Warriors inch closer to playoffs
For the first time in seven years, the Elizabeth Forward Warriors will look to be among the Class AAA teams in the WPIAL football playoffs.
Quarterback JaQuan Davidson carried the ball 27 times for 138 yards and backup running back Ryan Wardropper carried it 21 times for 134 yards as the Warriors took advantage of great field position all game long and knocked off visiting Ringgold, 19-7, Friday.
“We set the goal of getting into the playoffs,” Warriors coach Mike LeDonne said. “We knew that even if we felll short tonight we had a good shot, but we wanted to take care of business, even being short-handed. We played without our stud (Rex Pearce) and they played most of the game without theirs.”
Ringgold running back Demetrius Louis left the game in the first quarter after only two carries. He was returning to the lineup after missing last week's game against Albert Gallatin with a groin injury.
Pearce also missed last week's game for Elizabeth Forward (4-3, 4-3).
“He couldn't go,” LeDonne said of Pearce. “We've been preaching family all year long and that's how a family responds. You fill the spot when a brother goes down. They did a hell of a job and I'm really proud of them.”
Neither team got off to the start they wanted as Ringgold went four-and-out on their first drive. The Warriors were more successful, making it to the Ringgold 16-yard line, but turned it over on downs after Davidson threw an illegal forward pass.
Ringgold (4-3, 4-3) couldn't answer and EF struck on their next drive when Wardropper raced 39 yards to the Ringgold 6. Davidson cashed in with his first of two rushing touchdowns two plays later.
The Warrior defense harassed Rams' quarterback Nico Law, as Max Strotman finished with three sacks with Alex Smith and Adam Oatman each finishing with one.
“They have a lot of team speed over there,” LeDonne said of the Rams. “Max played great out of the defensive end spot. We pride ourselves on being a physical football team. We're all underclassmen on the d-line. They've been playing well and I expect we should see some all-conference players on that unit.”
Ringgold took advantage of a muffed punt in the second quarter and made it down to the EF 2-yard line, but a big hit on Law by Adam Oatman on fourth-and-1 gave the ball back to the Warriors.
“I'm not going to make excuses,” Ringgold coach Matt Humbert said. “But, we shot ourselves in the foot again. We were in positions to score a couple of times and take advantage of their mistakes and we couldn't capitalize on our opportunities. When you're on the 2, you have to punch it in.”
Ten consecutive runs by Davidson and Wardropper set up a 40-yard touchdown pass from Davidson to Matt Berndowski with 49 seconds left in the half to give the Warriors a 13-0 lead.
EF drove deep into Rams territory to start the second half, but had a field goal partially blocked fall short. Law took advantage, calling his own number for a 29-yard run and hitting Jacob Girard for a 43-yard gain. Those two plays set up Law scampering in for a 16-yard score to make it 13-7.
“When you have a young quarterback, you hate to put a lot on his shoulders,” Humbert said. “Without Demetrius there, that's a lot on his shoulders, but I think he played a good game.”
The Warriors flexed their muscles, showing that this isn't the Warriors team that finished 2-17 the past two seasons by embarking on a 72-yard, 11-play drive, capped off by Davidson's 12th rushing touchdown of the season to give the Warriors the final score of the night.
“That drive was huge,” LeDonne said. “We had the potential to put the dagger in them but we missed the field goal. That's part of the game. How do you battle back from adversity? That was the theme of this game. And we battled back. We strive to put up a goose egg on that board every game and tonight we only gave up seven to a team that has a lot of talent. We'll take that final score that's on that scoreboard tonight.”
The good news for the Rams, though, is that combined with Belle Vernon Area's loss to Thomas Jefferson, they clinched a playoff berth.
“The playoffs was the goal coming into the season,” Humbert said. “We want to finish the season strong and go into the playoffs on a good note. Right now, it's one guy making a mistake here and there and we need to correct some things and get healthy.”
The Rams will host Highlands in an exhibition contest next week, while EF will travel to winless Albert Gallatin.
GAME NOTES - EF finished with 19 first downs compared to Ringgold's 6 ... Law finished 7-of-15 passing for 71 yards ... Davidson completed 4-of-5 throws for 76 yards ... the Rams had more penalty yards (25) than offensive yards (14) in the first half.
Jeremy Sellew is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2667 or email@example.com.