FROSTBURG, Md. — Mountain Ridge knew it needed to match Allegany’s physicality on Friday night to stay unbeaten.
Jaden Lee wasn’t physical, but that’s because he was hardly tackled.
The athletic junior had 197 yards of offense on just 15 touches. No play was bigger than his 47-yard burst to the end zone, where the runner pirouetted around a defensive back and turned on the jets, bringing the Miner faithful to their feet with the game out of reach in the fourth quarter.
It was Senior Night, the home-opener and a coming-out party for No. 1 Mountain Ridge, who rode the feet of Lee to the promised land to turn back the scrappy fifth-ranked Campers, 31-0.
It’s the first time in a decade the Miners have started a season 3-0.
“We met their physicality and then some,” Mountain Ridge head coach Ryan Patterson said. “We’ve zipped it around, everybody’s watched the show the last couple of weeks, but we knew we could be physical up front too.
“Jaden Lee is a player, we need to get the ball in his hands, so we moved him into the backfield more this week and let him do his thing. It’s a matter of time before he rips one off.”
Both teams came in a perfect 2-0, with Allegany trying to prove it’s back to its winning ways, and Mountain Ridge trying to prove it deserves the preseason hype.
While the Miners responded well to the pressure, the Campers struggled. Allegany beat itself in the first half with four false starts, and it did the very thing head coach Bryan Hansel said his team couldn’t do: Give up big plays.
“Our biggest fear happened,” Hansel said. “We talked about limiting explosive plays, screen game all game, can’t turn the ball over and we can’t beat ourselves with non-effort penalties.
“With that defense playing attacking defense, you can’t play behind the sticks. ... They beat us tonight. Straight up.”
With the Miners leading 10-0 coming out of the halftime locker room, Allegany was still very much in the game.
That changed in a hurry.
After both teams traded three-and-outs, Mountain Ridge needed just seven plays to go 72 yards. Lee capped the series with a 33-yard run to make it 17-0 with 6:30 left in the third. He also had a 16-yard run earlier on the drive.
Allegany’s following series was stunted by a holding penalty, forcing a punt, and the Miners needed just three plays to move the ball 61 yards to the house. Lee was responsible for two of them, catching a 15-yard screen pass before his 47-yard TD run to make it 24-0.
“We did well up front, we were able to run the ball which makes my life a whole lot easier,” said Mountain Ridge quarterback Bryce Snyder, who completed 11 of 18 passes for 144 yards. “We didn’t have any passing touchdowns, and we didn’t really throw for a ton of yards, but a win’s a win. It doesn’t really matter at that point.”
Mountain Ridge did struggle with drops — it had four, including a wide-open touchdown late in the second quarter — limiting the senior QB’s numbers to some degree, but the Miners didn’t allow that to kill their belief.
“You’ve just got to tell them to keep their heads up and catch the next one,” Snyder said. “You’re going to need them at some point in the game. So you can’t get down on them and tell them that something’s wrong. You just have to give them confidence.”
After Snyder ran 15 yards for a first down with around six minutes left in the fourth, Uma Pua’auli got the call under center. He proceeded to accelerate from the defense and score a 41-yard touchdown to put the icing on a 31-0 statement win.
Allegany was held to just 132 yards of offense while the Miners tallied 408.
Mountain Ridge’s offense gets the bulk of the credit for its success — understandably, with the Miners averaging 54.7 points a night — but its defense has been just as good. All four of Allegany’s second-half drives ended with punts.
It starts in the trenches.
“We knew they were going to be physical, we knew they were going to try to thump the ball at us,” Patterson said. “We felt comfortable in man-to-man coverage on the back end. We bent on one drive but never broke.
“We love our defense. We zing it around in practice, everybody has fun, but coach (Justin) Patterson, my cousin, does such a great job of getting our kids lined up. It’s about alignment, assignment and playing like hell.”
“Our defense played lights out all game, shutout, zero points. We all-around played a great game today,” Lee said. “Our D-Line is looking really good. Our linebackers are filling gaps. DB’s looking really good.”
Landon McAlpine and Jacob Wildeson recorded sacks on a defense that’s allowed just two points a game and has pitched two shutouts through three games.
One unsung hero against Allegany was kicker Ashton Shimko, both on field goals and kick offs. All five of his kick offs resulted in touchbacks, and he made a 30-yard FG. He did miss a pair of tries, but having a weapon like him with range takes the pressure off the offense.
Mountain Ridge led 10-0 at the half: Snyder broke the goal line with a carry from 10 yards out during the first quarter, and Shimko drilled a field goal as time expired.
Snyder connected on 7 of 12 passes for 97 yards before the intermission, with his top target — Nathaniel Washington — hauling in four balls for 45 yards. Washington ended up with 75 yards on six catches.
Mountain Ridge benefitted from a short field on its first TD drive. Colin Lowery intercepted Brody Williams on the Alco 35-yard line, and the Miners needed just five plays to punch it in.
The big play of the series was a 27-yard gain on a Snyder-to-Washington connection that moved the ball to the one. After a false start and a negative play, Snyder carried it himself, and his line pushed him into the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
Mountain Ridge showcased its two-minute offense to get into Shimko’s range late in the half.
The Miners ran a hook-and-ladder with Washington catching the ball four yards downfield and flipping it to a streaking Lee for a 21-yard gain. Mountain Ridge nearly scored a TD, but a wide-open pass from Snyder was dropped in the end zone, and they settled for a field goal.
Allegany’s best drive was a 13-play, 56-yard series into Mountain Ridge territory. The Campers were stopped on 4th-and-3 at the Miners’ 23.
The Campers were led offensively by Cayden Bratton, who had eight carries for 33 yards. Williams had 30 yards on the ground, and Braylen White ended with 20.
Allegany (2-1) is at Albert Gallatin, Pennsylvania, next week. Mountain Ridge will try to make it four straight to start the season when Smithsburg comes to town.
Nobody knows how the rest of this season will end up for the highly-touted Miners, but there’s something in the air in Frostburg. Something feels different this year.
“We keep plucking away,” Patterson said. “I don’t know what the final score was at Greenway, but they beat us 63-0 not too long ago. We did some soul-searching as a staff and decided, ‘How can we fix this thing?’
“We went down to the middle school, started working with those kids when they were that age, and kept on bringing them along. They’re our guys, there’s a lot of love with those guys and that coaching staff.
“They keep answering the bell so far.”