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Flying Again: Falcon Knights Have Turned Fortunes Around Heading Into Key Matchup With Redbank Valley

Wednesday, September 28, 2022 @ 10:09 PM

Posted by Mike Kilroy

NEW BETHLEHEM, Pa. (EYT/D9) — The losses were ugly. The scores lopsided.

It was a very bad two-week stretch for the Union/A-C Valley football team.

(Above, Union/A-C Valley’s Mikey Card finds some running room with offensive lineman Zander Laughlin leading the way during the Falcon Knights’ win over Kane last week/photo by Stephanie Crissman)

“We weren’t ourselves,” said Union/A-C Valley coach Brad Dittman. “One thing led to another and the bottom line was we didn’t play good football. We didn’t play well as a team. We didn’t play well as a whole. That wasn’t us.”

A team that came into the season with aspirations of winning the District 9 Class A championship and perhaps making a deep state playoff run had lost back-to-back games to Keystone and Central Clarion by a combined score of 86-13.

But the Falcon Knights regrouped and have dramatically changed their fortunes with consecutive wins over Brockway and Kane heading into a clash with familiar foe and rival, Redbank Valley, on Friday night.

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

“I’m very proud of our guys,” Dittman said. “The boys dug deep and they bought into everything that we were doing and the things we were talking about. They responded with a big win against Brockway and we kept the momentum going last week against Kane. We’ve progressively gotten better over the last couple of weeks. It shows a lot of character and hopefully we can continue to build on that.”

The Falcon Knights (3-2) are feeling like themselves again.

Getting there wasn’t as simple as merely eating a Snickers.

Union/A-C Valley took better care of the football, was flagged for fewer penalties and also got a couple of key players back from injury, including junior running back Dawson Camper

“It was just a matter of getting back to who we are,” Dittman said. “We were just out of sequence and turning the ball over, a lot of missed assignments and a lot of mental things. Not only that, our disciple at times was lacking. We really worked hard on getting back to that focus on the details.”

One person who isn’t surprised by Union/A-C Valley’s rebound is Redbank Valley coach Blane Gold.

He predicted the Falcon Knights would knock off Brockway.

“I remember doing a preview and saying to a local journalist, ‘Watch, Union/A-C Valley is going to beat Brockway,’” Gold said. “I really don’t know if he believed me. The reason I said that was if you look at Coach Dittman and that coaching staff’s track record, they are phenomenal at getting a team ready to play after a bad loss.”

Gold had two showdowns with Dittman and Union/A-C Valley late last season.

The Bulldogs won the regular-season matchup, 28-6, and then beat the Falcon Knights again, 28-21, a month later in the D9 Class A title game.

In that second meeting, Union/A-C Valley rallied from 21 points down before Redbank scored the decisive touchdown.

This year the cast has changed a bit for both teams.

Redbank is getting things done with Cam Wagner at quarterback. The senior is having an exceptional season with 1,353 yards and 22 touchdowns to only three interceptions. He’s also completing 71% of his passes.

(Redbank Valley’s Aiden Ortz/photo by Madison McFarland)

Aiden Ortz and Tate Minich are tied for the lead in receptions with 23. Ortz had 522 receiving yards and eight touchdowns while Minich has 311 yards and four scores.

Ashton Kahle has also been a big-play threat with 320 yards on 15 receptions and seven TDs.

“It’s kind of a nightmare looking at those guys that they have and the speed that they have,” Dittman said. “Wagner stepped in there and they haven’t missed a beat at quarterback. They have one heck of a program down there and Coach Gold does a great job year in and year out.

“They can score at any moment,” Dittman added. “They can take a 2-yard pass and turn it into a 90-yard touchdown. They can go over the top and throw a 60-yard bomb. They’re definitely dynamic and we definitely have our work cut out for us.”

Redbank Valley (5-0) faces some challenges with Union/A-C Valley as well.

Camper has made a huge impact since coming back from a leg injury that kept him out for two and a half games, rushing for 237 yards and five touchdowns the last two weeks.

“The sky’s the limit for him,” Dittman said. “I think if he hones in on the details, that kid can go places playing football. I quite honestly think he’s one of the best players in the district. He has all the attributes. The size. The speed. The talent. But everyone has put it all together. We’ve been getting better up front. Everybody as a whole has been getting better.”

Gold has seen that, too, on film.

He obviously has Camper highlighted, but he’s concerned with much more than the 6-foot-3, 207-pound back.

“The one that really scares me to death is their quarterback (Brody Dittman),” Gold said. “Last year he made plays against us in that district title game. He makes things happen. They have their horses, but they have a quarterback who is really making things happen.”

Redbank Valley’s defense was uncharacteristically porous last week against Ridgway, giving up 33 points in a shootout the Bulldogs won, 42-33.

“That’s the most points I’ve ever given up here except for when we got throttled by Coudersport twice,” Gold said. “You know, Ridgway is much better than an 0-5 football team. We talked about going into the season wanting to play a tougher schedule. We were winning games by 50 points last year and one of the downsides to that is we didn’t get a chance to expose mistakes and fix those mistakes in those games. We’re playing four quarters of football this season and that’s one of the advantages.

“As a defensive coordinator, am I sick about giving up 33 points? Absolutely,” Gold added. “Did we have guys in our room that were upset with their performance? Absolutely. But, they went toe-to-toe against a very storied program with a co-op, fell behind, fought back and won by two scores.”

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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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