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Winning the numbers game

The Union/A-C Valley varsity football team poses for a portrait on Thursday in Richland Township, Clarion County. Joseph Ressler/Butler Eagle 8/11/22
Falcon Knights bringing back plenty of starters, expanded roster

Looking around the practice field, Union/A-C Valley coach Brad Dittman likes what he sees.

Plenty of players.

“We’ve got 38 players, sophomores through seniors,” the fifth-year coach said. “That’s almost twice what we usually have. We can put together a full junior varsity team. This is the point this program has been striving to get to.”

The program has already been winning.

The Falcon Knights reached the District 9 playoffs for a fourth straight year in 2021. They also posted a 9-3 overall record, reaching the district’s Class A title game before dropping a 28-21 decision to Redbank Valley.

“We want to get back there with a different outcome this time,” senior wide receiver-safety Skyler Roxbury said.

They have the horses to do it.

Eight starters return on offense for Union/ACV — quarterback Bailey Crissman, running backs Mikey Card and Dawson Camper, receivers Roxbury and Ryan Cooper, offensive lineman Landon Chalmers, Kaiden McNany and Zander Laughlin.

Chalmers was named District 9 Small School Offensive Lineman of the Year. Crissman threw for 902 yards and 13 touchdowns, Card rushed for 898 yards and seven touchdowns, Camper for 631 yards and 13 scores.

Crissman has two of his favorite targets back in the passing game. Roxbury had 23 catches for 471 yards and five touchdowns, Cooper 22 catches for 393 yards and seven TDs.

“That’s a lot of production coming back,” Dittman said.

And Crissman loves it.

“We’re going to be able to mix things up more than ever,” the quarterback said. “I feel like I can throw the ball pretty far and we’ve got receivers who can go get it. Both of our running backs are back and we’ve got a good line blocking in front of them.

“Offensively, I feel like we’ll be able to do anything.”

Card wants to make sure the running game does its part.

“A thousand yards is my goal and I know Dawson wants the same thing,” Card said. “We can get there.”

Dittman pointed out that two of his team’s losses last season were by the margin of a single touchdown.

“These guys came so close to winning the district last year. They believe they should have won it,” he said. “I know they’re hungry. They want to take the next step.”

Defensively, Union/ACV returns seven starters. Card and Chalmers are the top returning linemen, though Chalmers may be moved to linebacker. Camper and Crissman return at linebacker while Cooper, Roxbury and Jacob Bowser are in the secondary.

Chalmers had 56 tackles and six quarterback sacks last season, second on the team to middle linebacker Carter Terwint’s 70 tackles. Terwint graduated last spring.

“We need to rebuild our defensive line and play more physical,” Card said. “We have some new guys on the line and I’m confident they’re going to step up.”

Crissman said the defense needs to improve mentally as much as anything else.

“We need to cut down on penalties on the defensive side of the ball,” he said. “Things like offsides, holding ... We just have to be smarter.”

Dittman said the key to the defense will be the development of personnel up front and at linebacker.

“Those are the positions we need to put together, maybe move some people around to get that done,” the coach said.

Despite last year’s success, Union/ACV was not picked among the top three small-school teams in the District 9 coaches preseason poll.

“It doesn’t matter,” Roxbury said. “We have to win games on the field, anyway.”

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