Victory in the Cards
Published: October 10, 2013
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PINE GROVE - Pine Grove's very talented marching band has a wide variety of songs in its repertoire, including hits by Cee Lo Green and Psy's "Gangnam Style."
The tune it should have played Friday night was "Pressure" by Billy Joel.
It was the Cardinals' defensive theme song all night.
Varying its blitz packages and getting a dominating push up front, Pine Grove sacked Williams Valley quarterback Stephen Sedesse nine times and forced two turnovers en route to a 14-6 victory over the Vikings at Cardinal Stadium.
The win in the battle of Tri-Valley League unbeatens improved Pine Grove to 6-0 and kept the surprising Cardinals tied with Tri-Valley atop the TVL at 5-0.
"We said all week that we were going to get pressure and make him throw the ball quick," said senior defensive end Steve Zimmerman, who had 2.5 sacks. "Our defensive backs did a great job of covering tonight.
"We just wanted to get everybody around the quarterback, pressure him and gang-tackle him. We wanted to make sure he went down."
Sedesse entered the game as the area's top passer with 1,028 yards and 16 touchdowns in five games, with just two interceptions. He had thrown for more than 158 yards in each game, and had tossed 11 touchdowns over the past three weeks.
It looked like the senior would have similar success early. After the Williams Valley defense stopped Pine Grove at the 5-yard line on big plays by Trevor Whelski, Tim Schorr, Dylan Wertz and Daymian Shoop, Sedesse engineered a 7-play, 95-yard drive that was capped by a 25-yard TD pass to Cody Miller.
The PAT kick missed, giving Williams Valley a 6-0 lead.
After that, however, the Pine Grove defense dominated. Sedesse was sacked four times in the first half and five times in the second half, as Zimmerman, linebacker Scott Aungst (3.5), defensive end Mark Weinus (2.5), defensive lineman Jesse Fisher and linebacker Ryan Martin constantly applied pressure.
Sedesse finished 5-for-13 for 69 yards and an interception, going just 3-for-11 for 21 yards after the initial drive. He got hit so many times that he was woozy and needed medical attention after the game.
"I give every ounce of credit in the world to Vern Strouphauer, our defensive coordinator," Pine Grove head coach Jeff Sampson said. "I think he had five sleepless nights coming up with these packages. He had them coming from everywhere.
"We knew that they hadn't seen the speed that we have at the defensive ends. We had to keep him inside. He's a heck of an athlete. We figured if we put a lot of pressure on him and kept him in the pocket, we'd have success getting to him. It happened."
Another key to Pine Grove's defensive success was the play of its secondary. Senior Jed Blankenhorn shut down Cody Miller, who came into the game with 22 catches for 610 yards and 10 touchdowns. Miller's only catch was the TD.
Tyler Wolfe, Jared McCabe, Kade Haldeman and Blankenhorn blanketed the Vikings' receivers, making it difficult for Sedesse to find an open target before the pressure got to him.
"Coach Strouphauer had each and every wideout manned up with certain personnel on our side," Sampson said. "Jed Blankenhorn was 1-on-1 with Miller all night and did a wonderful job. We didn't give him a whole lot of time to check off to another receiver, but we had some great coverages all night."
Offensively, Pine Grove controlled the line of scrimmage and got another big night from Ryan Heim, who finished with 182 yards on 28 carries to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark for the season.
Heim broke free for a 61-yard touchdown late in the first quarter, and Tristan White's extra point put Pine Grove ahead 7-6.
The Cardinals' defense preserved that lead until Zimmerman hit McCabe for a 19-yard TD on a fourth-and-goal play with 2:23 left in the game to make it 14-6.
"It helps a lot when you get great blocking," a humble Heim said. "Jesse Fisher, the fullback, had a great block on the oncoming linebacker and the line created the initial hole. After that, it was just me and the safety.
"I made a move and there was no one else there. You just have to look for the hole.
"Once we got points on the board, everyone started saying, 'Hey, we can win this game.' "
Cole Barnhardt rushed 22 times for 146 yards for Williams Valley, which killed itself with penalties. The Vikings were flagged a whopping 17 times for 180 yards, including eight for unsportsmanlike conduct, and had Wertz ejected in the fourth quarter.
The rash of penalties had Williams Valley coach Tim Savage chasing the officials after the game, and fuming during post-game interviews.
"We did a lot of self-inflicted things, but we also got jobbed a little bit," Savage said. "You don't run six plays and go right down the field and do nothing right the rest of the game."