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Passing the Test: Redbank Valley Offense Loaded With Right Answers in Aerial Attack

Thursday, September 22, 2022 @ 12:09 AM

Posted by Mike Kilroy

IMG_5227NEW BETHLEHEM, Pa. (EYT/D9) — In this multiple-choice test, there are no wrong answers for Cam Wagner and the Redbank Valley football team.

(Above, from left: Ashton Kahle, Tate Minich, Cam Wagner, Aiden Ortz and Mason Clouse.)

Whether he checks off A, B, C, or D, it’s always correct.

Wagner, the senior quarterback for the Bulldogs, has dangerous receiving threats everywhere.

Tate Minich. Aiden Ortz. Mason Clouse. Ashton Kahle. All great options. All with standout seasons in Redbank Valley’s potent attack.

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Redbank Valley, Keystone, and Union/A-C Valley sports coverage on Explore and is brought to you by Heeter Lumber.

“When you have speed like these guys, anything is possible,” Wagner said. “You know the phrase, ‘Speed kills?’ Well, it’s true. I’ll say they are best in the district when it comes to speed.”

And, they are showing it.

Seniors Minich and Ortz are the two slot receivers in Redbank’s offense. Juniors Clouse and Kahle are on the outside in the roles opened up when Chris Marshall and Marquese Gardlock graduated.

Offensive coordinator Jason Kundick knew what he had coming back and has tailored the offense to fit the skill set of his four receivers and “new” quarterback.

Wagner isn’t exactly a newbie to the position, although this is his first crack at being the full-time starter. He played in big games as a freshman and sophomore, posting a 5-2 record with District 9 and PIAA playoff wins under his belt. Last year, he lost out on the job in a three-headed competition with first-year senior Bryson Bain and senior Gunner Mangiantini.

Bain won the job. Wagner watched, learned, and waited.

And never pouted. Never complained.

“You have to give the kid a lot of credit,” said Redbank Valley coach Blane Gold. “Essentially during his freshman and sophomore years he was there and he filled in when guys were hurt. Last year, he wasn’t the guy who was chosen and he came back with a good mindset and leadership — he was voted captain and is obviously off to a good start. I think it’s a great lesson for other student-athletes that just because things don’t go your way, you don’t quit. You battle through that adversity and when you get your chance, you roll with it.”

(Redbank Valley quarterback Cam Wagner looks for an open receiver/photo by Madison McFarland)

Wagner is certainly rolling.

He’s completed 73.7% of his passes (56 of 76) for 1,039 yards and 17 touchdowns in just four games so far this year.

He said while last year was tough, he used it as motivation to shine when he got his chance again.

“I feel like I’ve really improved since last year,” Wagner said. “With these receivers, you can’t really overthrow them. They make big plays for me. I don’t always put the ball on the money, but they always make the plays and the line helps out a lot because our line was one of our biggest doubts, too. For everyone to really step up and do how they’re doing now, it feels good.”

That’s in large part because Kundick has been able to get the most out of his extensive arsenal.

“Really a lot of this started in the spring,” Gold said. “Mike Yurcich, the offensive coordinator at Penn State, and one of our assistant coaches, Jason Huffman, were college roommates, so we have a little bit of access there.”

Last season, Penn State had one of the best slot receivers in the country in Jahan Dotson, who now plays in the NFL with the Washington Commanders. Yurcich showed the Redbank staff some of the things he did to utilize a fast slot receiver so well.

“Jason said, ‘Dang, we have two fast slots,’” Gold said. “Jason really took a lot of the stuff that we saw at Penn State with Coach Yurcich and incorporated some of that. It’s really neat to see him call games because essentially what we do is we like to match up with Aiden and Tate and if they decide to they want to try to take either one of them away, then Jason looks for the matchup on the outside with Ashton and Mason. I gotta give a lot of credit to Jason for the way that, really for the third year in a row, even though we haven’t changed our offensive identity, he has changed the focus.”

All four receivers have made a huge impact.

Ortz leads the Bulldogs with 384 yards and six touchdowns on 16 catches. Minich has caught 19 passes for 270 yards and three TDs. Kahle has hauled in 12 passes for 213 yards and five scores and Clouse has seven receptions for 135 yards and a touchdown.

Ortz has been particularly effective at breaking long runs after catching a jet sweep touch pass. Called “jayhawks” by the Bulldogs, it’s a low-risk play that has become a big part of the offensive arsenal.

(Tate Minich breaks into the open field for the Bulldogs/photo by Madison McFarland)

Wagner receives the snap in the shotgun and basically shovels the ball forward to the receiver running full speed in motion. It’s a pass, but it’s blocked like an old-fashioned jet sweep play out of the wing-T.

“I was a running back all through youth,” Ortz said. “Then when I came up here, we’re more of a passing team, so I just had to step up to the receiver position. I love those plays. I can really show people how fast I am.”

And it also gives Ortz a chance to rib Wagner.

“Yeah, I’ve been receiving a lot of jokes from the team lately just saying that it should be a run and that most of my yards are because of them,” Wagner said, smiling. “That’s probably true. But every time that play is called, I feel like it’s gonna turn into a big gain no matter what.”

The blocking up front and from the other receivers has been a big part of that.

“Our o-line blocks that play really well,” Ortz said. “Ashton, every time I’ve run to his side, it’s been a touchdown.”

“I take a lot of pride in that,” Kahle added. “You’re helping your teammates. We’re all family.”

“One of the big things is we don’t take plays off,” Minich said. “We’re running routes 100% every single time and we block for each other.”

Clouse isn’t as fast as the other three receivers, but he’s quick and runs precise routes.

Wagner stressed how important that has been for the offense.

“Mason’s not always the fastest guy, but he’s always our route runner,” Wagner said. “And these three guys have burner speed. So it’s always fun.”

Clouse grins at that assessment.

“I mean, when it’s my turn to make a play, I almost always do,” he said. “Sometimes I can’t run past them, so I’ll just stop in front of them, catch it and get 10 more yards.”

At 4-0 heading into a game Friday at Ridgway, Redbank Valley is off to another good start after going 13-2 last season and advancing to the PIAA Class A title game.

It’s especially satisfying for Wagner, who heard the doubts heading into the season.

“Well, it’s always good to be 4-0 at this point,” Wagner said. “I mean, everyone doubted us coming into this year. Our phrase was, ‘We’re still here.’ We lost how many guys? Thirteen or something like that. We lost that many guys and no one thought we’d still be where we are. I think that we can be a better team than we were last year.”

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Redbank Valley, Keystone, and Union/A-C Valley sports coverage on Explore and is brought to you by Heeter Lumber.

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