Shadyside leaves no doubt as it rolls by rival River, 42-9
• Tigers advance to Region 27 title game vs. Newark Catholic
HANNIBAL — There would be no comeback this time.
After watching River stage a dramatic rally that fell two points shy in their first meeting four weeks ago, Shadyside was not about to let that happen again Friday night.
The No. 7 seeded Tigers dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football and converted on seven third down attempts (5-for-5 in the second half) in rolling to a convincing, 42-9, victory over third-seeded River in a Division VII, Region 27 regional semifinal on the artificial surface inside Martin Flannery Field.
With the lop-sided win, Shadyside (6-3) advances to the regional final opposite No. 4 Newark Catholic, which knocked off top-seeded Glouster Trimble, 35-19, in the other semi.
“We had to play four quarters. I guess you have to learn from your mistakes in the previous meeting,” veteran Shadyside head coach Mark Holenka said. “We came out with some fire under our rearends and it worked.”
The Tigers relied on their offensive and defensive lines to control the tempo. They racked up 353 yards of total offense while holding the Pilots (6-3) to a little more than 200. However, an even 100 of that total came on three plays.
Shadyside struck first when quarterback Rhys Francis connected with wideout Mason VanNest on a 54-yard pitch-and-catch on third-and-6. VanNest ran a post pattern and Francis hit him in stride. VanNest, after changing his right shoe, banged through the first of his five placement kicks for a 7-0 margin with 8-minutes, 33-seconds left in the first quarter.
River drove deep into Shadyside territory on the ensuing possession, but the drive stalled. Junior Zac Hocutt nailed a 31-yard field goal for his career high that sliced the deficit to 7-3.
Jake Rose recovered a Tigers’ fumble on the next possession, but the Pilots gave it right back when Jordan Joseph intercepted a pass in the end zone.
It was all Shadyside after that.
The Tigers struck on third down again as Francis flipped a short pass to fullback Jacob Visnic in the left flat. After surpassing the first-down sticks, the senior turned the corner, broke a tackle and was off to the races for a 48-yard scoring play. VanNest made it 14-3 with 3:48 left before the half.
Three plays later, Shadyside was in the end zone again. This time Francis caught a deflected pass and raced 58 yards to paydirt as the lead increased to 21-3 at the half.
The Tigers took the second half kickoff and marched 75 yards on five plays as Visnic bulled in from 4 yards out. The Pilots aided the drive with a pair of 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
Brody Lollathin gave the home fans something to cheer about when he rambled 51 yards for a touchdown on a gutsy fourth-and-3 call. The PAT kick was blocked, leaving the hosts on a the short end of a 28-9 count.
Shadyside scored on its next two possessions to seal the deal. Visnic capped a 7-play, 59-yard march with a 6-yard dive into the end zone, but it was the final drive that put the final nail in the coffin.
Behind the front line of center Logan Crozier, guards Gage Joseph and Jacob Brown and tackles Kris Tsoras and Larry Honeywell, the Tigers ran 14 plays to go 72 yards — all on the ground — while eating up just over nine minutes. Tailback Wyatt Reiman went in from 4 yards out to conclude the scoring.
“I think that last drive was the exclamation point,” Holenka noted.
Reiman carried the ball 21 times for 129 yards while Visnic picked up 44 stripes on eight totes. Francis finished with 32 on nine carries and connected on four passes (11 attempts) for 149 yards. VanNest caught half of the completions for 92 stripes.
“Sean Grinch and Mike Kernick, the offensive and defensive coordinators, respectively, did a great job of getting the guys in the right places,” Holenka praised.
The defensive alignment of ends Karl Tsoras and Andrew Brown, along with tackles Camden Brown and Gage Joseph held the Pilots in check for the most part. The linebacking corp of Visnic, Reiman and Andrew Osman plugged all the holes.
Lollathin led the Pilots with 66 yards rushing on nine carries. Carter Dennis had 51 on 15. Lollathin completed five passes (12 attempts) for 64 yards but was picked off three times, twice by Francis.
“They have a lot of weapons. They played very well tonight,” River head coach Mike Flannery said of the Tigers. “I just hate to see this group of seniors that I’ve had for four years leave because you establish a bond with them that you can’t explain if you’re not a coach to the general public. They don’t understand the relationships. You hate to see them go, but everything comes to an end.
“Everyone of these seniors are going to be successful in their life because they played the game of football. It teaches you so many things.”
Flannery said he wishes the best for Shadyside.
“I hope they go and represent our region very well. I’ve got a lot of respect for them and their coaching staff. I think they will give Newark Catholic everything they want.”