Faded momentum leaves Raiders hurting

Photos by Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Southridge senior Cody Thompson, second from left, hugged classmate Luke Siddons after the Raiders lost 24-20 to Paoli in the Class 2A regional at Cook Field in Paoli. The Raiders led until late in the fourth quarter, ending a run of close calls that brought the program its first sectional championship since 2008. A gallery of photos can be found here.

By JOSEPH FANELLI
Herald Sports Writer

PAOLI — With heads bowed, faces shoved in hands or hidden behind face masks, the Southridge football team huddled around coach Scott Buening, who just couldn’t find the right words.

“We put together a hell of a run and...” He paused, a hand resting on his players’ shoulder pads.
Again, he tried, “We put together a hell of a run...”

Michel

But nothing. What was there to say? What was the explanation for a game that turned so rapidly against the Raiders?

Senior fullback Aidan Michel was barely responsive.

“I have no idea,” he said. “I don’t know.”

It seemed impossible to witness, the same Raider team that had made a living closing out tight games all postseason. Three wins by a total of nine points. This team was immune to momentum swings or high-pressure stakes. This was one ride that wasn’t going to stop.

Until it did. The No. 6 Raiders ran into a wall against Paoli on Friday night in the class 2A regional at Cook Field, falling 24-20. It came crashing down as the Raiders (10-3) watched the Rams (11-2) storm the field. There was nothing to be said.

Craig

“I don’t know that there is any message there,” Buening said. “It’s a time (the players) need to go and find their families, they need to be with their families. We’ll have time to reflect and talk about this, but tonight’s not that night.”

For 24 minutes, it seemed like it was anything but another barn-burner to pile onto the stack of Raider victories. Paoli scored on its first possession, a two-yard plunge by Luke Becht after quarterback Brett Balsmeyer, son of Paoli coach and Southridge graduate Brian Balsmeyer, connected on five straight passes. Southridge responded with ease, conducting an 11-play, 60-yard drive capped by a 4-yard touchdown completion to Brett Nordhoff.

Two plays into Paoli’s next possession, Cody Thompson intercepted Balsmeyer — the first of three by the Raiders. Five plays later, Connor Craig took a dive up the middle at the 13-yard, ran into one of his own players, kept his balance and changed direction to outrace a defender into the corner of the end zone.

Balsmeyer conducted another perfect scoring drive, finishing it with an 18-yard strike to Austin Moore with 55 seconds left in the first quarter.

But the Raider defense interrupted the next drive when Alex Householder picked off a pass.
Southridge ran every time on a 15-play, 86-yard drive that used all but 1.6 seconds of the half. With four seconds remaining, Craig took a sweep left, used a Beau Schneider block and slipped into the end zone for a 20-12 Raider lead. Craig finished with 104 yards on 22 carries.

The positive momentum quickly dissipated in the second half. The Raiders’ first drive stalled at the Rams’ 5-yard-line when Stetter was sacked on fourth down. Paoli scored on the next play, an 86-yard catch-and-run from Tanner Kameda, who tipped the ball to himself out of the backfield, cut to the sideline and used a caravan of blockers to rumble in for the score. The two-point try was no good and Southridge gripped a 20-18 edge.

After rolling up 169 yards rushing and 15 first downs in the first half, Southridge ran for just 39 yards and six first downs after intermission. It was the second time in two weeks the Raiders were kept scoreless into the final two quarters. A suddenly revamped Paoli defense began blitzing almost every down. Stetter was sacked five times in the second half.

Southridge quarterback Luke Stetter was sacked by Paoli’s Luke Becht. The Rams sacked Stetter five times in the second half and held the Raiders without a point after intermission.

“You’ve got to give Paoli a lot of credit,” Buening said. “They played physical, they played hard, they were aggressive, they were able to get some penetration. We weren’t really able to protect Luke very well. They got us off schedule and when those things happen, you have a hard time working out of that.”

After three unsuccessful Southridge drives, including a second red zone trip without points, Paoli jumped in front. Balsmeyer hit Tanner Wroblewski for 22 yards on third down and connected again for 27 yards before scoring on a short run to put Paoli in front with 3:06 remaining. The quarterback finished with 325 yards — 154 more passing yards than the Raiders had given up all season — with Wroblewski snagging seven passes for 157 yards.

The Raiders’ final effort faded after Stetter was sacked on third down and hurled a fourth-and-17 prayer to Thompson. The pass fell short and the Paoli ran out the clock.

An emotional Buening exchanged words with former Raider coach Kelly Murphy, who congratulated Buening on his first season.

“You came into a situation and you made it better,” Murphy told Buening.

A talented junior class will return for a Southridge program Buening said will reap the benefits of a tremendous senior class for years.

“This team means the world to me,” he said. “These seniors, they deserved every ounce of the success they had this year. And deserve more and we just weren’t able to do it tonight. I’m very thankful that I had the opportunity to work with these guys. ... Losing is tough, but this was a fun group to come to practice with everyday and that we’re going to miss.

“They brought this team together and that’s going to carry over to the next group. This (team) gets along well because a of what the seniors did, and how they went about it. That’s something that’s rare.  ... That’s what I’ll remember about them and that’s what going to last for a long time.”

Contact Joseph Fanelli at jfanelli@dcherald.com.




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