Port Allegany Reporter Argus, August 7, 2008
BRADFORD – When looking for a word to describe Pennsylvania’s record-setting defensive performance in Saturday’s Don Raabe Big 30 Charities Classic, it’s tough to top the one chosen by winning head coach Steve Ackerman:
The Bradford High mentor continued, “You dream about doing that, but you don’t think it can happen. It sure makes my game easier on the offensive side – I just have to get into the red zone once or twice when they’re playing defense like that.”
Pennsy’s Wing-T offense did its share of work on the new artificial turf at Parkway Field, bulldozing the New York squad for 327 rushing yards and scoring four touchdowns in a 27-0 whitewash, the first shutout in the series since a 26-0 Pennsylvania win in 1987.
“That’s our game,” Ackerman noted afterward. “Rush for 300 and complete a couple of passes.”
And then, turn the reins over to a stifling defense which held New York – featuring the Big 30 Player of the Year, Bolivar-Richburg quarterback Kameron Konert – to a microscopic 62 total yards (21 rushing) and never officially allowed them to cross midfield.
Making that feat even more remarkable, the Raabe Classic, like most high school all-star games, has special rules designed to favor the offense. The mandatory 5-2 alignment, with no pre-snap movement allowed, meant more work for Pennsylvania defensive coordinator Jerry Pattison.
“It was hard to predict how the game was going to turn out,” the longtime Bradford assistant admitted. “While we knew the type of offense (New York head coach) Rod Rohl runs at Hinsdale, we obviously hadn’t seen their team play.” And with the defensive restrictions in place, he said, “We knew we had to change some things up, throw some different looks at them.”
Pattison was quick to praise his players, who quickly picked up the scheme and executed it to near-perfection on game night. “We gave New York a different look on just about every single play, and I think we really confused them,” he said.
Port Allegany’s lone player in the game, Derick Morey, was an important part of that equation. “Derick was a great addition to the team,” Pattison said. “I couldn’t have been happier with the way he played. He called the signals for his defensive unit, and he was always where he needed to be. He’s a great kid off the field, too – well-spoken, very polite. But on the field, he’s a linebacker. He flies to the ball.”
Pennsylvania pushed inside the New York 20 on its first offensive series, but Sheffield kicker Jordan Copley’s 38-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left and the first quarter ended in a scoreless tie. The Pa. squad broke the deadlock early in the second period, when Ackerman’s playcalling deftly mixed some toss sweeps to halfbacks Jerico Weitzel (Ridgway) and Nick Johnson (Bradford) with the inside power of fullback Taylor O’Brien (Bradford) to march 84 yards in just seven plays. O’Brien capped the series by bulling into the end zone from four yards out, Copley’s extra point split the uprights, and Pennsy took a 7-0 lead.
New York was still unable to get out of its own end of the field, setting the stage for a scintillating punt return by Weitzel, who dove at the pylon for an apparent 54-yard touchdown. However, the cheers from the Pennsylvania stands quickly turned to groans (and a few boos) as the fans noticed a penalty flag on the turf, and referee Skip Kemick walked the ball back to midfield for an illegal-block-in-the-back infraction.
Undeterred, the Pennsy offense went back to work with 3:54 remaining in the half. Two successful fourth-down conversions brought them to the New York 13, but Randolph’s Shaun Ryan broke through to sack Kane quarterback Zach Anderson on first down, dragging him to the turf at the 25. With the clock ticking inside 0:40, the District 9 Player of the Year dropped back to attempt another pass. This time the protection was solid, Anderson lofted the ball into the end zone, and Weitzel made a beautiful, diving reception for the touchdown.
“It was a great catch by Jerico,” Ackerman said. “He laid out to get it, and Zach put it where he had to put it. We ran it the play before, when Zach got sacked, and Jerico was wide open on that one, too. So we said, ‘Let’s go right back to it.’” Copley’s PAT attempt was blocked by Ryan, but the Pennsylvanians headed into the locker room with a 13-0 margin.
With the defense in full lockdown mode – New York wouldn’t gain another first down until fewer than two minutes remained in the game – Pennsylvania put the ball in the hands of its talented group of running backs, grinding down the Empire State defenders and taking time off the clock. Portville linebacker Brandon Yarnes gave his team one last glimmer of hope early in the fourth quarter when he picked off a pass from Bradford’s Ben Walter, but three plays later, Otto-Eldred’s Travis Bair returned the favor by recovering a fumble at the New York 38.
The Pennsy offense struck quickly, with O’Brien breaking loose for an 18-yard touchdown run to increase the lead to 20-0, and Ackerman could be heard telling the Big 30 committeemen standing near him, “It’s going to be a short game from here on in.”
He was true to his word. Pennsylvania kept the ball for over 10 minutes of the final quarter, winding down the play clock before every snap and tacking on a 6-yard Nick Johnson touchdown run to cap the scoring. New York finally got to midfield in the final minute of the game, but with tempers on both sides beginning to flare, the game was wisely called at that point.
In addition to his spectacular touchdown catch, Weitzel, the multi-sport star headed for Florida on a baseball scholarship, finished as the game’s leading rusher with 107 yards on 13 carries. New York still leads the series 18-15-2, but with wins in four of the last five games, Pennsylvania continues to close the gap.
Asked for a final thought, Pattison said, “We had a great group of young men to work with, and it was a great year to be a Pennsylvania coach in the Big 30 Game.”