By: Brian Fees | Towanda Daily Review | October 17, 2011
ATHENS - For the past three seasons no one in the NTL has been able to beat the Towanda Black Knights.
In fact, up until last week no one at all had been able to touch Towanda in the regular season.
However, Towanda did suffer a loss last week, falling to Mifflinburg on the road. It was their first regular season loss since a 10-0 defeat against Loyalsock in 2008.
Perhaps people wondered how the Black Knights would respond, especially facing an undefeated Athens team.
It took very little time for Towanda to answer all those questions as Mason Roof scored on Towanda's second drive and they rolled to a 28-0 victory.
"Undefeated seasons, they are a blessing," Towanda coach Craig Dawsey said. "But, undefeated seasons, they don't happen all the time. I reminded the kids, you don't have to be undefeated.
"I was concerned about how they would respond, but they did a great job."
And, by responding the Black Knights wrapped up their third straight NTL large-school title.
"It's been about 35 years since Towanda won back-to-back-to-back titles," Dawsey said. "The strange thing is I was a part of it the last time as a manager on the team."
After last week the Black Knights just wanted to get back to work and come right back.
"We wanted to get back out there and see how we would respond," Zach Ripic said. "I thought everyone worked hard and we really responded well."
After each team went 3-and-out their first series Towanda got the ball back and faced a fourth-and-inches at the Athens 24.
While the Wildcats defense geared up for the inside run, Roof bounced it outside and tumbled over the final defending to get into the end zone.
"It was important, it got our offense to a good start," Roof said. "Our line did a great job today."
"Mason did a great job of running the ball today," Dawsey said. "He did a good job running and the line executed everything very well."
After spending the first half on the ground, the Black Knights finally went to the air late in the second quarter and Trey Sites hooked up with Ripic on a 35-yard pass with 1:39 left in the half to make it 14-0 after Roof hit his second extra point.
"That's what coach (Ryan) Larcom wanted to do," Dawsey said. "He wanted to be a running team. We did that and it opened up things for everyone else."
The game plan was similar to what worked for Towanda earlier this year against Troy where they ran early and that opened things up for Ripic and Casey Huff.
"It was definitely almost the same game plan," Ripic said. "But, I thought we did a much better job today then we did against Troy."
While the offense got the two first half scores, the defense didn't let the Wildcats get anything going, holding Athens to 23 first-half yards.
"Our defense is very fast to the football," Dawsey said. "We knew coming into the year that our team had to be predicated on defense and we have been."
Towanda's players were happy with the way they played on that side of the ball.
"It was a great defensive effort," Roof said. "We put a lot of pressure on them."
For Athens coach Jack Young that pressure at the line of scrimmage was the difference in the game.
"We got nothing going on offense," Young said. "They made plays today. That's why they are the NTL champions, because they made plays."
Down 14-0 in the third quarter it appeared the Wildcats might get some favorable field position as they forced Towanda to punt from their own 12, however Ripic unleashed a 63-yard punt, putting Athens back inside their own 30.
"He's never punted 63 yards and he punts one 63 yards today," Dawsey said. "We played well, but we also had some things go our way."
Ripic knew the punt was big.
"Special teams is a third of our team and we have a coach that really stresses special teams," Ripic said. "That punt really helped us with field position."
Young knows that might have been one of the turning points in the game.
"The one time we had a little field position and he (Ripic) unleashes one and changes all that," Young said.
Not only was the punting working well for Towanda, but they also scored on special teams as Athens fumbled the ball on a punt attempt from their own endzone. After a scramble for the ball, Roof recovered it with 7:46 left in the game. He hit the extra point and it was 21-0.
"It was just a broken play back there," Roof said. "I just saw the ball and knew I had to go for it."
Towanda capped their scoring 2:46 later as Sites threw to Casey Huff, who made a fingertips catch and ran it in from 38 yards out. Roof hit the extra point and with 5:00 left in the game it was 28-0.
For the Black Knights bouncing back from last week and winning a third-straight NTL crown was special.
"It feels great," Roof said. "It's awesome. Everyone showed how we would respond from last week. It's a great feeling."
Towanda's defense held the Wildcats to just 83 total yards, including 39 on the ground. Casey Shiposh led Athens with 12 carries for 19 yards and Nick Carl gained 14 yards on eight carries.
Carl completed 6-of-20 passes for 44 yards, with Ray McDougan getting four catches for 38 yards and Shiposh catching two passes for six yards.
Adam McCauley had an interception for the Wildcats in the game.
Roof led the Towanda attack, gaining 114 yards on 18 carries. Roof also intercepted a pass in the game, along with recovering the fumble for a score. Garrett Dinelli had 35 yards on 10 carries, Sites gained 29 on nine carries and Jordan Dawsey got four carries for eight yards.
Sites was 4-for-8 passing for 99 yards with two scores. Ripic and Huff each had their touchdown catches and Roof had a 17-yard catch, while Dawsey caught a pass for nine yards.