Trinity runs back to playoffs
10/31/2009 3:30 AM
For the Trinity Hillers and Ringgold Rams, the final week of the regular season presented a playoff-type atmosphere. Lose and go home.
"We have been in this situation for three weeks now," Trinity head coach Ed Dalton said. "We have had to prepare each week like it's been a playoff game."
To make the WPIAL playoffs, both teams needed to win and rely on other teams for help to have a chance. Trinity, behind the strong running of Eric Richards and a good effort on defense, seized the opportunity with a 24-10 victory, its third straight victory.
The Hillers were shorthanded entering the game, having to play without Michigan recruit Kenny Wilkens, who was out with mononucleosis.
"We needed to execute as a team anyways," said Dalton. "All of our kids did a good job tonight."
Both teams showed signs of early jitters, losing fumbles on their opening drives, and had a hard time finding any offensive consistency. The Rams managed only one first down and eight total yards in the first half.
"We made some mistakes," said Ringgold coach Lloyd Price. "We had some good field position at times and kept shooting ourselves in the foot."
The Hillers (3-3,4-5) moved the football with some success in the second quarter, behind the running of Eric Richards. With the Rams (1-5, 3-6), leading 3-0, Richards capped a nine-play, 45-yard drive with a three-yard touchdown run.
Richards made the big play of the drive, catching a 24-yard pass from quarterback Andrew Steratore on a fourth-down play. Steratore avoided the Rams pass rush, keeping the play alive long enough for Richards to break open down the sideline. The play was the only pass completion on the night for the Hillers.
The Hillers fed Richards the ball on their final drive of the first half. The sophomore running back carried eight times for 58 yards on a 14-play drive that resulted in a field goal and a 10-3 halftime lead.
Richards continued his success in the second half. On the opening possession of the half, Richards carried on eight of nine plays and scoring from three yards.
"The offensive line played great," added Dalton. "They told me at halftime to trust them to win the game and I did. They played tremendous as a unit. Also, our fullbacks deserve a ton of credit. They were the unsung heroes of the game. They did a great job getting on the linebackers."
The Rams got back into the game after Alfon Cook intercepted Steratore and Neal Rands scored a one-yard touchdown, but the Hillers' defense made big plays after that.
Joey Havrilak and Dustin Avolio intercepted Rams quarterback Dylan Patch on consecutive drives and stopped Ringgold on fourth-and-goal in the fourth quarter. Dan Morgan also added a fourth-quarter interception for the Hillers.
"We really got to the ball on defense," added Dalton. "We had guys step up and make some big plays."
Richards capitalized on one of the turnovers, scoring his third touchdown on the ground. He finished with a career-best 240 yards on 32 carries.
"The running back position has been a weak spot for most of the season," said Dalton. "It's now a strength. We feel we have some depth there and Eric ran well."
Richards, who entered the game with only 14 carries and 98 yards for the season, made the most of the opportunity.
"At first, it was actually a little nerve-racking," said Richards. ""Once I settled down and got into a good rhythm though, I felt real good. The offensive line made things easy on me. They opened up some big holes."
The win, coupled with Thomas Jefferson's victory over West Mifflin, sends the Hillers to the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season.
"We aren't just happy to be here," said Dalton. "We are a veteran team and we've been here before. We have been a low seed and won games. We are looking to go out and win."
The loss eliminated the Rams from the playoffs, but Price's feels his young team, who only returned one starter from a season ago can build from the experience.
"We were in some games and we learned a lot," said Price. "We are a very young team and we responded to the challenge at times. We should be a much improved team next season."
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