Panther Valley senior running back Richie Smith is listed in the football program as the senior class president. He might as well be the president of the school's football program, as well, as he not only led his team on the field with a brilliantly-punishing performance, but followed it up by politically passing the credit to the rest of his team.
The 6-2, 218-pound rusher romped 18 times for 215 yards and three touchdowns in his team's opening-night 34-6 win over the favored Golden Bears of Mahanoy Area. When asked what happened, he stated, "I do it for my team. They want to win just as badly as I do and tonight, everything just clicked."
All facets of the hosts' game plan were working with plenty of heroes to speak of. However, Smith's outing cannot be ignored.
"It was everybody," Smith related. "The whole line did an amazing job. It was such a great team effort, from the quarterbacks to the running backs to the guys who were in at the end."
The locals pounced on a golden opportunity right before halftime to sway the momentum hugely in their favor for a dominating second half, en route to their commanding win.
"I thought the difference tonight, was that we were more physical," Panther Valley head coach Lon Hazlet said. "We've been working really hard and putting in the time in the weight room and I think that showed."
With 3:46 left in the first, Smith got the call and took the ball 50 yards up the right sideline for the initial score of the game. Following a Golden Bear punt, Smith rushed four straight times for 52 yards, with the scoring trot of 25 yards putting up another six. Senior kicker Joe Ficocelli added the extra points for a 14-0 lead with nine seconds off the second quarter clock.
"We had a lot of plays where we had the initial hits, but we just didn't finish the plays and that cost us the game," said Mahanoy Area head coach Dave Holman,
The momentum-builder for the winners came at the end of the first half, when PV quarterback Matt Levitt launched a pass to the end zone. After a heavily-guarded catch attempt popped the ball up, speedy junior tailback Kyle Ferryman raced in to the snag the ball for the 21-0 swell at the break.
In the second half, the Panthers went right back at it, taking their first drive from their own 34 to another score. The highlight was another tough scoring run from Smith, as he broke a few tackles and eluded the pack for a 59-yard score.
Five minutes later, the hosts garnered insurance, as Levitt connected with Devon Dilliard on a perfectly-placed lob to the corner of the end zone for another TD.
Mahanoy got on the board in the final minute, as Corbin White scored on a six-yard scamper.
Despite the convincing win, Hazlet saw concerns. "We are going to continue to work on all facets of the game," he said. "We have a very tough game next week (against Schuylkill Valley), and we need to keep improving."