PINE TWP — Pine-Richland's offense gets a lot of attention, but the team's defense proved Friday night that it also is a force to be reckoned with.
On two occasions, the Rams denied Seneca Valley after the Raiders had moved the ball inside PR's 20-yard line. Only a touchdown with less than two minutes left in the game kept the host Rams from earning a shutout in a 21-7 Quad County Conference victory.
“The effort started up front for us,” said PR coach Eric Kasperowicz. “Seneca Valley is a tough, very physical team and they came in with a good gameplan, but our defense fought so hard. I thought we were going to get the shutout.”
SV coach Ron Butschle saw a theme continue to play out Friday night. It's one he knows needs to be reversed with the playoffs just two weeks away. Little things — missed assignments, short-yardage penalties — have plagued SV's offense the last few weeks, though they didn't keep the team from defeating Hempfield and Woodland Hills.
On Friday, however, the mistakes aided the defeat.
A prime example came late in the third quarter. Halfback Jake Mineweaser injected a much-needed boost into SV's offense with a 47-yard run to the Rams' 2-yard line. But before the Raiders (6-3, 4-3) could run a play, they were pushed back five yards due to an illegal procedure penalty. From there, quarterback Gabe Lawson was sacked once and fired three incompletions as the Rams took over on downs.
“That 5-yard penalty completely changes our whole mindset as far as calling plays,” said Butschle. “And it allows them (Rams) to pin their ears back and come after us.
“You can't make mistakes, especially at critical times and against good teams,” he added. “We have to play better than we did. It's frustrating that things like that are happening this late in the season.”
A penalty on special teams helped set up the first touchdown of the game. Lawson's punt pinned the Rams at their own 2, but the hosts were given a bit of breathing room thanks to a Raider miscue that moved the ball to the 7.
Two plays later, halfback Luke Meckler ran free through the middle of SV's defense, broke a tackle in the secondary and raced 92 yards for a touchdown.
Other than that run, Meckler was forced to do a lot of yeoman's work in the first half, gaining 35 yards on 10 carries prior to halftime. He ended the game with 28 carries for 210 yards.
“Luke is known for his splash plays, but he can pound the ball, too, get the tough yards,” Kasperowicz said. “He doesn't mind that, either. On top of that, he plays defense for us. He's a tough kid.”
The Raiders' defense forced a punt on the opening drive of the second quarter, but muffed the boot and Tyler King recovered for the Rams (8-1, 7-0) at the SV 26.
Again, the Raiders denied PR by forcing a turnover on downs. Just before halftime, however, the Rams broke through.
Another penalty on special teams allowed the Rams to start outside their own 5-yard line. Sophomore quarterback Cole Spencer then engineered a 17-play, 91-yard drive that the signal caller capped with a short scoring run on a fourth down from the 2-yard line. A running into the kicker penalty aided the march.
Spencer, who ended the game with 116 yards on the ground, scored from 1-yard out in the third quarter for a 21-0 lead.
As a team, the Rams rushed for 369 yards on 61 carries. Seneca Valley entered the game giving up just over seven points per game.
“We challenged the guys. We knew it was going to be decided up front,” said Kasperowicz.
The Raiders saw a drive stall in the red zone on their first drive of the second half. That venture into Rams' territory was set up by Mineweaser's 39-yard run.
Mineweaser finished with 94 yards on six carries.
“Jake's one of the guys we feel good about carrying the ball,” said Butschle. “Matt (Stanger) is in that group, too, but Jake definitely provided a spark for us tonight.”
SV defensive lineman Felipe Junqueira recovered a Spencer fumble late in the fourth quarter. Three plays later, backup quarterback Caden Smithco hit Josh McLean with a pass. The senior broke a tackle and turned the play into a 44-yard score as the Raiders avoided being blanked.
The Raiders travel to Norwin on Friday.