Redbank Valley defense knows it must stop Curwensville ground attack
There aren't many secrets about what lies in Redbank Valley's path to the District 9 final.
The No. 3 Bulldogs will be tasked with stopping running back Zach Tibbens and the power running game of No. 2 Curwensville in the early D-9, Class A semifinal at 1 p.m. Saturday at DuBois High School.
Redbank Valley (7-3) is seeking its first D-9 title game appearance since moving to Class A — its last final was the Class AA game in 2004 — while Curwensville (9-1) was the Class A champ in 2010.
The winner of that game will face the winner between No. 1 Clarion and No. 4 Brockway, who meet on the same field at 6 p.m. Saturday, next week for the district championship.
A first look at the film or the stat sheet gives a clear indication of the Golden Tide's intentions entering a game. Of 3,273 yards of offense this year, 2,126 of them are rushing yards by Tibbens, a 180-pound senior back.
“It seems like an obvious point that we need to stop him, but everyone they play has said the same thing, and only one team has done a good job of it,” Redbank Valley coach Ed Wasilowski said. “They're an old throwback, I-formation team. It's like the old Green Bay Packers — here we come, try and stop us.”
As a product of the team's run-heavy scheme and leading in most games — Curwensville's lone loss was to Class AA finalist Kane — quarterback Kyle Johns has attempted just 54 passes all season with 26 completions. With that in mind, the focus of the Bulldogs' defense has been on slowing the running game.
“Stopping the run is the key, because they don't really pass at all,” senior running back/linebacker Mark Strothers said. “They're pretty straightforward with what they do, but the problem could be their line, because they're bigger than most the teams we've faced.”
The Bulldogs will counter with a more balanced attack that includes a run game led by Strothers. Despite missing two games with a hand injury, Strothers has run for 1,154 yards and a school-record 22 touchdowns this season, including 156 in the quarterfinal win over Ridgway last week.
Junior quarterback Jake Dougherty has thrown for 1,547 yards for Redbank Valley, which will be sticking to its offensive philosophy whether ahead or behind in the game.
“We've been very pleased with our production,” Wasilowski said. “We just take what the defense gives us. That's been our philosophy for years, it just so happened that last week, we ran the ball more, and it's never a bad thing to get the ball in Mark Strothers' hands.”
Strothers, meanwhile, is prepared to do what it takes so that next week, he can get carries in a championship game.
“It's whatever works. I just want to win, no matter who gets the ball,” Strothers said. “We're all pretty pumped because it's a chance to make our first single-A final.”
The Saturday kickoff is a first this season for Redbank Valley, while Curwensville played one Saturday game earlier this season at Elk County Catholic.
The slight change to the weekly schedule doesn't affect much, according to Wasilowski, and Strothers said it might even be a benefit for such a big game.
“It still feels like another week, but it feels like we got a lot more done. We're prepared more,” Strothers said. “We have a few different defensive looks in, and we're ready to play.”