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Redbank Valley to play for District 9 title

| Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, 5:21 p.m.

Redbank Valley's offense did the work in the first half, and its defense handled business in the second.

The third-seeded Bulldogs scored all of their points before halftime and got a pair of critical fourth-down stops to get past No. 2 Curwensville, 28-22, in the District 9 Class A semifinals Saturday at DuBois High School.

Mark Strothers had 247 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries for the Bulldogs (8-3), who advance to face undefeated No. 1 seed Clarion in the district final at a site and time to be determined. Jake Dougherty also scored two rushing touchdowns for Redbank Valley, which advanced to its first District 9 final since 2004 when it played in Class AA.

“After last year, going 1-8, I've been giving our seniors so much credit. They stuck with it and had faith in the program,” Redbank Valley coach Ed Wasilowski said. “There were a lot of people on the outside that might have been doubting us, but the seniors stuck together and played their hearts out.”

Curwensville (9-2) leaned on its 2,000-yard rusher, Zach Tibbens. The senior back ran for 218 yards and a touchdown on 47 carries, but his final run was the shining moment for the Redbank Valley defense.

With 1:04 remaining in the game, the Golden Tide faced a fourth-and-5 at the Redbank Valley 29. Having already converted a pair of fourth downs with runs on the drive — once with the Bulldogs' sideline fuming that no measurement was taken — Curwensville again turned to Tibbens, who took a toss right but was halted by a swarm of defenders at the 26.

“It was getting tough because they kept hammering it up the middle for 4 or 5 yards a play, but we finally cracked down and got where we needed to be,” senior lineman Devin Burkhouse said. “They had a pitch to the outside, and (Tibbens) started breaking through a couple of tackles, but everybody just flew to the ball and hit him.”

Redbank Valley opened a 14-0 lead after a 27-yard touchdown run by Strothers and a 2-yard run by Dougherty, but the Bulldogs let Curwensville back in the game with turnovers.

Alex Olson scored on a 25-yard fumble return for the Tide's first points, and another Redbank Valley fumble set up Tibbens for a 6-yard touchdown that gave Curwensville a 15-14 lead after a 2-point conversion.

“I thought we gave them everything they got in the first half,” Wasilowski said. “All year we've been moving the ball. I told the kids, the only time we get stopped is when we stop ourselves, and we did that a couple times (Saturday) with those turnovers.”

Strothers responded three plays later with the game's longest play, an 85-yard touchdown run that put Redbank Valley back in the lead. Dougherty scored on a 4-yard run later in the second quarter. A missed 37-yard field goal by Curwensville's Jason Thorp kept the Redbank Valley lead at 28-15 at halftime.

“We wanted to prove that our spread offense is more powerful than people give it credit for. Our Bulldogs on the line, they just kept pushing people back 3 or 4 yards for Mark and me,” Dougherty said.

“The first half, our offensive line was really blowing everything up,” Strothers said. “Their defense really stepped up in the second half, and I saw No. 44 (Curwensville linebacker Jake Stiles) keying on me a lot more.”

A third Redbank Valley fumble set up Curwensville to cut the lead on a quarterback sneak by Kyle Johns in the third quarter, but the Bulldogs' defense stood tall from that point.

Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mgrubba@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Grubba_Trib.

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