Richland v. Forest Hills football.jpg

Richland coach Brandon Bailey paces the sideline during a PIAA Laurel Highlands conference game against Forest Hills, at Richland High School in Johnstown, PA., Friday, Sept.7, 2018.

ALTOONA – It looked like a routine running play to start the second half when Richland's Jake Sabol took the handoff from Kellan Stahl and plowed into the middle of the line.

Forty-five yards downfield – the last 20 with Bishop Guilfoyle defenders draped across his back and his teammates pushing the pile forward – the entire complexion of Saturday night’s season-opening clash of Laurel Highlands Conference football heavyweights had changed.

“It just really got us going,” Sabol said. “It just showed us what we could do.”

Sabol and Richland spotted Guilfoyle a 10-point halftime lead before flipping the script in more ways than one, as the 2019 PIAA Class 2A semifinalist Rams rolled up 276 rushing yards over the final two quarters to score a 19-10 comeback victory over last year’s PIAA Class 1A runner-up.

Stahl rushed for a game-high 140 yards, scoring on runs of 9 and 3 yards in spearheading Richland’s charge to a 22nd straight conference win. This, though, was the Rams’ closest call during that streak since a 24-20 victory over Chestnut Ridge on Oct. 26, 2018.

Allen Mangus added 90 yards on the ground for Richland before leaving the contest late with a leg injury, and Sabol tacked on 89 yards on just nine carries, scoring on a 3-yard plunge with 1:28 remaining to clinch it.

“This was such a great opening game,” Richland coach Brandon Bailey said. “The kids showed resilience.”

The Rams showed a definite change in personality from the past couple of seasons in pulling this one off. It was the fewest points they’d scored in a game outside of state playoff competition since 2017.

Stahl, who completed almost 58 percent of his throws for 2,993 yards as a sophomore last season, at one point had a string of 11 straight incompletions, affected greatly by excellent Marauder pass coverage and minus his top two receiving targets from 2019. He used his feet to overcome that, though, running for 96 yards in the second half.

Most of the Rams’ success came running right up the gut.

“We just were going to take it at them,” Stahl said. “If we get (upset), this is what we can do.”

Richland managed only 84 first-half yards, 48 of which came on one Stahl jaunt in the first quarter. The Rams only put the ball in the air twice in the second half, though.

Richland ran for 119 yards in the third quarter, pulling to within four after Sabol’s game-changing carry set up Stahl’s 9-yard run to cap a 78-yard drive on which they even had to regain 11 yards because of a holding penalty.

The Rams went up 13-10 on Stahl’s 3-yard score with 10:19 left in the contest, completing a nine-play march highlighted by a 27-yard bolt by Mangus.

After getting the ball back at its own 5, Richland salted the game away with an 11-play drive that consumed 8:01.

“We didn’t really make any adjustments,” senior guard Connor Rager said. “Coach gave us a great speech at halftime. It was inspirational.”

In the early going, Richland showed signs of what was to come, but, after Stahl’s long run got the Rams near the red zone, J.T. Johnston’s fourth-down sack swung the momentum.

Guilfoyle took advantage of a short punt and a 19-yard return by Karson Kiesewetter to open the scoring on a 25-yard Devan Wyandt field goal. Then, another fourth-down stop, this one at midfield, a facemask penalty, a pass interference penalty and an 11-yard Konnor Kiesewetter-to-Haiden Garner pass put BG at the Ram 1, and Keegan Myrick scored to make it 10-0 at halftime.

“That was two really good teams. They made more plays than we did,” Guilfoyle coach Justin Wheeler said. “Football’s an emotional game. When you don’t have the fans here (because of the pandemic), you don’t have the crowd to feed off. You need a big play.”

Bishop Guilfoyle figured to be one of the biggest challengers to Richland’s LHAC supremacy entering the season. The Rams will host another, Bedford, on Friday at Herlinger Field.

“The kids will feel more confident after a game like this,” Bailey said.

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