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Belle Vernon outlasts Ringgold in battle of Mon-Valley unbeatens

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Belle Vernon's Derek Verkleeren blocked a fourth quarter punt that set up the winning touchdown as the Leopards beat rival Ringgold 13-12 in a hard-hitting, intense rivalry game that lived up to its billing.

Verkleeren's special teams play gave Belle Vernon the ball -- trailing 12-7 -- inside the Ringgold 10-yard line. Two plays later, on a 3rd and goal, Belle Vernon quarterback Mike Fine battled his way into the end zone to put the Leopards ahead 13-12.

The winning score capped a sequence of intense defense that defined a hard-hitting game between two neighboring schools, both of whom entered the contest undefeated.

"The hype... the game lived up to it," said Belle Vernon coach Matt Humbert.

Both Belle Vernon and Ringgold entered the game with identical 5-0 records built largely on the strength of their offenses, but it was defense -- from both squads -- that ultimately defined the game.

Fine led the way for the Leopards with 70 yards rushing on 15 carries, while Ringgold's Chacar Berry was led the Rams with 82 yards on 16 carries.

Ringgold led 12-7 in the fourth quarter and had just picked up a first down near midfield after a Brenden Small 14-yard gain. The gain was nullified by a holding call, however, and the Leopards defense came alive.

A first-and-15 was followed by a tackle for loss and a 13-yard sack, forcing a 3rd and 31. After a run up the middle gained a couple of yards, Ringgold was forced to punt from deep in their own end.

Enter Verkleeren.

"We turned him loose and he made a big play," said Belle Vernon's Humbert.

Verkleeren's block was recovered by Noah Bukowski, who returned the ball to the Ringgold 8 yard line. Two plays later, Fine bullied his way into the end zone to give the Leopards a 13-12 lead.

The two-point conversion failed, but the Belle Vernon defense quickly forced a Ringgold punt and ran the clock out deep inside Rams territory to seal the win.

Belle Vernon capitilized on a frenzied crowd, scoring first after Ringgold turned the ball over on their first possession. Luke Durigon's two-yard touchdown run put the home team up 7-0.

Ringgold struck back courtesy of quarterback George Martin, who busted a 36-yard run before completing a pass to Easton Fine that set the Rams up at the Belle vernon one-yard line. Chacar Berry scored from there to make the score 7-6.

The teams went into the half with Ringgold ahead 7-6.

The visitors used their defense to take the lead, forcing a 3rd-and 17 deep inside Belle Vernon territory. David Carpenter intercepted a Fine pass and returned it to the Belle Vernon 5. Martin then rushed around the right tackle to put Ringgold ahead 12-7.

The Rams appeared to be taking control of the game after forcing a Belle Vernon punt. Small picked up a big first down near midfield, or so it appeared. A holding call nullified the gain, however, and the Belle Vernon defense took over from there,

Belle Vernon vs RinggoldThree plays later Verkleeren blocked the punt and two plays after that, Fine scored the decisive touchdown.

"When they came back I never lost faith that we could come back," said Belle Vernon's Humbert.

The win moves the Leopards to 6-0 and puts them in the driver's seat not only in the Big 10 Conference, but in the WPIAL's Triple-A playoff seedings.

"Without a doubt," Humbert said, classifying this as his biggest win as Belle Vernon's head coach. "It's a statement win."

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