Football: Johnsonburg 7, Port Allegany 0

Lori Chase
Port Allegany Reporter Argus
September 18, 2008

Fans expecting a repeat of last year’s 46-32 shootout were instead treated to a defensive struggle on Friday night in Johnsonburg, with the Rams doing just enough to escape with a 7-0 win against the visiting Port Allegany Gators.

Rams head coach Tom Launer had a pretty good idea this game wouldn’t be anything like their first two, both lopsided wins. “Port Allegany’s got a good football team,” he said afterward. “I told our kids all week, ‘You’re 2-0 and you’ve scored a lot of points, but we’re not going to score 40 points against this team. They play excellent defense.’”

Early in the game, a gutsy coaching call put the Gators on the move. After their opening drive stalled on their own 41-yard line, Camrin Stuckey dropped back to punt. Instead, he took the snap and rolled out to his left, sprinting down the Port sideline all the way to the Johnsonburg 34.

Port couldn’t gain any traction from there, but after Stuckey’s punt pinned the Rams deep, the sophomore QB/DB made another big play by picking off a pass at the 35. Once again, however, a stifling Johnsonburg defense wouldn’t let the Gators get much closer to the end zone, holding on fourth down at their own 26. The game settled down into a defensive battle, with neither team able to gain much ground.

On the first play of the second quarter, Johnsonburg running back Zane Zelehoski tipped the scales in the home team’s favor, breaking loose on a punt return to give the Rams the ball at the Gator 35. From there, quarterback Ren Yonker hit Craig Carrow for an 18-yard pass completion on fourth down to keep the drive alive, then capped it off with a 10-yard touchdown run. Kicker Mark Myers added the extra point, and the Rams were on the board.

“The score they made – we never should have given it to them,” Gators head coach Mike Bodamer said, “but they took advantage of our mistake and scored.”

Port returned the ensuing kickoff to midfield, but penalties – a problem for both teams all evening – knocked them back to their own 25. On a play that WHKS broadcaster Al Lacher described as “third-and-Ridgway,” the coaches decided on a quick-kick, and Stuckey got the Gators out of danger with a punt that finally stopped rolling at the Johnsonburg 33.

Again, neither team was able to move the ball. The Rams did manage one shot at the end zone just before halftime, but Yonker’s long fourth-down pass slipped through the receiver’s hands just past the goal line, and the score remained 7-0.

The Gators caught a break early in the fourth quarter, when Yonker mishandled a bouncing punt. Chris Fabish tracked down the ball at the Rams 26 to give Port its deepest drive start of the night, but the Johnsonburg defense held firm again, with Myers breaking through the line to sack Stuckey on fourth down.

After a long Yonker run was called back by yet another penalty, Gator linebacker Seth Lowery caught the Rams quarterback in the backfield for a sack on the next play, and Carrow was forced to punt from inside his own 20. His kick rolled dead at the Port 34 with 5:43 remaining, and the Gators had one final chance to tie the game. They managed to drive past midfield, but eventually turned the ball over on downs, and Johnsonburg ran out the clock for the win.

After the game, Bodamer knew his team had missed some opportunities. “We had a fumble and two interceptions to our advantage, but we just couldn’t do anything with them,” he said. “Their defense is tough. They kept sending people from all different directions, and I think our kids were confused by it.”

The Gators’ ground game, held under 100 yards for the second week in a row, remains a source of concern for the Port mentor. “We need to be able to establish a running game,” he admitted. “We still have an inexperienced backfield. They’re starting to learn, but they really haven’t done a lot of it. Hopefully, we’ll turn it around and get a couple of wins under our belts in the next few weeks.”

On the other sideline, Launer praised both squads. “Stuckey played an excellent game for them,” he said. “I’m sure his numbers didn’t show it because we played so well on defense, but he gave us fits the whole game.”

He continued, “The Port Allegany coaching staff had their kids well prepared, and they’ve got some good football players on that team. But we have an excellent defensive football team – the first string hasn’t been scored on yet this year – and they did another good job tonight.”

Port’s schedule doesn’t get any easier this weekend, when 2-1 Kane visits Gator Field on Saturday for a 1:30 p.m. kickoff (WHKS-FM 94.9, http://www.whksradio.com). The Wolves lost a lot of talent from the team that captured the AML and District 9 titles last season, but the Gator coaching staff will certainly have to account for the presence of returning All-State players Ross Nicholson and Steve Mix.

“Kane’s a lot like Johnsonburg,” Bodamer said. “They’ve got a lot of speed, and some big physical kids. Defensively, we’ll come out and try to play the same type of game we did tonight. Offensively, we’ll go back to the drawing board and see what we can do.”

Score by quarters:
Port Allegany 0 0 0 0 0
Johnsonburg 0 7 0 0 7

Second quarter
Johnsonburg – Ren Yonker 10 run (Mark Myers kick), 7-0

Team Statistics: PA J
First downs 3 12
Rushes-Yards 31-67 36-122
Passing Yards 9 87
Comp-Att-Int 4-15-0 7-19-2
Total Yards 76 209
Fumbles-Lost 2-0 2-1
Punts-Avg. 6-36.3 3-41.3
Penalties-Yards 9-83 8-72
Total Plays 46 55
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