Elkers shine in AML Varischetti win

Bob Parana - Staff Writer

After being a part of three-straight District 9 Championships, the first two D9 Large School Division titles, and going 22-4 over the past two seasons it was only fitting that 2020 graduates Robert Briggs, Matt Dush, Austin Green, Paul Gresco, Hayden Haupright, Greg Simon, and Jake Wickett walked off the Varischetti Field with a victory after a 24-6 Allegany Mountain League (AML) win over the Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference in Friday’s Frank Varischetti All-Star Football game. It was made even more special with their head coach Mark Heindl assisting AML head coach Tony Gerg of Elk County Catholic.

The game was originally scheduled for June 26 but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nick Hoffman and the organizers were determined to play and took all the precautions necessary to hold the contest. Although the stadium itself was without fans, a contingent of hundreds of maroon-and-white clad Elkers fans made their presence known while watching outside the facility.

The all-star game helped ease the disappointment of not being able to play in the Big 30 Charities Classic which fell victim to COVID and was not held Aug. 1 in Bradford. All seven along with Connor Grazioli were to play in the contest which would have also seen Heindl and his staff of Rick Viglione, Mickey Delhunty, Jack Kifer, and Tony Defilippi guiding team Pennsylvania. Cheerleaders Emma Cobaugh, Lidia Duffield, and Brooke Thomas were also denied a last chance to fire up the crowd as were Ridgway Homecoming Queen Gabbi Rohr and Johnsonburg queen Haylee Cherry.

The Elkers hugely impacted Friday’s win which spawned the blaring of the famous Ridgway siren and shouts of “Elkers first down”. Gresco finished the game seven-of-17 for 101 yards and threw a 34-yard touchdown pass to Green who was named the AML Offensive MVP with his three catches for 76 yards and a 12-yarder to Dush who finished the game with three catches for 18 yards. Briggs, Simon, Haupright, and Wickett, and Green all excelled on the AML defense which held the KSAC to 125 yards of total offense. Wickett sparked the offense with timely runs for 19 yards and a timely catch for three yards. Simon and Briggs did a more than a steady job when on the offensive line as did Haupright who only played defense in 2019.

“They not only represented Ridgway very well but also the AML. It’s good to see the connections they have not only on the field but off the field. Playing with those other kids brought back a lot of memories and it was good to see the AML come away with a big victory,” said Heindl.

It seemed like old times for the Elkers head coach who couldn’t have been more thrilled with Friday’s performance by his seven former players.

“To watch Paul to Austin and Paul to Matt, to have Jake rip off big runs, and to watch Hoppy (Haupright), Robert, and Greg on defense was just a cool sight to see,” said Heindl who laughed while saying Haupright was sure to rub in his offensive line performance. “He didn’t play much on offense throughout the season because we had so many kids but he did a tremendous job.”

The Elkers were full of smiles and pride following the victory. All seven jumped at the opportunity to thank the Ridgway program and discuss the win.

“I had a blast,” said Wickett who performed several backflips on the field when the clock hit zero. “This was the best way to go out. I think we showed which league is more dominant and it was fun playing with everybody one last time,” he added.

Dush who was denied a chance for a third District 9 championship his senior year due to the cancellation of the baseball season after winning football and basketball titles steps on the field and court with one thing in mind – winning. “We came out here and dominated. All we know is winning. We’re a winning team. We love winning. The whole (AML) team became a family this week. I couldn’t ask for better dudes to go out with,” he said.

Briggs who helped spearhead a linebacking crew that included Kane’s Teddy Race and Bradford’s Derek Sunafrank was as excited as he was when the Elkers defeated Clarion for the District Class AA title last November. “That was pretty awesome to come out and kick [butt] like we did. It was great to come out and play like this. I’m sure everyone wonders how a new team comes together but this team became a family that came together in a week. I think Matt said it best all we know is winning and it was good to do what we know,” he said.

“I think we all played a good game. I couldn’t ask for a better outcome. What a great way to end my career with a win while playing with different guys and making new friends. It’s what makes this special. I couldn’t be happier,” said Haupright who said it was very cool to get a chance on the offensive line.

Simon was also a two-time district winner in his senior year. He was a member of the 2019 District 9 Class AA Elkers golf team while also earning a third football medal. “I thought things were great. We came out on offense fast and strong and we dominated the whole game. It was a very accurate performance for our last game. It was great playing with these guys. I’m going to miss it but I sure did have fun while I was playing,” he said soaking up every moment of his final game.

Green viewed the MVP award as an added bonus and enjoyed each second on and off the field. “This was so much fun. I love playing with these guys. Everybody was so great and playing was something special. These memories are going to last forever,” he said.

For Gresco perhaps the finest, record-setting quarterback ever to lead the Elkers the victory was a culmination to a wonderful career. “It’s awesome. You play against those guys that were on this team all your life growing up and to come together and do something you normally don’t get a chance to do was great. It was a good feeling to come back to my boys Matt and Austin for the touchdowns. I felt so comfortable with all the guys on the field,” he said while also discussing his last performance in a high school uniform. “It was fun but everything has to come to an end. I had a good ride with all these guys and we’ve all developed some great connections for the rest of our lives.”

What makes the Elkers special is how each senior class helps to pass on the incredible legacy to the next batch of players that are always ready to continue the success. “The neat thing about the game is that while there were no spectators allowed inside the venue to see the amount of Ridgway fans but more importantly the current players that were there to support these kids was wonderful to see,” said Heindl.

While he too enjoyed every second of the game the Elkers head coach said it was a bit surreal being on the sidelines. “It was neat but it was different. Once the game gets going you’re involved with it and you kind of shut down the outside and what’s around you but at halftime coming back out and before the game to look up and not see fans in the stands was a bit awkward.”

Heindl also hopes the ability to play the game is something the PIAA takes notice of with the recent two-week delay to the upcoming season due to COVID. “I think the organizers did a great job getting this game in. I hope the PIAA and the rest of the state see there are ways to still play. It’s important for the kids to get on the field and to be involved with sports. I think and hope this might help push things in a positive direction,” he said.

Gresco, Dush, and Simon also received $1,000 scholarships that were presented before the game. Gresco, who will study Chemical Engineering at the Penn State main campus was presented the Senator Joe Scarnati Scholarship. Dush and Simon will be roommates at Penn State Behrend. Dush who will be studying Mechanical Engineering was presented the CNB Bank Scholarship and Simon who will be studying Plastics Engineering was presented the S&T Bank Scholarship.