."
If the Trojans finish 5-4, it will be only their second winning season under Richards, and would leave him with a 12 year mark of 28-81.
Ligonier, which also emerged with a 4-4 record, will host Northern Cambria (7-1) tonight.
Luck wasn't with Richards or the Trojans last week. Saltsburg pounded away during both halves, rolling up nearly 300 yards of offense compared to less than 100 for Ligonier Valley.
"I think we beat them everywhere but on the scoreboard," Richards said. "I thought our kids played very hard and gave everything they had."
But 100 yards in penalties and some miscues in the backfield repeatedly broke Saltsburg's momentum. Two back-to-back holding penalties nullified Trojan touchdown runs late in the second quarter, preventing Saltsburg from breaking a 6-6 tie going into halftime.
"High school football is a game of momentum," Richards said, acknowledging the impact "any time you give up two scores in a row because of penalties...That's very tough."
Meanwhile, the visiting Mounties' defense and special teams turned in several big plays, helping their team cash in on the Trojan mistakes.
Near the end of the third quarter, Ligonier linebacker Matt Betton picked off a pass by Saltsburg's quarterback, junior Marty Steele, and returned the ball 25 yards for a go-ahead touchdown.
Brock Weaver, whose punts gave the Mounties favorable field position all night, booted the extra point, for a 13-6 lead.
Four plays later, Weaver returned a Trojan punt 39 yards, setting up another quick LV scoring drive from Saltsburg's seven yard line.
Sophomore Clark Cairns carried up to the one yard line and LV quarterback Matthew Crowe scored on a keeper. Again, Weaver capped the drive with a PAT, widening his team's lead to 20-6 about two minutes into the final quarter.
"We won with the kicking game and the defense," Ligonier Valley Coach Ron Baldonieri acknowledged. "We played the field position, especially in the second half. Buck Weaver did a great job of punting the ball and pinning them deep."
In addition, he said, "We made a little bit of a change at halftime. We put Bobby Monticue (LV's leading rusher Friday, with 42 yards) back to fullback and we brought in our young tailback (Cairns) just to give them a little bit of a change-up."
A Saltsburg fumble, recovered by Monticue, sparked Ligonier Valley's first touchdown drive late in the first quarter.
Starting from their second best field position of the game, at the Saltsburg 17 yard line, LV gave up ground and then regained it again on a series of two penalties--one charged to each team.
Crowe completed only two passes for the evening, both near the end of the first TD drive.
He connected with Weaver on the left side, for four yards. Then he fired off a short throw to sophomore Benaiah Tucci, good for eight yards and a first down at Saltsburg's one yard line.
Monticue nudged the ball into the end zone. But Weaver's extra-point kick was blocked by Trojan junior Cory Ulisse, holding Ligonier Valley to a six-point lead with 23 seconds remaining in the quarter.
Saltsburg immediately responded with the first of its two scoring drives, beginning from its own 33.
A highlight of the possession was a series of three carries down the right side by senior running back Luke Poloff.
Each earned the Trojans a first down--the last covering 11 yards, to the Ligonier Valley 24.
Later in the drive, after a 10-yard setback on a holding penalty, the Trojans advanced to the LV 5 on a 15-yard carry. Poloff took the initial handoff from Steele and handed off to Travis Bieda on an inside reverse.
Poloff carried in the final touchdown run, and Ryan Nagg's PAT attempt was wide to the left, creating a 6-6 tie at the end of the first half.
After the Mounties' two additional scores midway through the second half, Saltsburg narrowed the gap on the scoreboard, taking a punt at its own 19 yard line and proceeding into the end zone in a half dozen plays.
After help from a face mask call against Ligonier Valley, Poloff got to work again--carrying three times, to the LV 20.
Sophomore Mike Speal, who came in for the Trojans at quarterback, hit Bryan Smith in the end zone for the touchdown.
Nagg's PAT brought Saltsburg within a touchdown of LV, at 20-13 with 3:25 left on the clock.
Richards noted Steele and Speal each have strengths behind center.
"Mikey throws a nice ball," he said of Speal. "Marty's more agile."
But, "We had a couple miscues on the snap.
"That's when I decided to pull him."
Saltsburg's final possession started at its own 12 yard line and went in the wrong direction. A five-yard penalty was followed by a safety, courtesy of LV lineman E. J. Schrieber, who sacked Steele behind the goal line.
The Trojans and Mounties each take the field tonight to make a final bid for a winning season.
"I just want these guys to go out with a winning note," Richards said of his players. "If not, I've been taking the punches long enough, I can take another one."
SALTSBURG SEND-OFF-- Among the Trojans recognized during today's Senior Night ceremonies, Matt Shusko will qualify doubly for honors. Playing at tackle with the school's gridders, all season long he's traded in his helmet for a trumpet so he can join his marching bandmates for Saltsburg's halftime show. He conducts the band's version of "Magic Carpet Ride" and performs a trumpet solo on "Great Balls of Fire."...Ligonier Coach (and Principal) Ron Baldonieri deserves coach of the year consideration for bringing Ligonier back to a 4-4 mark. They could give Northern Cambria fits if the Colts take them lightly.