Golden Tide Football
CLARION - Tradition won out in the end and that ended a dream season for the Curwensville Golden Tide football team.
Rochester earned its fifth trip to the PIAA Class A Championship game in seven years with a 20-12 win over the previously unbeaten Golden Tide Friday night at Clarion University's Memorial Field.
The loss ended Curwensville's season at 12-1 and stopped a 15-game winning streak dating back to last year.
Rochester meets familiar foe Southern Columbia in the finals, next Friday at Hersheypark Stadium starting at 2 p.m. Southern Columbia, the two-time defending state champion, advanced with a 42-30 win over Camp Hill in the Eastern Region finals.
It's the fifth time Rochester has met Southern Columbia in the finals. The Rams (12-3) are 3-1 against Southern Columbia, losing in 2002, but winning in 1998, 2000 and 2001.
Rochester triumphed against the Golden Tide in a game where a few key plays and coaching calls made the difference. Curwensville outgained Rochester, 334-277, and nearly put three players over 100 yards rushing, but the Tide didn't deliver in a few important moments of the game.
Nick Sipes led Curwensville with 117 yards on 15 carries. His older brother Nate broke the District 9 single-season rushing record with a 111-yard effort on 22 carries, passing Clearfield's Dave Richards' record of 2,506 yards in 2002. Nate finished with 2,511.
On Nick Sipes' second carry of the game just after the Tide forced a Rochester punt on the first possession of the game, he appeared to be sailing to the end zone for a 56-yard TD run. However, Rochester standout sophomore Derek Moye tackled him from behind and stripped the ball around the 7-yard line. The ball rolled into the end zone and Rochester recovered for a touchback.
Rochester then went 79 1/2 yards on 21 plays before being stopped on downs inside the Tide 1-yard line. Junior tailback Brent Whiteleather appeared to get across the goal line, but he was ruled down before the end zone. The drive came up empty despite chewing 8:32 off the clock.
With the Tide backed up to their own end zone on a third-and-10 play, Curwensville quarterback Shawn Sopic struck again on his QB keeper play around the left end. Against Clarion-Limestone, with the Lions' defense keying on the Sipes brothers, Sopic went 63 yards for the score.
This time against a Rochester defense doing the same thing, Sopic faked an inside handoff and went around the left end and down the sideline for a 99-yard touchdown with 9:30 left in the first half.
Undaunted, Rochester scored on two of its final three drives of the first half. Rams quarterback Cory Schleyer hit Moye for a 25-yard TD pass on fourth-and-5 to give Rochester a 7-6 lead following the point-after kick with 8:32 remaining.
The drive that actually put the Rams up for good started on Moye's 40-yard kick return that also had a 15-yard personal foul penalty on the Tide tacked on, giving the Rams the ball at the Tide 30.
Rochester made it 13-6 when Whiteleather broke two tackles and dash 24 yards for a score with 1:23 remaining in the first half. Nick Sipes blocked the point-after kick.
Curwensville took the second-half kickoff and turned into points, going 69 yards on eight plays. Nate Sipes raced 40 yards for his 38th touchdown of the season, using a brilliant cutback midway through the run to find the end zone. Going for two points to take the lead, Sopic was tripped up just short of the goal line, preserving Rochester's lead at 13-12 with 7:45 remaining in the third quarter.
Then late in the third quarter, a decision to line up the offense on a fourth-and-1 play from its own 30-yard line turned disastrous for Curwensville. Whatever the plan was, either to draw Rochester offside or just go with a longer count, it didn't work when it appeared Sopic wasn't ready for the ball to be snapped from his older brother Brad, the center. Sopic picked up the loose ball, but couldn't find any line surge in front of him and was stopped for no gain.
Sensing the need to make Curwensville pay for its mistake, Rochester called for the end zone and Schleyer delivered perfectly when he hit his 6-foot-4-inch receiving target in Moye for a 30-yard TD pass to put the Rams up 20-12 with 2:14 left in the third quarter.
The Tide had a chance to tie the game when they got the ball at their own 21 with 9:03 left in the game. Eight plays, which included two Rochester penalties totaling 20 yards, got Curwensville to the Rams' 24 with under five minutes left.
But a holding penalty and a Nick Sipes fumble that was recovered by the Tide proved to be too much to overcome and sustain the drive. On fourth-and-7, Sopic's keeper came up three yards short of the first down with 2:33 left.
Rochester nearly ran out the clock, but gave the Tide the ball back at the Rams' 41 with one second left. Sopic, trying to get the ball downfield, never got the chance when he was sacked for a 10-yard loss by Josh Atkins just after the horn sounded. The loss pushed Sopic under 100 yards rushing.
Curwensville, averaging 410 yards rushing per game, still managed a respectable 322 against a strong defensive Rochester team. But a few factors made it tough for the Tide to produce points.
Curwensville's average start to a drive was its own 27. Three drives started inside its own 20, one of them finishing with Sopic's 99-yarder. The Tide's only turnover on Nick Sipes' fumble into the end zone likely stopped a Curwensville score, but the Tide put the ball on the ground six other times. Although they recovered all of them, it stopped offensive momentum. Not that Rochester didn't have problems with holding onto the ball. The Rams fumbled five times, but recovered all of them.
Curwensville had two costly penalties stall drives as well. A clipping penalty negated Nick Sipes' 23-yard run on the first play of Curwensville's possession following Rochester's first score. The holding penalty on the Tide's late-game drive to try to tie the game also proved devastating.
Rochester was able to exploit the Tide's defense too, especially Moye's height advantage on the two TD passes from Schleyer. Whiteleather and his backfield mates were able to get outside the Tide's defense for some key gains. The junior tailback rushed for 157 yards on 33 carries, 24 carries coming in the first half totaling 138 yards. The Rams, however, were limited to 36 yards rushing on 16 attempts in the second half.
But Rochester did rush for 196 yards, the most this year against a Curwensville defense allowing just 74 rushing yards per game. It was the most rushing yards against the Tide in 17 games dating back to their loss to Brockway last year. The Rams' 277 total yards was the second-most allowed by the Tide this year, just five yards shy of Coudersport's 282 in the Allegheny Mountain League Championship game.
ROCHESTER 20, CURWENSVILLE 12
Score By Quarters
Curwensville 0 6 6 0 - 12
Rochester 0 13 7 0 - 20
C - Shawn Sopic 99 run (kick failed), 9:38.
R - Derrick Moye 25 pass from Cory Schleyer (Lukas Johnson kick), 8:32.
R - Brent Whiteleather 24 run (kick blocked), 1:23.
C - Nate Sipes 40 run (run failed), 7:45.
R - Derrick Moye 30 pass from Cory Schleyer (Johnson kick), 2:14.
First Downs 10 14
Rushes-Yards 44-322 46-196
Passing: Comp-Att-Int 2-5-0 5-12-0
Passing Yards 12 81
Plays-Total Yards 49-334 58-277
Time of Possession 23:03 24:57
Fumbles-Lost 7-1 5-0
Penalties-Yards 3-40 6-40
Punts Average 3-31.7 4-37.3
Rushing - Curwensville: Nick Sipes 15-117, Nate Sipes 22-111, Shawn Sopic 7-94. Rochester: Brent Whiteleather 33-157, Dan Helbig 6-23, Aaron Jackson 5-17, Cory Schleyer 1-(-1), Dan Camp 1-0.
Passing - Curwensville: Shawn Sopic 2-for-5, 12 yards. Rochester: Cory Schleyer 5-for-12, 81 yards, 2 TDs.
Receiving - Curwensville: Zach Baer 1-11, Nate Sipes 1-1. Rochester: Derek Moye 3-69, Dan Helbig 1-15, Brent Whiteleather 1-(-3).
Sacks - Rochester: Josh Atkins.
Kick Returns - Curwensville: Nate Sipes 2-43, Dean Swatsworth 1-24, Derek Caldwell 1-0. Rochester: Dan Helbig 2-63, Derek Moye 1-40.
Punt Returns - Curwensville: Dean Swatsworth 1-0. Rochester: Derek Moye 2-3.
pictures by Randy Hutton