The Rams stopped Springfield with the help of kicker Nick Ciavarella.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
NEW MIDDLETOWN -- More than five minutes before the second-half kickoff, Nick Ciavarella trotted onto the muddy field Friday night at Springfield High stadium.
Following the advice of his coaches, the Mineral Ridge High junior kicker took extra time to practice on the unstable field in a scoreless game against Springfield.
"They told me to go out there and get warmed up, mostly because of my footing so I wouldn't slip," Ciavarella said. "Just in case it came down to a field goal at the end."
Ciavarella kicked a 19-yard third-quarter field goal, paving the way for Mineral Ridge's 9-0 victory in the Inter-County League opener.
"Man, I was so nervous," Ciavarella admitted of his attempt. "I was so scared I was going to slip, but I'm just glad it helped fire up the team."
Heavy rain and mud grounded both teams in the first half, causing five first-quarter turnovers. Because of the conditions, neither team could gain an advantage in the first 24 minutes.
In Mineral Ridge's locker room at halftime, assistant coach Rod Hice gave head coach Shawn Brown advice that the Rams (4-0) heeded.
"[Hice] came up to me and said, 'Hey, why don't you send Nick out there so he can get used to the turf?' " Brown recalled. "So I sent him out there a few minutes early, just so he could get used to the turf, and it paid off for us."
Ciavarella's field goal at 5:18 capped a nine-play drive that was aided by a face-mask penalty and a 17-yard pass play between junior quarterback Vance Keirsey and senior receiver David Gillie.
"That was pretty clutch by Vance and for Dave to come up with that catch," Brown said. "That was a key play in the game."
With the ball at Springfield's 2 on fourth down, Brown had a decision to make.
"There was thought of going for [the touchdown]," Brown said, "but anytime you get down there with a chance to get some points, get some points."
Ciavarella had mixed feelings about the Rams' situation.
"I really wanted to kick it," he said, smiling, "but I really didn't want to mess up the game."
Trailing 3-0, the Tigers (3-1) still felt comfortable with their position.
"We were pleased that it was only 3-0 and that a touchdown could win the game," coach John Smith said. "We just couldn't get it going offensively. We weren't as potent as we have been in the first three weeks."
Ciavarella's field goal gave Mineral Ridge the confidence it needed in a meeting of state-ranked Division V teams.
"The field was horrendous," Brown said. "I knew there were going to be turnovers; I knew there were going to be penalties. This was just an absolute war between us and Springfield."
After taking the lead, the Rams' defense made it tough for Springfield to move the ball. The Tigers also made it tough on themselves with nine penalties for 78 yards.
"We just didn't smash it in there like we wanted to," Smith said. "We'd have them right where we wanted defensively, and then there would be a costly penalty."
Mineral Ridge, which got reliable running from senior Levi Leigh (97 yards) and junior Micah Hall (57 yards), iced the game with two minutes remaining when Kiersey ran for a 3-yard touchdown.
"I told the kids that if we do what we need to do in the next six games, we could potentially see Mineral Ridge again [in the playoffs]," Smith said. "They have a choice to make."