MONONGAHELA -- Mother Nature intervened during Friday night's Big Eight Conference clash between Ringgold and undefeated Belle Vernon as the game was delayed for two hours because of lightning.
When the festivities finally ended at Joe Montana Stadium, it was the Leopards who had earned a 35-14 victory to maintain their spot atop standings.
Devin Whitlock led Belle Vernon (4-0, 6-0) with 169 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 12 carries to go along with 72 yards through the air on 4-of-6 passing. Jake Gedekoh, again starting in place of the injured Quinton Martin, added 75 yards on the ground on 12 attempts.
Belle Vernon led 14-7 when the game was stopped with 7:24 left in the third quarter due to lightning. Play was halted for two hours.
When the game resumed Whitlock broke free for a 45-yards touchdown run that put the Leopards in control for good.
Whitlock added a 9-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to make it 28-7.
Deondre Dotson's 4-yard touchdown run got the Rams within 28-14.
Whitlock's fourth TD run, this one from 2 yards out, capped the scoring.
Ringgold coach Darwin Manges didn't feel his team was intimidated by the Leopards.
"I don't think we have to convince our kids that we can play with them," Manges said. "It's just a matter of keeping Devin Whitlock in front of you. That's easier said then done. He's a dynamic kid, a generational player. He's tough to defend.
"I look at the first 28, 29 minutes of that game and I thought we did a relatively solid job against what they were doing."
Belle Vernon took the opening kickoff and went 57 yards in seven plays for a touchdown, with Whitlock scoring from 9 yards out. Tyler Kovatch made the first of his five extra-point kicks for a 7-0 lead with nine minutes to go in the first quarter.
While the Leopards took the lead, it suffered a loss on the first play of the drive as senior Ryan McGrew suffered a leg injury and did not return.
Ringgold (0-3, 3-4) countered with a 16-play, 49-yard drive that took up 8:50 off the clock, but the Leopards’ defense stopped the Rams at the 20-yard line.
On Belle Vernon’s first play of its next drive, Ringgold's Logan Simko recovered a fumble at the BV 20.
The Leopards’ defense came up with their second red zone stop of the first half as the Rams made it no farther than the 17.
After Simko recovered another Belle Vernon fumble on the next drive, the Rams were able to take advantage.
Nine plays later, running back Landon Oslowski scored from 9 yards out and his extra point tied the score at 7-7 with 6:09 to play in the first half.
At that point, with the game tied, Ringgold had ran 27 plays to Belle Vernon's eight.
After forcing a Belle Vernon punt, the Rams took over at the Leopards 43 but were not able to capitalize on the good field possession. Ringgold turned the ball over on downs with 2:13 left before halftime and the Leopards took advantage of the short field.
After Whitlock ran for 12 yards on first down, he hit Chase Ruokonen on a 17-yard pass and then Jake Gedekoh for a 20-yard gain to the Ringgold 11.
On the next play, Gedekoh scored with only 59 seconds to go in the second quarter and Belle Vernon took a 14-7 lead into halftime.
Oslowski paced the Rams with a hard-earned 75 rushing yards on 32 carries. Donte Kinds had three receptions for 76 yards.
Cole Weightman led Belle Vernon's defense with 15 tackles.
Manges was happy with his team's effort and feels the program is starting to turn around. He took over the team in 2019 when it was coming off a winless season and went 2-8 and 1-7 his first two years and has already reached the three-win level inn 2021.
"I'm proud of my kids," he said. "This has been a process. They've bought in and worked their rear ends off. They are committed and they feel like they can compete, especially up front, with the majority of the teams in our section."
"We're not looked upon as the same old Ringgold. Obviously 'W's mean a lot. There are no moral victories but I think our kids have gotten that stigma off of them where teams would think they can walk in here and have an easy game. We make you play, we make you work."
Both teams return to conference play next Friday as Belle Vernon hosts Trinity and Ringgold heads to Thomas Jefferson.