KENWOOD — The River Valley Panthers’ debut season is still alive and thriving.
Following a 2-0 start after defeating United and Marion Center, the Panthers kept their unbeaten record intact against the Penns Manor Comets through a stellar performance.
The 56-12 victory made it a grueling affair for the Comets on their homecoming night, where Allison Johnson was crowned queen at halftime.
It was also a special day for the Panthers, who welcomed former NFL Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis to speak at their pep assembly Friday morning.
The first quarter was an early indication of what was about to ensue, with the Panthers cementing a 21-0 lead in the first nine minutes. They never looked back, eventually extending the margin to force the mercy rule throughout much of the second half.
The victory was in large part to senior running back Angelo Bartolini’s four touchdowns, one of them on an intercepted pass. He ended the game with more than 250 rushing yards.
“Angelo’s quite a player,” Panthers coach Jess Houser said. “He makes it happen every single down. He doesn’t take any plays off; he brings it every time.”
The Comets deferred to River Valley at the start of the game. The drive began with a 13-yard completion to Rocco Bartolini. After nine consecutive runs, the Panthers hit fourth-and-8 while positioned at Penns Manor’s 33-yard line. On the play, quarterback Braden Staats connected with Gage Pierce for the Panthers’ opening score on an 11-play drive.
River Valley’s next several touchdowns came in much quicker fashion.
Angelo Bartolini’s first touchdown came in the aftermath of a Comets’ three-and-out. He ran for a 79-yard touchdown on a one-play drive and moved the Panthers to a 14-0 lead.
The Comets responded with a 15-yard carry to start their drive from Alec Johnson. The next play led to the Panthers’ next score once Bartolini intercepted Max Hill’s pass for a 35-yard defensive touchdown.
Another punt by the Comets put the Panthers at the 41-yard line near the end of the first quarter. Sincere McFarlin began the drive with a 28-yard run to advance inside Comets’ territory and subsequently scored for his only touchdown of the night in three plays.
The story continued to repeat itself at the turn of the quarter. Penns Manor suffered another three-and-out, and the Panthers added to their lead on Staats’ second passing touchdown. This time, he threw to wide receiver Luke Woodring for 48 yards.
Down 35-0, the Comets were finally able to ignite a glimpse of offensive momentum. Hill’s 21-yard run at the start of their drive moved Penns Manor to River Valley’s 41-yard line, and a penalty for pass interference provided them an additional 15 yards. Six plays later, Johnson scored the Comets’ first points on a 2-yard run.
Johnson returned to action last week after an injury suffered in the opener.
“It was important (to have him back),” Comets coach Bill Packer said. “He’s had a bad ankle, but he ran hard tonight. I thought he really did a nice job running, and we also had some nice blocking for him at a couple points.”
The Comets kept possession after successfully recovering an onside kick from Justin Marshall but stalled at the Panthers’ 24-yard line with a turnover on downs. That set up a massive touchdown run of 74 yards by Bartolini to bump the lead to 42-6.
River Valley maintained total control through the rest of the quarter and into the second half, as both teams eventually substituted their starting players, but it was not before Hill scored a 41-yard rushing touchdown for the Comets in the third quarter.
Their score was instantly countered with Bartolini’s fourth and final touchdown, scoring for 48 yards on a one-play drive.
River Valley then surpassed the 50-point threshold on a 17-yard score by Sam Yanits, and the score stayed at 56-12 for the remainder of the game.
Next week, the Panthers will look to maintain their perfect season in an out-of-conference game against the Conemaugh Township Indians.
“We just take every week one at a time,” Houser said. “Every single week brings a new challenge, and we have just done a good job preparing for each of them.”
Meanwhile, the loss was a devastating blow to the Comets’ morale after they entered the week with a 37-36 overtime victory against Southern Huntingdon.
“We just couldn’t a push on them,” Packer said. “Our tackling was not good at all tonight, either. I also thought we took a step back from how we played last week, but we just have to work on it.”
Penns Manor will travel to 3-1 Purchase Line, which will be competing with a surge of momentum after a dominant victory over Marion Center.