Ringgold stops Hampton’s 2-point conversion attempt for overtime victory
It was fitting that in the end, Ringgold’s defense made the big play.
The Rams stopped Hampton’s two-point conversion attempt in overtime Friday to come away with a thrilling 21-20 win in a WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinal playoff game at West Allegheny.
The defense stonewalled Hampton’s Matt Rech short of the goal line after Rech rambled in from 10 yards out on the previous play to pull the Talbots within a point.
“We kind of thought they might go for the win, so we were prepared and our defense just did an outstanding job,” said a thrilled Ringgold coach Nick Milchovich.
The play was the biggest in a night of huge plays by the Rams’ defense, which kept the winners in the game in the first half.
The fifth-seeded Rams (10-1) will face top-seeded Central Valley (11-0), a 41-14 winner over Indiana, in the semifinals.
The Rams had taken a 21-14 lead in overtime on a 3-yard run by Nico Law, who led them with 93 yards on 14 carries.
Law had an up-and-down game for Ringgold as he scored twice, but threw three interceptions and lost two fumbles.
After Law scored, Rech covered the mandatory 10 yards in one play, setting the stage for Ringgold’s defense to once again play the role of a stone wall.
“These kids are trying to kill me,” said Milchovich with a chuckle. “Our defensive coaches came up with a great game plan tonight and we just executed. Those kids did a tremendous job.
“I’m so proud of these kids. All season, they never quit. It wasn’t the prettiest thing tonight, but it was a team win. And we get to practice for at least another week.”
The first half was a tale of frustration for both teams.
For the Talbots (9-2), it was missed opportunities as three times they traveled inside the Rams’ 30-yard line only to be turned back by some clutch defensive stands by the Rams.
Most of the action in the first half took place on Ringgold’s side of the field, yet Hampton could not convert.
The Rams were their own worst enemy as one of the WPIAL’s premier offenses managed just two first downs while Law struggled with three turnovers.
After Law fumbled the ball at the end of a 15-yard run to give Hampton the ball at the Ringgold 30, the Rams’ defense made its first stand.
Rech ran 9 yards on first down to the 21, but Ringgold stuffed the next three plays to turn the Talbots away.
Law threw an interception on Ringgold’s next possession and the Rams’ defense came up big again, stopping the Talbots on downs at the Ringgold 26.
The Rams didn’t pick up their initial first down until Law hit receiver Skyler Scholl with a 10-yard pass on the first play of the second quarter. But Law hit only 2 of 8 passes for 14 yards in the first half.
“I think there were a lot of jitters in the first half and they have a great defensive team. They don’t miss tackles,” Milchovich said. “And the turnovers hurt us. I think our kids needed to just settle down.”
In the second half, Ringgold finally got on the scoreboard on its second possession of the third quarter. The 55-yard drive also marked the first time the Rams crossed midfield in the game.
A 19-yard sweep by freshman Brenden Small gave the Rams their first scoring chance of the night at the Hampton 29.
However, the drive stalled and Law was shaken up on a third down carry and had to leave the game for a play.
Sophomore George Martin, who opened the game behind center for the first two plays, came back in at quarterback and hit Dalton Holt in the end zone from 23 yards out to give Ringgold a 7-0 lead with 5:22 left in the quarter.
“We had no reservations of throwing the ball with (Martin),” said Milchovich. “He has been a hidden gem for us all season. We think he’s going to be a good one.”
The Talbots knotted the game on Ringgold’s fourth turnover of the night when a high center snap went over Law’s head. Hampton’s Shane McMillen scooped up the ball and raced untouched 42 yards to make it 7-7 late in the third quarter.
Hampton took a 14-7 lead with its biggest offensive play of the night, a 52-yard pass from Nick Grabowski to Schmitt with 11:37 left in the game. The big play was Hampton’s first first down of the half after getting 10 in the opening 24 minutes.
Ringgold tied the game in dramatic fashion when Law called his own number on fourth down from the 1-yard line with just 40 seconds left in the game.
The tying score was set up on a short punt out of Hampton’s end zone that gave Ringgold the ball at the Talbots’ 21 after a 15-yard facemask penalty was tacked on at the end of the return.
“This was a great night for us,” Milchovich said. “We’ll enjoy it for a bit, but we are going right back to work for Central Valley.”
PLAYOFF TIDBITS: Law completed just 7 of 21 passes for 44 yards … Hampton’s Schmitt had all three interceptions for the Talbots … Ringgold’s Josh Briscoe had two huge first half punts covering 52 and 49 yards … Rech ended the game with 121 yards on 30 carries, including 63 yards on 21 tries in the first half … Chacar Berry, who was saddled with a tender ankle, had 25 yards on 11 carries and Small had 53 yards on 13 carries for Ringgold. Milchovich said Berry “played on all guts. He gave us everything he had.” … Both teams had 21 first downs and Hampton led in total yards, 285-247.
Jeff Oliver is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2666 or firstname.lastname@example.org.