ALTOONA – Bedford High School’s aspirations of reaching the state championship game ended on the Mansion Park turf against a highly regarded Central Valley program on Friday night.
The District 7 champion Warriors rushed for 268 yards and Harvard-bound quarterback Ameer Dudley passed for 197, as Central Valley won 49-20 to advance to the PIAA Class AAA title game next weekend.
District 5-9 AAA subregional champion Bedford entered the battle of unbeatens as the first state semifinalist in Bisons’ football history. Coach Kevin Steele’s team closed a 10-1 season.
Central Valley will take an 11-0 record into next Friday's title game at Hersheypark Stadium against District 3 champion Wyomissing, a 44-14 winner over District 4 Danville in Saturday afternoon's semifinal.
“It really stings right now, but when they get some time to reflect and are able to try to move away from the emotions of tonight, they have a lot of things to be proud of,” Steele said. “We had an unbelievable season. We beat four district champs. State Final Four. They did a lot of things really well and a lot of things they should be proud of.
“The last thing I told them was I love them,” Steele said. “They’re awesome kids and worked their tails off, dealing with all the stuff that they’ve dealt with the last nine months. They should be patted on the backs because they did an absolutely amazing job. I’m proud to be their coach.”
Central Valley’s balanced offensive attack included multiple playmakers on the ground and through the air.
Defensively, the Warriors held Bedford’s option in check, limiting talented junior quarterback Mercury Swaim to a net minus-1 rushing yard with sacks factored into the total. As a team, Bedford netted 20 rushing yards a week after collecting 452 on the ground in a 34-7 quarterfinal victory over District 10 champ Hickory.
“It starts up front,” Central Valley coach Mark Lyons said. “I thought our guys got after it up front. Sometimes when you play an option team you have a tendency to sit flat-footed and try to play too much assignment football. We wanted to rush his read and take his space away.”
Central Valley’s Dudley ran 3 yards for a touchdown to cap the Warriors’ 10-play, 62-yard opening drive.
Ben Walmsley’s extra point made it 7-0 at 8:01 of the first quarter.
Dudley’s 38-yard pass to Jayvin Thompson to convert a third-and-13 was key to extending the drive. He hit Justin Thompson for 20 yards to the 4.
On Bedford’s first play from scrimmage, Swaim executed the option fake so well it led to an inadvertent whistle as the quarterback was running alone on the left sideline, headed toward the end zone from 68 yards away.
After a discussion, the officials gave Swaim a nine-yard gain. The Bisons moved to the Warriors’ 39 before the march stalled.
“It was an inadvertent whistle,” Steele said. “An official blew the whistle when he wasn’t down. It’s frustrating because we run the option game. We talk about that in the pregame with the officials.
“But they’re human too. They make mistakes. I don’t think that was the difference in the game.”
Central Valley running back Myles Walker needed only one play, an 82-yard touchdown run, to extend the lead. Serafino DeSantis, one of two placekickers who rotate on Warriors’ extra-point attempts, made it 14-0 with 5:23 left.
“Central Valley has a really good football team and they made a lot of plays tonight,” Steele said. “They made more plays than we did. That’s why they won and we lost. But we have a great football team with lots of great kids. They were just a little better than we were tonight.”
Bedford followed with a 63-yard drive capped by Swaim’s 8-yard scoring run on fourth-and-7. Swaim dropped back to pass, then darted to his left and into the end zone. The extra point failed, setting a 14-6 score with :06 left in the quarter.
The Bisons converted on fourth down twice during the 13-play possession.
Dudley passed 40 yards to 6-foot-4, 245-pound tight end Justin Thompson to set up a 3-yard TD run by Jayvin Thompson at 10:19 of the second quarter.
Alexander had a 34-yard run and finished the next Warriors drive with his own 9-yard TD run. The junior running back carried 18 times for 158 yards and
Dudley hit Matt Merritt on a 48-yard pass, once again setting up Alexander’s 2-yard scoring run at 4:02 of the second quarter. Central Valley led 35-6, a tally that stood at halftime.
“We wanted to be balanced,” Lyons said. “I felt we had some advantages in certain areas. I thought our line. … We spread them out. They were giving us the box advantage numbers-wise. We felt we had to run the ball when that advantage was to us.
“When they started putting guys in the box, I thought ‘Dud,’ Ameer, did a great job of finding open receivers. It was kind of a little cat and mouse game.”
Alexander’s 25-yard touchdown run with 5:46 left in the third quarter put a running clock into motion at 42-6.
But Bedford didn’t quit.
Swaim found Spencer Ebersole open in the middle of the field on a 68-yard touchdown pass with 1:48 left in the third to make it 42-12.
Bedford’s Steven Ressler recovered the ensuing onside kick. He had a 24-yard catch and a 19-yard TD reception on the drive. Swaim and Dayne Miller connected on the two-point conversion to pull Bedford within 42-20 with 23 seconds left in the third.
Jayvin Thompson scored from 5 yards out to give the Warriors a 49-20 lead with 8:44 remaining.
Swaim completed 17 of 32 passes for 241 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
“It would have been easy for our kids to come out in the second half and not fight and battle and persevere,” Steele said. “But that’s not the kind of kids we have in our program. That’s not how those guys operate.
“They’re going to fight tooth and nail until the end. Obviously we weren’t able to get it done. I’m proud of their efforts. We had an unbelievable season.”