Port A in the Big 30 Game

Pam Fischer / Port Allegany Reporter Argus

Derick Morey, center, takes part in a kickoff drill during practice for the Don Raabe Big 30 Charities Classic. (Photo by Pam Fischer / Port Allegany Reporter Argus)

Lori Chase
Port Allegany Reporter Argus, July 31, 2008

When the participants in the 35th Annual Don Raabe Big 30 Charities Classic take to the brand-new artificial turf of Bradford’s Parkway Field (Saturday, Aug. 2, 7:00 p.m., WESB, WBRR), they’ll be carrying on a tradition that began the same week Richard Nixon moved out of the White House.

The game matches teams of graduating seniors from the New York and Pennsylvania halves of the “Big 30,” the name given by late Olean Times Herald sports editor Mike Abdo to the football-playing schools in the newspaper’s coverage area in the late 1960s.

New York currently holds an 18-14-2 edge in the series. The true winners, though, have been the local charities which benefit from the more than $1.2 million raised by the former Big 30 All-Star Game since its inception in 1974.

Derick Morey, No. 37 on the Pennsylvania roster, is the only Port Allegany player participating this year. The two-time Allegheny Mountain League All-Star is looking forward to playing “to further my football career and to challenge myself by playing with and against the best talent in Pennsylvania and New York.”

After the first week of practice, Morey said, “It’s already been a great experience, and I can’t wait to play in the game.” Pennsylvania head coach Steve Ackerman plans to use him at linebacker in the game’s mandatory 5-2 alignment, which is fine by him. “I like playing defense, because I’d rather hit people than get hit,” he said.

Pam Fischer / Port Allegany Reporter Argus

(Photo by Pam Fischer / Port Allegany Reporter Argus)

While Josh Saltsman and Nick Nichols were unable to play in the game due to other commitments, three fellow PAHS Class of 2008 graduates will join Morey on the Pennsylvania sideline. Cheerleaders Samantha Bodamer and Kelsey Mathers and 2007 Homecoming Queen Olivia Riley will take part in the evening’s events, with pregame ceremonies slated to begin at 6:30 p.m.

Over 80 young men from Port Allegany have participated in the Raabe Classic/Big 30 Game since Rod Johnson first took the field in 1975, and several have played an integral role in Pennsylvania victories:

1979 – With Port mentors Mike Borro and Tom Saiers calling the offense and five of their players on the field, the Pennsy ground game trampled New York’s defense for 252 rushing yards and two first-half touchdowns en route to a 17-6 win, the Keystone State’s first in the series.

“We were there to have fun, but we knew we had a good team,” guard Rick Bosworth recalled. “Of course, we would have had a better team with the Big 30 Player of the Year (Port’s Barry Bova), but he was committed to West Point, so he couldn’t play.”

Bova’s absence apparently didn’t hurt the Pennsylvania team too badly. “We were well prepared, ready to play,” Bosworth said, “and we controlled the clock. We just ran – I don’t know the stats for sure, but I bet we didn’t throw the ball five times the whole game. We just ran right at them.”

He reminisced fondly about getting one more chance to play football with his friends and for his high school coaches … and then added with a grin, “Of course, it helps when you win. We were pretty proud of ourselves, being the first Pennsylvania team to win.”

1987 – Reigning Big 30 Coach of the Year Bob Haskins took six seniors from his 10-0 team to Bradford, and they responded by scoring two touchdowns – the first by any Gator gridders in the game’s 14-year history – in a 26-0 whitewash. Linebacker Torrey Daniels tracked down a blocked punt in the New York end zone to give Pennsylvania a 6-0 first-quarter lead, while Dick Sherwood, running behind an offensive line featuring three of his PAHS teammates, finished the game with 53 yards and a 7-yard touchdown run on 11 carries.

“This wasn’t just a great way to end one season,” Haskins said that night. “It’s also a perfect way to begin the next one!”

2001 – As New York ran out to a quick three-touchdown lead, a blowout loss must have seemed inevitable to the crowd of 4,000 at Parkway Field. Nobody told that to the players on the Pennsylvania sideline, though. “When we got down 23-0,” Gator quarterback and Pennsy team captain Tom Nasto said after the game, “the coaches didn’t say a word to us. We got together on the sideline and said to ourselves that we need to dig deep into our hearts and start to execute better.”

Message received. Nasto finished the night 11-of-16 for 223 yards and three touchdown passes, including the game-winner to Otto-Eldred’s Terry Fowler with 1:48 remaining. Safety Kerry Hawver thwarted New York’s final drive with his second interception of the evening, and the Pennsy all-stars celebrated a stunning 29-23 victory, the largest comeback in the game’s 28-year history.

2004 – Trailing 6-0 early in the third quarter, Port running back Claude Haskins fielded a punt at the Pennsylvania 14, picked up devastating blocks from PAHS teammates B.J. Greenman and Jeremy Tanner, and sprinted 86 yards for the game-tying touchdown.

“I saw a guy trying to cut Claude off at the corner … but he didn’t see me,” Tanner remembered with a chuckle. “I earholed him – knocked him sideways – and Claude was gone.”

“Special teams turn games,” said Pennsy coach Bob Haskins of his son’s record-setting return. “We told the kids that, and it was the turning point in the game.”

The younger Haskins was also involved in another critical play. With his team holding a slim two-point fourth-quarter lead, he tossed a 19-yard touchdown pass to Johnsonburg’s Eric Iorfido on a halfback option to give the Pennsy squad some breathing room; they would tack on a late touchdown to make the final 27-12.

“There were five of us there from Port, and we knew coach Haskins had 99 wins (including his two previous Big 30 Game victories),” Tanner said. “So we wanted to get him his 100th, even if it was unofficial. Plus, the players from Bradford had never lost a game on their home field, so we were glad to keep their streak intact.”

Unlike the old Vince Lombardi saying, though, winning isn’t the only thing, and the final score isn’t necessarily the true measure of success in the Don Raabe Big 30 Charities Classic. Player after player spoke fondly of their experience – the pride in being selected, the friendships formed with their new teammates, and the thrill of playing in front of the largest crowd of their high school careers. The game went through some early growing pains, but has managed to endure for 35 years … and seems set to continue for many more.

(Information from the Olean Times Herald was used in this story.)