By RICH KELLY
For the Star Beacon
ANDOVER TOWNSHIP —
The Pymatuning Valley Lakers pulled things together a bit earlier than Berkshire did, and it enabled them to grab a quick lead they maintained the rest of the way in claiming a 32-24 non-conference victory Friday night at Laker Stadium.
The Lakers (1-0) looked sharp in establishing what they hope to be at least a four-pronged running attack on their opening drive, taking the ball 60 yards to paydirt.
“J.T. (Willis), Quintin (Ratliff), Nick (Holt) and Nick (Such) all need to be involved in our running game,” PV coach Neal Croston said. “We needed them all tonight to move the ball. That was our gameplan coming in because Berkshire is always physical.
“We feel we can pass the ball well if we have to, but with the way our line played tonight, both ways in fact, we didn’t have to pass the ball.”
Indeed, the Lakers had only one pass play, but it was a beauty near the end of the first half that led to a 20-0 Lakers’ advantage.
The play came on a halfback option with the speedy Ratliff taking a pitchout and rolling right. Nick Holt set up the play with a great fake as a blocker, rolled away from the defender guarding him and broke loose to complete a 49-yard gain.
It was about that time Berkshire coach Josh DeWeese’s Badgers made some adjustments.
“About midway through the second period, we made some adjustments in what we were doing, both offensively and defensively,” DeWeese, a first-year coach, said. “We made some in-game adjustments that worked well for us. Maybe we had a few lapses in judgement early, too, in what we were doing. We knew it (the Laker option pass for a TD) was coming, we practiced against it this week, and we just didn’t execute what we worked on.”
The game itself was remarkably well played for a season opener, but as PV was hurt by two first half fumbles, major penalites kicked Berkshire in the butt at several inoportune times.
“I don’t know exactly what we had for penalties,” DeWeese said, “But I know several of them killed us. “
The Badgers ended up with six penalties for 83 yards, but it seemed like most of them were at crucial times, and the Lakers took advantage of all of them.
PV garnered 301 yards on the ground in 50 rushes behind superb balance. Willis led the way with 109 yards on 19 attempts. Ratliff alternated quarterback draws with sweeps to gain 95 yards on 12 carries, and Holt and Such combined for 95 more yards on 15 carries.
One thing PV did have problems with was the counter runs from Berkshire junior tailback Ben Blechschmid, who raced for 168 yards in 15 tries. He tallied a trio of touchdowns on runs of 15, 46, and 5 yards, but as the Laker defense finally shut him down late in the game, that was when PV solidified the win.
Willis scored three times for PV, but it wasn’t until after Ratliff had taken the ball to the house on the second play of the fourth period, and Hunter Rhoades grabbed a loose ball from the Badger offense with just over a minute left, that the game was secured.
After taking a 34-14 beating at Berkshire last year, this win was a huge lift for the Lakers.
“We want to wear teams out with our running game,” Croston said. “This was a great way to get started on a new season.”
Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.