By Shawn Wood
For The Daily Item
MANDATA — With its loss to Pine Grove last week, Tri-Valley comes into the final regular Tri-Valley League game needing a win to secure one of the top two playoff seeds in the District 11 Class A playoffs.
“We got our pride hurt last week in the loss,” Bulldogs coach Mile Ulicny said. “We got beat by a better team. They out-manned us and their line is just as good as ours, but, they drove 60 yards in the final minute of the first half and scored and that hurt us.”
A win on Friday at Line Mountain won’t be an easy task for Tri-Valley (8-1, 7-1 TVL), according to Ulicny.
“They play hard every game and they’ve lost a couple of close games this year,” he said. “I am sure they are going to try and end their season with a bang against a rival like us. We are expecting their A-game and for it to be a tough game.”
Ulicny’s concern, like other coaches in the TVL, centers around the Eagles’ running game.
“Cory Warford might be one of the best backs we’ve seen all year,” he said. “He’s a load to take down and their quarterback (Ryan Reed) does a nice job of pulling the ball out and running it on the option. We are focused on stopping the option.”
Given the depth of his roster this year, an eight-win season would be a pleasant experience for Ulicny.
“At some of our mid-week practices we didn’t have enough kids to run the scout team,” he said. “A win would be very important for us. I think we hit our peak about mid-season. We are getting better going into districts.”
The Eagles (3-6, 2-6 TVL) are coming off back-to-back shutout losses and, for the first time since 2005, they won’t be going to the playoffs.
“I think the last time we might have been shutout was a 28-0 loss to Pine Grove in my senior year in 2005,” Eagles coach Rodney Knock said.
And the back-to-back shutout losses have only compounded this season’s frustrations.
“Any team or coach that has had a season like this one knows what it feels like,” he said. “So far, we can say it’s been disappointing, but, it’s not been for a lack of effort from the kids. They are playing until the whistle blows.”
The injury bug hit the Eagles again last week when they lost starting wide receiver and cornerback Garrett Hepner to a broken collar bone and another lineman re-injured his ankle.
“Anything that could have gone against us, has this year,” Knock said. “That’s not an excuse, it just how things have gone.”
Not making a post-season appearance for the Eagles is a rare thing.
“It’s tough for us since we haven’t seen this happen for a long time,” Knock said of missing the playoffs this year. “This is something new for some of the players and the coaches. We told the kids after the loss on Friday, the sun is going to come up and we can’t linger on Friday and we just have to keep on trucking down the road.”
Ryan Reed continues to improve at quarterback where the expectations are quite great at Line Mountain.
“He’s a hard-nosed tough kid who has struggled at first but week in and week out, he does everything we ask him to do,” Knock added.
There were some positives from last week’s loss to Upper Dauphin that Knock wants to build on for Friday.
“We moved the ball well against them in the second half, but red-zone mistakes continue to hurt us,” he said. “We made it a goal to get better continuity on the offensive side of the ball. We can fix the mistakes from the past few weeks that has prevented us from scoring.”
Knock noted that teams gets to play Line Mountain football for one more week and that a good finish against a tough team like Tri-Valley can go a long way into building momentum for next year.