Somehow, no matter how tired they were, the Penns Valley Rams found a little bit extra when they needed it.
Clinging to a one-point lead through most of the fourth quarter, the Rams twice needed to make defensive stops when Punxsutawney was trying to rally.
“As a whole we were digging deep,” senior quarterback and linebacker Justin Sands said. “We conditioned all summer for this. This is why. We were able to hold there. Speaking for me, personally, I was glad it was over. That last series took everything we had in the tank.”
With some big plays on both sides of the ball, the Rams rallied from an 11-point third-quarter deficit for a 22-21 victory over the Chucks to open the season Friday night.
“The close ones are the best,” said Sands, who had nine carries for 70 yards and a three-yard first-quarter touchdown. “You hate ’em while you’re in ’em, but you look back on them and it feels good.”
Ryan Ripka’s one-yard touchdown run 2:34 into the fourth quarter provided the deciding score. The junior finished with 97 yards on 22 carries, adding a four-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
Aaron Tobias, playing a few series at quarterback, was 6 for 8 for 83 yards and had the biggest strike of the night, hitting Cole Breon on a 51-yard pass down to the 1-yard-line to set up Ripka’s winning score. Breon, who finished with 92 yards on eight catches, picked up about 20 extra yards thanks to some solid downfield blocking by his teammates and three broken tackles before getting dragged down just shy of the end zone.
The Penns Valley defense also made several other big plays. Midway through the second quarter, Matthew Tobias and Jacob Duffield teamed up to stuff Stone Smith in the end zone for a safety. Duffield also had a pair of huge sacks in the fourth quarter.
The Rams also blocked a punt in the third quarter deep in the Chucks’ end to set up Ripka’s first touchdown.
In the fourth, the Chucks had three possessions to try to rally. The first was capped by Duffield’s first sack to force a punt. The second try was a quick three-and-out that resulted in another punt. The third produced a little movement, but a Duffield sack left the Chucks in a third-and-22, and quarterback Dylan Ishman was off on his final two attempts.
“I am very proud with how the defense played those last two series,” coach Martin Tobias said. “Punxsutawney took a lot of shots at us.”
Ishman finished 15 of 39 for 178 yards and three touchdowns.
But after running well in the first half, Punxsutawney was held to a mere three yards rushing in the second half.
“Our young men kept their composure,” Tobias said. “We told them right from the start, ‘This isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. There are going to be plays that you make, and there are going to be mistakes made. Play with effort and it will all even out.’ The kids stayed positive through it all.”
The Rams’ first score of the season was Sands’ three-yard burst around the right end, capping a long drive that quickly gave the team confidence.
By the end, the team gathered under their scoreboard and each player and coach took a turn to ring the victory bell, exhausted but elated.
“There’s nothing better than winning the home opener,” Sands said. “It sets the season for the way it needs to be.”