It was the kind of game a young football player, and coach, dream about, but for different reasons.
For Ryan Ripka, it was a night of wide-open patches of grass, of 214 yards rushing and a decisive victory for the team.
For coach Martin Tobias, it was a perfect example of what he — and so many coaches — preach to their athletes about how to win games.
Penns Valley ended last season with a 55-15 win over Cowanesque Valley, with many stars shining that night in late October. Among them was Ripka, then a sophomore who had mostly played on special teams. He started the season around fourth or fifth on the running back depth chart, but it was his turn after injuries took down senior starters Takota Bubb and Colten Wenrick.
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“I just started getting more reps and they trusted me,” Ripka said. “I just started getting more carrying time.”
Then came that season finale, with 14 carries, 214 yards and touchdown runs of 53 and 63 yards. It was a performance that still sticks with Ripka.
Now a junior, Ripka even admitted it stunned him.
“I didn’t think I had that many yards,” Ripka said. “When they told me I had that much, it felt pretty good to end (the season) on it like that. I was glad my teammates supported me and trusted me.”
The performance was the first time a Ram had rushed for better than 200 yards in a game since Ben Alexander raced for a Centre County-record 389 yards in 2014. It’s something that boosted Ripka’s confidence over the offseason — and it didn’t completely come out of nowhere, with a pair of 70-plus-yard games the two previous weeks, but it was still a major leap.
It was also a good teaching moment for Tobias.
The Rams lost 18 players to graduation from that team, all of them starters on either offense, defense or special teams. The season finale showed what happens when everyone follows the plan and pulls in the same direction.
“Anything is possible,” Tobias said. “When everyone is executing up front, when backs are making good reads and cuts, when you have your receivers blocking downfield, you can have things come together and you can have productivity like that.”
It also what can happen when someone who starts out deep down the depth chart in August has a chance.
“We tell our kids all the time, ‘You’ve got to be prepared when your opportunity comes,” Tobias said. “Ryan was prepared.”
With a new season now underway, Ripka has climbed up the depth chart, joining senior Matt Caldana as the top backs. They are two different kinds of ball-carriers. Caldana (5-foot-9, 240 pounds) has the size while Ripka (5-10, 140) is more elusive.
More confident in himself, Ripka has a goal of rushing for better than 1,000 yards this fall.
“He has a lot of hard work ahead of him to reach his goals,” Tobias said. “He’s going to be someone who has goals and is motivated by his goals, but he’s no longer an unknown entity. A couple games like he had at the end of the season, other coaches are going to pick up on that. He’s going to have a target on his back. He will have to stay within himself and play within the system and work at doing his best.”
There also will be a lot more expected of Ripka in other ways, with the huge graduation losses sapping a lot more from the locker room.
“There are a lot of (juniors) that are going to be really important for us this year on Fridays,” senior quarterback Justin Sands said.
Ripka also finds himself in a unique position of a different sort with the Rams program: He is the first second-generation player for Tobias, who is entering his 22nd season. Lee Ripka, Ryan’s father, was a running back for Tobias in the late 1990s.
Following in his dad’s footsteps is nice, but being able to carve out a little more history, and hit 1,000 yards, would be even more special for Ripka.
“I really want to get that,” he said. “I’m going to have to set my mind to it and have to work hard.”
Penns Valley 2017 Football Schedule
Fri., Aug. 25: vs. Punxsutawney, 7 p.m.
Fri., Sept. 1: at Clearfield Area, 7 p.m. (at Bison Stadium)
Fri., Sept. 8: vs. Bald Eagle Area, 7 p.m.
Fri., Sept. 15: vs. Central, 7 p.m.
Fri., Sept. 22: at Huntingdon Area, 7 p.m. (at War Vets Field)
Fri., Sept. 29: vs. Philipsburg-Osceola, 7 p.m.
Fri., Oct. 6: at Bellefonte, 7 p.m. (at Rogers Stadium)
Fri., Oct. 13: vs. Chestnut Ridge, 7 p.m.
Fri., Oct. 20: at Tyrone, 7 p.m. (at Gray/Veterans Memorial Field)
Fri., Oct. 27: at Cowanesque Valley, 7 p.m. (at Cowanesque Valley Junior/Senior High School)