Winning state championships doesn't get old for Blue Ridge coach Paul Moro, especially the one his team secured with ferocious defense on Saturday night at North Canyon High School.
Limiting River Valley to 161 yards of offense and getting two first-half touchdown passes from Spencer Hall to Brennan Schimmel earned the Yellow Jackets a 17-7 win and the Division IV crown.
Blue Ridge (12-2) secured its 16th football championship in its history and the 13th under Moro. Moro's 13 titles began in 1987, a rate now of one every other year. Moro wouldn't talk about his future, which has been rumored not to be at Blue Ridge after this season. He preferred the look on his players faces after victory.
"This is the most improved team I've coached in my life from the start to now," Moro said. "They play with so much heart. They are over-achievers, they've persevered and have never given up. I love watching them after they win."
The game was billed as running game vs. running game and defense vs. defense. That's the way it played out. Blue Ridge built a 17-0 lead in the first half. The Yellow Jackets got two drives that produced 10 points -- a 28-yard field goal from Cody McBride in the first period and a touchdown after a 10-play, 61-yard march early in the second period.
The Yellow Jackets' offense essentially boiled down to running back Nolan Cook's power running up the middle (16 carries for 109 yards) and the Hall-Schimmel passing combo. Blue Ridge only throws 10 to 12 times a game, but when it does the results are there. All four of the Yellow Jackets TDs the last two weeks have been via the air.
Blue Ridge's early second period score was the first of Hall's two TD passes to Schimmel from 8 yards out with 7:38 left in the half. One of two big plays of the opening half came with 1:58 left. Blue Ridge's Lane Penrod recovered a River Valley fumble at the River Valley 33. Four plays later on 2nd-and 22 at the 33, Hall heaved one up for Schimmell between two defenders in the right corner of the end zone. Schimmel leaped high and came down with it for a somewhat back-breaking 17-0 lead with 47 seconds before halftime. caught seven passes for 87 yards to give him 53 receptions for 1,025 yards.
Back-breaking because the Blue Ridge defense bottled up River Valley's offense to virtually nothing the first 24 minutes. River Valley gained just 37 yards in the first half -- 27 rushing and 10 passing. River Valley's leading rusher Brandon Long, who piled up 2,204 yards prior to Saturday's game, was limited to 27 in the first half and 52 for the game on 18 carries.
Long was involved in the other key play of the first half, which ended up nullified by penalty. River Valley ran a fake punt on the final play of the first quarter with punter Angelo Martel finding Long open in the flat for a 45 yard gain.inside Blue Ridge's 10. River Valley was called for an ineligible receiver down field wiping out its best play of the half. That came on the heels of McBride's field goal that had given Blue Ridge a 3-0 lead.
The penalty was one of many that stymied River Valle,but it wasn't the only impediiment. River Valley coach Terry Skaggs gave credit where credit was due.
"We had a awful lot of penalties that hurt," Skaggs said. "I take my hat off to their defensive coordinator. They filled the gaps and we couldn't get any big plays."
River Valley, playing for its first football title ever, blanked Blue Ridge in the second half, limiting the Yellow Jackets to 44 yards of offense. The Dust Devils managed to score their only points with 1:28 left following the one Blue Ridge miscue for the game. A low snap on a punt could not be handled by punter Tristen Penrod, who was tackled for a 21-yard loss at the Blue Ridge 27.
Seven plays later River Valley punched in its only score -- a 1-yard plunge by Long. An ensuing onside kick was booted out of bounds and Blue Ridge ran out the clock.