Redbank Valley steals momentum, stops Bishop Canevin short of state finals

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Friday, December 3, 2021 | 11:35 PM


In one moment, Bishop Canevin went from potentially going up two scores to seeing Redbank Valley tie the game. It was a momentum stealer the Crusaders could not recover from.

With the Crusaders driving inside the Redbank Valley 10 early in the third quarter, Chris Marshall intercepted a pass and returned it 98 yards for a touchdown.

It was the start of 16 unanswered points for the Bulldogs, who went on to defeat Bishop Canevin, 23-14, in the PIAA Class A semifinals Friday night at North Hills’ Martorelli Stadium.

Redbank Valley earned its first trip to a state final in any sport and became District 9’s first football team to reach the PIAA championship game since Smethport did it in 1992. The Bulldogs (13-1) will play District 6’s Bishop Gullfoyle in the PIAA title game at 1 p.m. Thursday at Hersheypark Stadium. Bishop Canevin, which was looking for a state title appearance for the first time since 1990, finished 13-2.

“It’s such a testament to these kids,” Redbank Valley coach Blane Gold said. “We have been through some stuff emotionally that’s been self-inflicted over the past few weeks, and for these guys to weather that emotion and do this is amazing.”

Marshall’s interception tied the game 14-14 and was one of five turnovers the Bulldogs forced on the night.

“That one hurt,” Bishop Canevin coach Rich Johnson said. “It just wasn’t our night. Sometimes it ends up like that, but I couldn’t be prouder of this group of kids.”

The Bulldogs turned over the Crusaders on their next two drives on an interception by Tate Minich and a forced fumble that was recovered near midfield.

“Chris Marshall is a stud, and we’re getting some PSAC schools calling about him,” Gold said. “Football is such a game of momentum, and that’s what he did. He changed the momentum.”

Boo Schreckengost scored on a 1-yard run early in the fourth quarter to give Redbank Valley a 21-14 lead.

Following that drive, Bishop Canevin made a change at quarterback, putting in freshman Kole Olszewski in place of Jason Cross, who had thrown three interceptions. The Crusaders made a similar move in the WPIAL semifinals against Cornell and Olszewski gave them a spark.

This time, Redbank Valley’s stout defensive line nullified that. Joe Mansfield, a three-time all-state defensive end, sacked Olzewski in the end zone for a safety to put the Bulldogs ahead by nine.

Things started well for the Crusaders with Xavier Nelson catching a 77-yard pass from Cross in the first quarter. Cross then scored on a 1-yard run to put the Crusaders up 14-0. Redbank Valley got on the board late in the first half on a 5-yard run by Bryson Bain that cut the lead in half going into the break.

Bishop Canevin was penalized 16 times for 116 yards. Combined with the five turnovers, it was too much to overcome.

“When you get behind like that with penalties and lose the turnover battle in a state semifinal, it’s tough,” Johnson said. “We still only lost by nine, so we were right there. We’ll live and we’ll learn.”

Johnson took over a program that went 1-9 two years ago and turned it into a WPIAL champion for the first time since 1990. The Crusaders graduate only five seniors.

“The turnaround we were able to do in two years was a testament to the kids and a testament to their heart,” Johnson said. “Our seniors were on a one-win team, and we sent them out as a state semifinalst. I wouldn’t want to do this with any other group of kids.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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