ThunderRidge, coming off a determined 13-9 quarterfinal win over Grandview, will entertain top-seeded Fairview Nov. 23 in a Class 5A semifinal game.
The game is set for 1 p.m. at Shea Stadium.
Grizzlies coach Joe Johnson hopes to have quarterback Brody Westmoreland and running back Steve Ray available to play against the unbeaten Knights.
Westmoreland was hit from the blind side on the third play of the Nov. 16 game against Grandview at windy Legacy Stadium and didn't return. He said after the game that he was OK but was walking tentatively. Tests were scheduled for his back and spine.
Ray saw limited action in the first half because of a previously injured shoulder and hamstring.
“We'll have to see if we can get them healed up,” said Johnson. “Ray is beat up. So it was maybe a blessing in disguise that he didn't go very much. Maybe we can get him back.”
ThunderRidge (11-1) will face a tough assignment against Fairview (11-0) in its second consecutive trip to the semifinals. Knights' quarterback Anders Hill has passed for 3,321 yards and 33 touchdowns. Cameron Frazier has 57 receptions for 777 yards and 11 TDs. Hill has also run for 254 yards and four scores.
“They're a good team and I think we can beat them if we play like we can,” admitted Johnson.
ThunderRidge had players step up and play well against Grandview in the absence of Westmoreland and Ray.
Backup junior quarterback Brandon Brenning came in and managed the game. He threw an interception, completed only one of seven passes but ran eight yards for the Grizzlies' lone TD in the third quarter to cap a 48-yard, 11-play drive. He completed his only pass, a third down, 18-yard strike to Mark Hopper, during the sortie.
“It felt great,” said Brenning. “I'm always ready in case something happens. I'm sorry it happened. The coaches knew I could do this and so did the team.
“It gave me a lot of confidence, especially during the scoring drive in the second half, which was huge. We were able to take care of the ball and then the defense did an awesome job.”
Sophomore Kevin Knox filled in for Ray and finished with 95 yards on 17 carries. Junior fullback Mike Stanley was a workhorse with 25 carries for 87 yards, running behind an offensive line led by stalwart tackle Sam Jones.
“Brendan did a great job, he came in and managed the game,” said Jones. “I'm so proud of him. He knew we were behind him as an O-line. We got together right before halftime and we're like, OK boys, it's now or never. No more messing around.
“Especially with Ray going down, that kind of got overlooked with the Brody situation. He's a tough football player and it's tough to win a game without him. Our defense held us in the game. We put them in bad position with that fumble and with Brody going down.”
ThunderRidge was ahead 13-9 and driving late in the game but lost a fumble at the Grandview 30-yard line. The Wolves eventually faced a fourth down at the Grizzlies' 11-yard line with 51 seconds to play but a pass was overthrown to a wide-open receiver to assure ThunderRidge of advancing to the semifinals.
“I was real nervous,” admitted Brenning. “I was getting prepared to go out there to put together a scoring drive.”
However, the ThunderRidge defense was stellar.
Hopper, who kicked field goals of 28 and 23 yards and executed the successful on-sides kick to start the second half, made seven tackles on defense.
The senior wide receiver, defensive back and place kicker saved the game when he tackled Frank Solomon at the Grizzlies' 11-yard line after a 56-yard pass. ThunderRidge's defense and the overthrown pass in the final minute allowed Johnson and several players to say, “We lived to play another game.”
Clay Johnson led the Grizzlies defense with 12 tackles and a sack. Blake Jacobs had two tackles and both were for losses. One of Jacobs' tackles came on third down and set up Grandview's ill-fated, fourth down final pass.
ThunderRidge recovered two fumbles and used the successful on-sides kick to score its 13 points.
“Our O line did a great job,” pointed out Johnson. “We obviously needed to shorten the game. We made enough plays. Kevin Knox came in and spelled us a little bit and did a great job. And our defense was unbelievable.”