NEW CASTLE —
For rent: one cellar.
Riverside’s seventh- and eighth-grade football team won’t be needing it any longer.
The Panthers capped an undefeated season last night with a 59-6 romp over Neshannock in the Middle School Tri-County Championship Game.
“This is just our third year, and we had never won more than one game,” said head coach John Severin, whose team finished 8-0. “We’re usually in the cellar in the Tri-County.
“A big part of it is we finally got numbers. The last two years, we averaged about 15 kids on the team. This year we got a lot of kids working out, started a weight program early and the numbers were a huge part of it. We’d never been able to practice against each other. It was such a luxury to be able to do that.”
But while numbers may have been plentiful for the Panthers, there certainly was no shortage of speed, either. Riverside led 30-0 by the end of the first quarter — and remember, these are just eight-minute periods — thanks to one breakaway after another.
Jordan Woloszyn’s 55-yard run on the Panthers’ first play got it started. Lance Fisher then erupted for scoring runs of 60 and 65 yards, and Austin Dambaugh streaked 45 yards to paydirt on the receiving end of a Dylan Speicher pass.
Fisher finished with 143 yards on just seven carries while Woloszyn had 76 on five. Speicher completed 5 of 11 passes for 138 yards and three touchdowns, complementing his toss to Dambaugh with scoring strikes of 45 yards to Woloszyn and 30 yards to Justin Baustin.
For good measure, Speicher also returned a kickoff 60 yards for a touchdown and intercepted two of Neshannock quarterback Frank Antuono’s passes.
“If there’s one thing we’ve tried to instill in them, it’s hunger, and to come out and set the tone,” Severin said of his team’s explosive first quarter. “I think we did that today.
“We were very respectful of Neshannock going in. If there would have been a fifth quarter the first time we played them, I think they probably would have won that game. Tonight, we wanted to come out and make sure we got the job done.”
For Neshannock head coach Dave Bowen, whose team compiled a 5-2-1 season mark, the first quarter proved to be the incarnation of his biggest pre-game concerns.
“We came into this game knowing that they were a very good football team,” he said. “We came down here earlier in the year and we made a lot of mistakes, but we hung in with them.
“But I was really worried about their overall speed. And tonight, that speed showed up. Once they broke our front contain, they were gone.”
To make matters worse, Neshannock lost running back Dan Welker to a minor injury early in the second quarter. Welker had carried 10 times for 47 yards before retiring to the sidelines, including six totes for 32 yards on the Lancers’ lone touchdown drive. That nine play, 51-yard drive was capped by a 19-yard pass from Antuono to Anthony Medure.
“(Welker) got a shot a lot in the leg and that sorta slowed him down,” Bowen said. “The score was out of control, so I didn’t want to get him beat up.”
Riverside rounded out the scoring with 45 seconds left on an 11-yard run by reserve running back Dylan Vignolini.
Despite the lopsided final, Bowen beamed about his team’s accomplishments.
“I was proud of the way they played tonight,” he said. “They fought hard and they didn’t give up, that’s for sure.
“This was my first year coaching junior high. This was all icing on the cake making it this far my first year with these guys. I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
NEW CASTLE —
For rent: one cellar.
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