By Ed Farrell
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
SLIPPERY ROCK — There was an old movie, a western, from television’s grainy, black-and-white 1950’s era: “Bad Day at Black Rock.”
For Hickory High’s football team, Saturday’s matinee at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium was a bad day at Slippery Rock.
That’s not intended to be trite. Hickory hardly knew what hit it, such was the ambush.
The Hornets were on their heels, in a 13-0 hole, approximately 5 minutes into the PIAA Class AA quarterfinal-round meeting, and District 6 champion Richland routed Hickory, 38-12, at Slippery Rock University.
“We’ve got a lot of kids, a lot of great athletes, and we just keep throwing it and runnin’ where they ain’t — that’s our simple philosophy,” summarized 11th-year Rams’ head coach Brandon Bailey.
The Rams (14-0) commenced the contest with a 14-play, 79-yard, 5-minute, 9-second series, culminated by the 1st of quarterback Matt Shaffer’s pair of 1-yard plunges.
However Hickory mishandled the ensuing Bobby Colvin kickoff, and the bounding ball was recovered by Richland’s Nick Rager. Four plays later Shaffer scored his 2nd touchdown, and the Ram roared to a 13-0 lead at the 4:48 mark of the 1st frame.
“We were fortunate we were able to get the ball, and go punch another one in,” Bailey related. “We knew we wanted to force them to play from behind, and we were able to do that.”
“We talk about, ‘Start fast, finish faster,’ and unfortunately the other team did that (Satur)day,” assessed Hickory head coach Bill Brest. “They kept us off-balance in all three phases of the game. ... It started right off the get-go, the first two kicks we lost field position, and that was critical to us. You get down 13-0 to a team like that, and it’s just tough to come back on.”
After Richland’s physical front coerced a punt, the Rams’ fast-break, no-huddle offense ran to another two tallies. Tanner Solarczyk’s 8-yard run — part of his game-high 26-carry, 153-yard, 2-TD afternoon — culminated a 6-play, 50-yard drive. Then the Rams’ Jared Hoover recovered a DeShawn Coleman fumble at Hickory’s 28-yard line. Four plays later, Shaffer and Solarczyk collaborated on a 15-yard scoring strike. Colvin’s conversion raised Richland’s lead to 28-0 with 3:49 remaining to intermission.
The early 4-score deficit neutralized the Stingers’ strong suit — speed.
“Our goal coming in was to try to tackle them before they could get out, ’cause we knew they had tremendous team speed, and we were able to achieve that (Satur)day,” summarized Bailey, whose Rams have recorded the best single season in program annals.
Colvin’s 1st half-concluding 38-yard field goal extended Richland’s rout to 31-0 at halftime. Conversely, Hickory — owing to 2 lost fumbles, an interception and the special teams’ mistakes — did not record its initial 1st down until the 3:27 segment of the 1st half.
“ ... We just didn’t play well (Satur)day and got beat by a better team, unfortunately,” admitted Brest. “We knew they had the size, but they were a lot more physical than we thought they would be. That’s a credit to them ... and I think they’re gonna be able to play with this team (Aliquippa) next week.”
Coleman commenced the 2nd half — and, in effect, concluded his career — as the Stingers’ speedster’s 45-yard scoring sprint had Hickory on the board at 31-6 with 10:36 left in the 3rd quarter.
It was his 71st touchdown during the last 2 seasons (58 rushing), and his 10-carry, 85-yard outing elevated his yards rushing total to 4,070 according to available archives at The Herald.
In the 4th frame the teams traded scores. Solarczyk’s 3-yard run was offset by a 24-yard TD toss from Matt Voytik to Anthony Cannone. Suffering his initial setback as the Stingers’ starting signal-caller, Voytik vindicated himself with a 15-for-33, 185-yard passing performance.
While Richland readies for WPIAL champion and undefeated Aliquippa Friday night at Wexford’s North Allegheny High, Hickory (11-2) had its season halted.
Hickory’s seniors included Coleman, Dionté Pope (team-high 4 receptions for 41 yards), Calvin Pryts, Michael Nardone, Michael Palumbo, Zach Bair, Austin Aikins, Jeremy Orlik, Joe Hines, Mike Mazon, Jaylan Sharper, Daniel Cathcart and Mark Wagner. Nardone and Sharper shared a sack, and Coleman collected an interception, as did Pope.
“Thirty-one and seven, the winningest senior class in the history of Hickory High football. What a run they had for three years!” Brest praised. “Who knows what’s gonna happen to any of us in the future, but we are so proud of these seniors — just how they’ve grown from sophomores. ... Two district (10) championships, a district runnerup, two berths in the state playoffs, we can’t be any more proud of these guys. Just love those guys and it’s all about these seniors here. So proud of the (assistant) coaches and what they’ve done. ... These seniors, we’ve gonna miss them so much. We’ll just see what happens tomorrow.
“(Back-to-back District 10 titles) is something nobody can take away from us,” Brest noted. “Our philosophy is, it’s all about these kids. We’ve got people on the outside who might not be rooting for us, we’ve got people, maybe internally, that don’t root for us. But it’s all about these kids, and they’ll never be able to take those two trophies away from those kids. We can’t be happier. I’d rather be in that locker room (Hickory’s), than over there (Richland).”
PIAA CLASS AA QUARTERFINALS
RICHLAND 13 18 0 7 38
HICKORY 0 0 6 6 12
R — Shaffer, 1 run (Colvin kick)
R — Shaffer, 1 run (run failed)
R — Solarczyk, 8 run (Pecora run)
R — Solarczyk 15 pass from Shaffer (Colvin kick)
R — Colvin, 38 field goal
H — Coleman, 45 run (kick failed)
R — Solarczyk, 3 run (Colvin kick)
H — Cannone, 24 pass from Voytik (pass failed)
20 First downs 9
177 Rushing yards 91
171 Passing yards 185
28-13-2 Att-comp-int 33-15-1
349 Total yards 276
0-0 Fumbles-lost 4-3
10-72 Penalties-yards lost 5-44
Rushing: RICHLAND — Solarczyk 26-153, Shaffer 13-33, Farina 1-3, Fesko 1-1, Pecora 2-(-11); HICKORY — Coleman 10-85, Tindall 3-12, Palumbo 1-4, Pope 1-3, Lewis 1-0, Voytik 7-(-13).
Passing: RICHLAND — Shaffer 27-12-2, 142; Pecora 1-1-0, 30; HICKORY — Voytik 33-15-1, 185.
Receiving: RICHLAND — Flick 4-64, Shertzer 3-41, Pecora 3-37, Solarczyk 3-21; HICKORY — Pope 4-39, Tindall 4-26, Palumbo 3-47, Coleman 2-40, Cannone 2-31.