Season of first continues as Fort Cherry advances to PIAA Class A final

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Friday, December 1, 2023 | 11:41 PM


It’s been a season of firsts for the Fort Cherry Rangers. First WPIAL title, first state playoff game, first state playoff win and now a first trip to the PIAA Class A championship game

While Fort Cherry was in uncharted territory, its challenger, the Redbank Valley Bulldogs were in a familiar position, just two years removed from a PIAA championship game appearance. Yet, it was the new kids on the block that put together a 33-23 semifinal victory in front of Ranger Nation that showed up in droves Friday night at Farrell.

“It’s surreal,” sophomore phenom Matt Sieg said. “We’ve all been playing together since we were in elementary school. It’s a close team and brotherhood. We are blessed to bring this to the community that hasn’t had this success in the past.”

The Fort Cherry contingent was loud and have played a factor in this first-of-its-kind run for the Rangers.

“With the way things have been around the community, it’s been unbelievable,” coach Tanner Garry said. “You can’t go outside without someone screaming ‘go Rangers.’ I’m proud of the community with the memories that they are making for these kids. It’s something special.”

With the Fort Cherry faithful behind the Rangers team and Sieg, he has elevated his play to another level in the postseason after what was already a remarkable regular season. Once again, Sieg was at the epicenter of the offense, utilizing his arm, but primarily doing the damage with his legs.

Even as the Bulldogs (12-2) bottled him up in the first half, only allowing a 2-yard score and seven points on offense for the Rangers, Sieg broke through for 258 yards on 34 carries and four touchdowns.

“He’s someone that finds ways to come up in the biggest moments of games all year,” Garry said. “They did a good job of containing him for a lot of the game.”

“For about three and a half quarters, we did the best possible job to contain him,” Redbank Valley coach Blane Gold said. “It got away from us at the end, but it wasn’t because of effort. Wouldn’t change anything about the game plan; he just beat us.”

It was a matter of time before the Fort Cherry offense started to break through on big chunk plays. Leading by four points, the run game started executing at a high rate for the Rangers with Ethan Faletto, who finished with 89 yards and a rushing touchdown, jumpstarting a drive in the fourth quarter.

As the Rangers (15-0) moved into the plus side of the field, Sieg dug into his repertoire on every run, including a fake pitch and dash for 24 and a 20-yard run that followed his blockers to cap off the scoring drive.

“Our line week in and week out, I can’t stress it enough, open up holes no matter who we are playing and they wear teams down,” Sieg said.

Redbank would not go down without a fight as sophomore quarterback Braylon Wagner moved the ball down the field in just over two minutes to set up a critical touchdown pass to Owen Clouse for 35 yards.

With 2:29 remaining and holding a slight 26-23 lead, the Rangers needed to find a way to drain the clock. Not only did they find a way to kill some time, they also saw their star player reach the end zone once again. Sieg hit the outside, and thanks to a great block to seal the edge, scampered for a 37-yard exclamation point.

“These kids have bought into the idea that there’s teams that are going to make plays and teams have made plays on us all year and they always find a way to battle back,” Garry said. “It’s a relieving thing as a coach because, I know with that group, they will always come back and keep fighting.”

Redbank Valley made key plays against the Rangers in order to keep in stride. Following a Faletto 5-yard score, Wagner went up top to Ashton Kahle for a 68-yard touchdown down the sideline.

It was the duo’s second connection of the night after they opened the scoring on the first drive of the game with a 34-yard touchdown up the middle after Kahle shook off a defender.

For two high-scoring teams that average over 40 points a game, a 9-7 first half was a bit unusual, but not totally unexpected in a game with this merit.

“We knew it was going to be an absolute dogfight,” Gold said. “When you get to this level, you’re not blowing people out. It was a dogfight to the very end.”

As Gold noted, it was a battle for every inch, but the Bulldogs’ dream of another crack at a state title came to an end.

“Sometimes you need some magic to happen, and we just didn’t get it,” Gold said.

With the magic on the Fort Cherry side, its run continues with a PIAA championship matchup with Steelton Highspire at 1 p.m. Thursday, at Cumberland Valley’s Chapman Field.

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