ALTOONA, Pa. – The Richland High School football team scored a defensive touchdown on the first play from scrimmage and never relented in a 35-6 victory over Forest Hills that gave the Rams their fourth consecutive District 6 Class 2A title on Friday night at Mansion Park Stadium.
“From the time we won it last year, I think everybody in our locker room wanted to do this because it’s such a rare feat,” said Richland coach Brandon Bailey, whose 11-2 team next will face District 4 champion Southern Columbia in the PIAA quarterfinals. “I was fortunate to be a part of one, 1991 to 1994 (as a quarterback) at Forest Hills. The same time Lock Haven did it, and from 2006 to 2009 Bishop McCort did it.
“In 1A, 2A and 3A, those are the only teams that ever did it.
“It’s a real accomplishment. It’s a grind. I’m proud of everybody that’s involved in the program.”
Senior quarterback Kellan Stahl started on all four district title-winning teams, the last three as quarterback. On Friday, Stahl completed 12 of 18 passes for 181 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
“It means everything,” Stahl said of the four-peat. “That was the expectation coming into the season. Going 4-for-4 means everything, especially to the seniors.”
Forest Hills finished 7-6 as the Rangers’ impressive five-game winning streak ended.
Coach Justin Myers’ team was 2-5 with three losses coming by a combined nine points before it rallied to get into the postseason and win two playoff games.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Myers said. “We won five straight games to get to the district championship game. Our goal at the beginning of the year was to get here and win it. We fell short of our goal to win it, but we got here.”
The Rangers attempted a hook-and-ladder play on the first snap from scrimmage.
Jacob Poldiak hit Jeremy Burda for 4 yards at the 31, but Richland junior Sam Penna grabbed the lateral before intended target Easton Toth could get possession of the ball.
“When they came out in that formation, I thought they were going to throw a deep shot because Jeremy Burda is a lot taller than me,” Penna said.
“They ended up throwing the hitch. I was late to it. I saw the running back coming out and then I jumped it.”
Penna broke free on the right sideline, running 29 yards for a touchdown 17 seconds into the game. Noah Ritko’s extra-point kick made it 7-0.
“We came out and thought we’d take a shot on the first play,” Myers said. “Everything was perfect. It was set up perfect. We caught the ball. We pitched it to Easton Toth. Penna made a great play on it.
“If Penna doesn’t make the play, I think Easton might score because there was nobody down the sideline. It’s a shot you have to take when you’re playing a great team like Richland.”
The Rams got the ball back after a Rangers punt. Stahl ran 20 yards and later hit Penna in between defenders for 31 yards to set up a first-and-goal at the 3. Three plays later, Stahl scored from a yard out to make it 13-0 at 3:39 after a failed conversion pass.
“Coach Bailey said about the unsung heroes and Sam (Penna) was that today,” Stahl said. “He played great. Props to our offensive line and props to all the wide receivers for doing what they always do.”
Forest Hills took over at its own 17 and moved to the Rams 38-yard line, but the 12-play drive was halted after a fourth-down sack.
Stahl connected with Penna on a 30-yard touchdown pass 8:14 before halftime. Penna scrambled, reversed field and hit a wide-open Demont Johnson on the two-point conversion pass to make it 21-0.
“Richland deserved to win,” Myers said. “They took it to us.”
Forest Hills turned over the ball on downs and had another drive end in a Penna interception.
Richland twice turned the ball over on downs in the second quarter.
The Rangers had something going late, moving to the Rams’ 8-yard line on first-and-goal with four seconds left. But the final pass of the half fell incomplete, preserving Richland’s three-touchdown advantage.
Richland opened the second half with a 10-play, 62-yard drive capped by Stahl’s 18-yard TD pass to Johnson to make it 28-0 at 8:41.
Grayden Lewis (14 carries, 96 yards) ran 15 yards for a score to put a running clock into motion with 5:20 showing in the third quarter.
“Early in the week, we talked about who is going to be the X-factor. I think we had a couple tonight,” Bailey said.
Forest Hills ended the shutout on a fourth-and-3 touchdown pass from Poldiak to Ben Harteis as time expired. No extra-point attempt was tried with no time on the clock.
“I’m proud of our jayvee guys,” Myers said.
“They moved the ball. They did what we wanted and they put the ball in the end zone. Brandon was a class act. We put our guys in at the end of the game to make sure things didn’t get crazy and everyone had a chance to play in the district championship game.”
Myers also credited senior Damon Crawley, the state’s leading rusher entering the game with 2,532 yards and 35 touchdowns. On Friday, Crawley had 61 yards on 14 carries.
“Damon, great career. Great season,” Myers said. “Tonight just wasn’t his night. Richland is good. Richland’s front five and front seven dominated us up front and made a lot of plays.
“It was tough to run and we didn’t get the breakaway plays we normally get. It’s not a knock on our kids. Richland is really good.”
The Rams will face a familiar opponent in Southern Columbia, the team that ended Richland’s season the past two years (57-30 in the PIAA quarterfinals in 2020; 49-27 in the semifinals in 2019).
Southern Columbia beat Mount Carmel 41-14 in the District 4 title game on Friday.
Mike Mastovich is a sports reporter and columnist for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 814-532-5083. Follow him on Twitter @Masty81.