From the start, it became clear Friday night the Shenandoah football team was simply outclassed, outmanned and facing a dramatically better football team in No. 1 Cardinal Ritter.
Shenandoah had ended their sectional title drought and come as far as any team in the school’s history, but with this team in its way, it could go no further.
Ritter scored touchdowns on its first seven offensive possessions, and took the Class 2A regional crown with a 49-7 blowout playoff victory on St. Vincent Health Field at Marian University. Shenandoah’s lone score came early, but it could never find an answer for the array of Ritter skill-position players or the preciseness of the passing attack.
“I didn’t think they’d throw it that well,” Shenandoah coach Scott Widner said. “That’s a good football team. … They can throw it and run it. They’re huge up front. They’ve got three or four skilled kids that are a lot better than I thought.”
When asked if his team had just played the state champion, Widner could only answer, “I’d hate to see who’s better.”
Ritter’s offense controlled the first half, with the first two drives lasting all of six plays as the aerial attack sliced through Shenandoah’s defense.
Quarterback Jake Purichia connected on 13 of his 16 passes and for 206 yards in the half with four touchdown passes, three to top receiver Alex Parrett (49, 21 and 35 yards). Shenandoah (9-4) managed to counter with a 13-yard Chandler Hale jet sweep to tie it at 7, but the Ritter defense and a slew of procedure penalties slowed the visitors to a crawl, and they trailed 35-7 at the break.
“We had a gameplan coming into it,” Ritter coach Ty Hunt said of the way his offense executed. “We had some things we thought we were going to see based on some film. I’ve got to give my hat off to my coaching staff and … to my players.”
His defense also got the penetration necessary to disrupt Shenandoah’s triple-option attack. Last week, Shenandoah ran for 510 yards, but Ritter (13-0) held it to 164 on 48 carries.
Some of the prime culprits in that were Shenandoah’s 13 penalties for 78 yards. Although most were short, often offensive false starts, those small setbacks put the offense in the second- or third-and-long situations it’s not built to convert.
Widner said his players might have been nervous or over-excited, playing on a stage larger than most had known.
“It was just nerves,” quarterback T.J. Nethery said. “A lot of these kids haven’t been in a game like this ever.”
Fullback Evan Young added, “They’re just getting anxious and getting in a hurry and not focusing.”
The loss denied Shenandoah the first regional title in school history after earning its first sectional since 2004. Ritter’s last regional came in 2008, on the way to a Class A state title.
Perhaps the final lasting image came in the moments after the game when Nethery received the game ball from Ritter athletic director Jim Martin. Nethery turned and ran back to his team, holding the ball above his head and commanding the players to keep their heads up with a composed demeanor.
Seconds later, the strong front broke, and he shed the tears of a player realizing his high school career was over.
“It sucks, but we accomplished so much as a team,” Nethery said. “We bonded as a team, just got so much better as a team. Yeah it sucks to lose, but in total I think we gained more than we actually lost.
“We did everything we could.”