By Andy Shay:
4th Down Magazine
On the surface, it was the 21 points in the final 5 minutes of the first half for Quaker Valley that did in Middletown on a snowy Saturday afternoon in the Blue Raiders’ second straight crack at a PIAA Class 3A championship.
But even before that blitz by the WPIAL champion Quakers, it was clear the Blue Raiders were not on their game. Little mistakes -- a missed short field goal, a shanked punt, a 5-yard penalty on first down after converting fourth-and-1 -- were the indicators of what was to come.
The game was already teetering at intermission, but when the Quakers came out and drove right down the field to open the third quarter and make it 35-7, the competitive phase of this game was over.
And, remember, this was a 7-7 game with 5 minutes left in the first half.
On that note, time to deliver some grades for the Blue Raiders and Quakers.
QUAKER VALLEY QUAKERS
Quarterback: Senior Ricky Guss was exactly what you’d expect from a 2,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher. He’s only the fourth WPIAL quarterback to accomplish that benchmark. He missed a couple throws and had some help from his receivers, but he was most dangerous using his legs to finish with 214 total yards and three scores.
Running Back: Jordan Taylor is a 5-8, 195-pound wrecking ball who is tough to bring down and has a little more zip in the open field than you think. He averaged 9.8 yards per carry, scored twice and finished with 149 yards on the ground. It helped Guss added 110 yards to keep the Blue Raiders off balance.
Wide Receivers: The Quakers wideouts are tall, thick and made it tough for the shorter Blue Raider defensive backs to cover these guys. Ethan Moore led the way with five grabs for 98 yards and a score. They weren't needed much, but they had plenty of options.
Offensive Line: There were only a handful of plays where the guys up front executed the run blocking to perfection. And all of those plays went for big chunks. And that’s not easy to do against Middletown’s defense. The downfield blocking in the open field was spectacular. And pass blocking was dominating.
Defensive Line: This group owned the football game. Andrew Seymour, Jacob Kolessar, Jake Pesicka and Oliver Funk, who finished with 10 tackles, were a little shaky up the middle early, but the edge was shut down all game. And the pressure on the Blue Raiders QB was relentless.
Linebackers: This group has been rock-solid all season, and Saturday was no different. They were afforded lots of help from the gents up front, and they were running free most of the game. ILB Isaac Guss posted 10 tackles, and Taylor coming off the edge was a beast.
Secondary: Ryan Jackovic was a weapon in run support from his safety spot and finished with 10 tackles. Their coverage downfield was just average, but the Blue Raiders QB was so off with his throws, they were never really challenged.
Special Teams: This team made precious few mistakes in any phase of the game, and that included special teams. They did surrender a punt return for a TD, though, and missed one extra point. This was the one phase of the game that was just average. But it still wasn’t bad.
MIDDLETOWN BLUE RAIDERS
Quarterback: Junior Scott Ash was off from the very beginning. His throws were wildly off target and high right from the very first attempt. He was 0-for-7 with a pair of interceptions in the first half, including a pick-6. He was under serious pressure at times, but even the simple flat passes in the opening half were not close to catchable. In the last two state championship games, the Blue Raiders' signal callers have thrown a combined seven interceptions.
Running Back: Jose Lopez made his return to the lineup after missing the last two games, but his specialty is running wide, and that was not a viable option against a well-disciplined Quakers defense that owned the edge. Middletown's all-time leading rusher, Brady Fox, had some success inside when it was a competitive game, but when Fox has 18 carries and averages only 3.1 yards per carry, the Blue Raiders have serious problems.
Wide Receivers: It was not an easy day for this crew with their quarterback throwing uncatchable balls the first half. Even the grabs this group came down with in the second half -- four of them for 92 yards -- were borderline throws at best. Full credit to the wideouts for making plays when given half a chance.
Offensive Line: Up until the game went sideways late in the first half, this group was holding its own and was just starting to make some forward progress. And once it became 28-7 in the blink of an eye, the Quaker Valley defense was able to pin its ears back, crowd the box and send blitzes from anywhere. The Quakers' defensive front was stronger, and that was always going to be the case.
Defensive Line: Outside of Cole Senior, this group struggled to have an impact over the long haul. Senior was the best player on the field for the Blue Raiders against a strong offensive line. He finished with nine tackles, two tackles for a loss and recovered a fumble.
Linebackers: It was strange to see the Blue Raiders miss so many tackles in the open field. And, overall, their tackling was not up to standard as a defense. Tackles for a loss are big with this group, and Middletown only had six of them. Gage Radabaugh and Black Jacoby combined for 14 tackles, but most of them were too far downfield.
Secondary: Safety Kyle Truesdale led the Blue Raiders in tackles with 10, but the pass coverage was shaky at best. Guss missed a couple shots down the field, and they were open.
Special Teams: This was a mixed bag on all fronts. Donovan Brady nailed a 38-yard field goal, but missed a 23-yard attempt that would have made it 7-3 in the first quarter. Leach came up with a great return on a punt that covered 55 yards for a touchdown that made it 7-7 six minutes before halftime. A shanked punt gave Quaker Valley a short field in the second quarter, and the Quakers converted to make it 14-7 and never looked back.