Richland displayed resiliency on both sides of the football on Friday night at Chambersburg High School’s Trojan Stadium.
The undefeated Rams earned a trip to the PIAA Class AA semifinal round with a hard-hitting, hard-fought 29-21 victory over District 12 champion Bishop McDevitt.
Led by sophomore quarterback Kellan Stahl’s 242 passing yards and two touchdowns as well as his 85 rushing yards and two more scores, the Rams’ offense did its part.
But as has been the case throughout a 13-0 season, Richland’s defense made its own statement while working to keep in check an offense led by University at Buffalo recruit Lonnie Rice, a talented quarterback/defensive back.
“Our defense played great,” Richland coach Brandon Bailey said.
“(Assistant coach) Tim Ripple does a phenomenal job coordinating it. Our position coaches do a great job getting kids lined up, and our kids buy in.
“This isn’t an easy offense to prepare for because they do so many things well. Our kids trusted each other and we got the win.”
The defense had many crucial moments in the PIAA quarterfinal round.
With Bishop McDevitt driving in a tie game, Richland 6-foot-3 senior linebacker Koby Bailey stuck Rice on a keeper, halting the quarterback shy of the sticks on a fourth-and-1 play at the Richland 23.
Later, Rams junior defensive back Allen Mangus made a solid hit to dislodge the ball from Bishop McDevitt receiver Ty Tindal in the end zone, disrupting what looked to be a sure TD on a fourth-down pass.
Instead, Richland took over on its own 22.
Richland sophomore defensive back Griffin LaRue intercepted the first play from scrimmage in the second half.
Stahl and senior Caleb Burke then teamed on a 26-yard TD pass to make it 21-14 with 10:19 on the third quarter clock.
Burke intercepted on the first play of the fourth quarter, setting up a drive that ended on Stahl’s quarterback keeper for a TD from the 2.
The Rams also had big defensive efforts from junior tackle Connor Rager and junior end Nathan Kniss, as well as junior inside linebacker Jacob Sabol and his brother senior inside linebacker Lucas Sabol.
“The defense is awesome,” said Burke, who also caught seven passes for 150 yards and two scores.
Wedding bells: Coach Bailey noted that the 2-hour bus ride back to Johnstown from Chambersburg was only the beginning of Mangus’ travels.
“Allen Mangus’ sister got married on Saturday in Florida,” Bailey said.
“Her father, Chris (Mangus), is our junior high coach and he missed the game due to the wedding.
“Coach Ripple, our defensive coordinator, drove Allen to the (Arnold Palmer Regional Airport) at 5:30 this morning to make sure he made the wedding.”
The defending champs: Richland will face its biggest challenge of the season in the state semifinal round against defending PIAA champion Southern Columbia on Friday night at Selinsgrove High School.
The District 4 champs are ranked first in the state in Class AA and second in the country among small schools, according to MaxPreps.
Southern Columbia has won a record nine PIAA championships.
The Tigers sport a 14-0 record.
Coach Jim Roth’s 14-0 team has outscored opponents 763-48, according to MaxPreps. That’s an average of 54.5 points to 3.4 points a game.
Southern Columbia receiver Julian Fleming is a top-ranked recruit who is committed to Ohio State University.
The Tigers have a group of Big Ten commits including Fleming, Preston Zachman (Wisconsin), Gaige Garcia (Michigan) and Cal Haladay (Michigan State).
Southern Columbia defeated a very strong, 14-win Ligonier Valley team 31-27 in the state semifinal round in 2016 at Bald Eagle Area High School.