Raiders push ahead
LOUISVILLE –The South Range football team needed a dramatic comeback to beat Akron Manchester in their meeting in the third week of the season.
The Raiders needed no such heroics the second time around.
Keyed by a swarming defense and a punishing ground game, top-seeded South Range (12-0) left no doubt with a 34-14 victory over fourth-seeded Manchester (9-3) on a frigid night Friday night at Louisville’s Leopard Stadium.
The Raiders advance to take on third-seeded and 11th-ranked Sullivan Black River in the Division V Region 17 championship game at 7:30 p.m. Friday at a site to be determined.
“I’m very proud of those young me, very proud of how they fought,” South Range coach Dan Yeagley said. “To beat a well-coached and disciplined team like Akron Manchester twice in one season is unheard of. Our kids believed in each other and fought to the very end.”
In South Range’s 42-36 victory in the third week Manchester sophomore running back Ethan Wright shredded the South Range defense for 237 rushing yards, but the Raiders were more than ready for him Friday, limiting Wright to 114 yards on 18 carries and only one run longer than 20 yards. Linebacker Peyton Remish set the tone for the night on the first play from scrimmage when he led a swarm of South Range defenders that bottled Wright up for no gain.
“We focused on him all week,” Remish said. “They pretty much ran the same stuff and we were ready for it. It was just basic power football and we just shut them down in the trenches. Playing them in week three helped us a lot, we knew what was coming and knew how good they were.”
On offense, the Raiders ran the ball with authority most of the night. Senior quarterback Aniello Buzzacco had ample amounts of running room in the first half and finished with 207 rushing yards on 21 carries. Remish also had a big night with 148 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries.
“They were really keying on Remish early in the game which helped open things up for me,” Buzzacco said. “My line did an extremely good job giving me lanes to run through.”
The Raiders operated their offense with clinical precision in the first half, scoring on their first three possessions to build a 21-7 lead midway through the second quarter. Buzzacco gashed the Panthers on the ground for big chunks of yardage on the Raiders’ first drive to set up a 2-yard plunge by Remish, making it 7-0 with 8:05 left in the first.
After Manchester’s A.J. Johnson returned the ensuing squib kick 65-yards for a touchdown, Buzzacco was right back at it, weaving through the defense for a 55-yard touchdown run to put the Raiders back on top 14-7.
“It’s a great feeling knowing that we’re talented enough to come out firing make those big plays right off the bat,” Buzzacco said. “That really got us rolling.”
The Panthers got to the South Range 14 late in the first quarter, but defensive end Ryan Davenport and linebacker Colin McCabe snuffed out the scoring opportunity with a pair of sacks as the Raiders forced a turnover on downs.
On their next drive, the Raiders marched 78 yards on 12 plays with Buzzacco finding Brennan Toy for a 15-yard touchdown, putting the Raiders up 21-7 with 8:32 left before halftime. The score was set up by a beautiful one-handed 32-yard catch by Jacob Gehring (who also had a sack).
“We had to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and that’s what we did tonight,” Yeagley said. “We thought that was something we could have improved on the last time. Hats off to the guys up front tonight, we did a much better job.”
Manchester cut the lead to 21-14 two minutes before halftime when quarterback JoJo France (9-for-16 99 yards) hit Wright for an 18-yard touchdown pass on 4th-and-10, but the Raiders wasted no time responding with their first possession after the break. A 29-yard run by Buzzacco set up a 3-yard score by Remish to make it 28-14.
The South Range defense kept up the intensity the rest of the game, as the Panthers got no further than the South Range 40.
“We keyed on Wright a little more tonight, we had to,” Yeagley said. “He’s for real. I don’t know how many yards he had, but I know he got hit a lot tonight. That’s the guy that got them here and they kept giving it to him, but our defense really stepped up.”
With 5:42 remaining in the fourth quarter, Remish landed the knockout punch when he rumbled 66-yards for the final score of the night.
“Running down the field on that play felt really good,” Remish said. “Our offensive line did a great job all night. We said we had to win the battle in the trenches and that’s exactly what we did.”
¯ South Range’s last trip to a regional final came in 2007 when the Raiders lost to Ursuline 31-7.
¯ Manchester coach Jim France’s career record is 383-120-4. He broke the OHSAA’s career wins record with the Panthers’ week 10 victory over Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy. The previous record holder was Ironton’s Bob Lutz. France has never had a losing season in his time with the Panthers.
¯This is France’s 46th season has head coach of the Panthers. His first stint came from 1971-1984. After stepping down in 1985, France returned in 1986 and has held the position ever since. France has two sons on his current coaching staff. Manchester quarterback JoJo France is his grandson.
¯Friday’s game was easily the coldest of what has been a mostly mild season. The temperature at kickoff was 24 degrees with a wind chill of 16.
¯ Black River beat Wickliffe 44-6 in the other Region 17 semifinal.
S. RANGE: 14-7-7-6-34
SR –Peyton Remish 2 run (Levi Taylor kick)
M –A.J. Johnson 65 kickoff return (Adrianna Miracle kick)
SR–Aniello Buzzacco 55 run (Taylor kick)
SR–Brennan Toy 15 pass from Aniello Buzzacco (Taylor kick)
M–Ethan Wright 18 pass from JoJo France (Miracle kick)
SR–Peyton Remish 3 run (Taylor kick)
SR–Peyton Remish 66 run (kick failed)
First downs 8 15
Total Yards 210 428
Rushes-yards 32-111 40-356
Passing 99 72
Comp-Att-Int 9-16-1 5-13-0
Punts 3-31 2-39
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 0-0
Penalties-Yards 5-50 4-30
RUSHING–Manchester, Ethan Wright 18-114, Hunter Foster 8-26, JoJo France 5 (minus-30); South Range, Aniello Buzzacco 21-207, Peyton Remish 16-148.
PASSING–Manchester, JoJo France 9-16-99-1; South Range, Aniello Buzzacco 5-13-67-0.
RECEIVING–Manchester, Ethan Wright 6-50, Hunter Foster 2-42; South Range, Jacob Gehring 1-32, Brennan Toy 2-20, Mathias Combs 2-10.
INTERCEPTIONS–South Range, Alec Ballentine.