Pennsy squad gearing up for Raabe Classic

Six Port Allegany High School graduates will participate in the Don Raabe Big 30 Charities Classic to be held Saturday at Bradford High School. They are (pictured front row, left to right) Jade Rankin, Kari Drabert, Nikki Drabert; (back row) Bryce Healy, Josh Guerrero and Damen Brodhun. (photo by Pam Fischer / Reporter Argus)

Six Port Allegany High School graduates will participate in the Don Raabe Big 30 Charities Classic to be held Saturday at Bradford High School. They are (pictured front row, left to right) Jade Rankin, Kari Drabert, Nikki Drabert; (back row) Bryce Healy, Josh Guerrero and Damen Brodhun. (photo by Pam Fischer / Reporter Argus)

Lori Chase
Port Allegany Reporter Argus
July 30, 2009

The calendar may claim that it’s still midsummer, but for local high school football aficionados, the season will begin in earnest Saturday evening when teams of graduated seniors from New York and Pennsylvania square off in the 36th annual Don Raabe Charities Classic. Scheduled for a 7 p.m. kickoff at Bradford High School’s Interstate Parkway Field, the former Big 30 All-Star Game has raised over $1.2 million for charities throughout the Twin Tiers since its inception in 1974. New York still leads the series 18-15-2, but the Keystone State squad has dominated recent play, winning four of the last five meetings.

Port Allegany High School’s Class of 2009 will be well represented on Aug. 1, with Damen Brodhun, Josh Guerrero, and Bryce Healy suiting up in Pennsylvania red, Nicole Drabert and Jade Rankin helping lead the cheers on the sideline, and Kari Drabert participating with other area Homecoming queens. Saturday’s festivities will include a parade stepping off at 2 p.m. up West Washington Street to Parkway Field, followed by a tailgate party in adjacent Callahan Park. Pregame ceremonies at the field will begin at 6 p.m.

At a recent practice on Port High’s freshly-mown and lined field, the team’s unity was as evident as the huddle-breaking shout of “P – A!” echoing off the surrounding hills. On one play during the session-ending scrimmage, burly defensive tackle Evan Abplanalp stepped in front of a misdirected screen pass, rumbled toward the end zone with the ball and lowered his shoulder to bowl a would-be tackler over at the goal line as his fellow defenders – many of whom lined up against Abplanalp’s Coudersport Falcons last fall – shouted their approval.

Undeterred, the offense exacted a measure of revenge minutes later when Johnsonburg quarterback Ren Yonker lofted a pass deep down the right sideline to Smethport’s Preston Birtcil, who hauled it in for a long touchdown. As their teammates celebrated, the former rivals, clad in crimson practice jerseys instead of Ram blue or Hubber orange, exchanged a high-five before lining up for the extra point.

“We’re coming together as a team. That’s one of the more impressive things that we like what we’re seeing,” Pennsy head coach Mark Morelli said afterward. “There are no boundaries in terms of they played for this team and this kid played for that team. We’re really happy with the camaraderie that the kids have shown and the respect that they’ve shown toward one another. We stressed the team aspect of it, and they’re coming along well with that. We’re pleased with the direction we’re headed.”

Josh Guerrero

Port Allegany linebacker Josh Guerrero takes part in a drill during practice for the Don Raabe Charities Classic. (Photo by Alan Hancock / The Bradford Era)

Morelli, who left Ridgway following the 2007 season as that school’s all-time wins leader, will join John Fragale’s staff at Cameron County this fall after coaching at St. Marys Public last year. Asked to comment on the Port players in the game, the veteran coach said he expects solid contributions from all three.

Brodhun will be one of three guards in Pennsylvania’s multiple-set offense, and will be on the field for two out of every three drives.“That was something we wanted to do to keep the continuity going,” Morelli explained. “It’s hard to establish an offensive line and keep that rhythm going. Two out of every three plays keeps the line going. Damen should fit in; he’s been doing well for us since we started practicing.”

On the other side of the ball, Healy and Guerrero were working with the same unit during the practice at Gator Field, with Healy relaying the signals from defensive coordinator Joe Roseto.

“Initially, we started out with Bryce as a secondary player, a safety or cornerback,” Morelli said. “But then when we saw his size against some of the other kids, we decided that since he also played quarterback for Port, we thought we’d move him up and put him as what we call a ‘hero’ on defense, and give him the chance to call signals and take charge on the defensive side of the ball, because he has that experience and that leadership from playing at Port Allegany.

“He’s been working out really well for us. He accepted the change like a team player would, so we’re happy with the way that’s going. He’s got a lot of versatility, and that kind of helps. You’ve got to have that, since most teams don’t play the 5-2,” Morelli pointed out regarding the game’s mandated defensive formation.

As he did for so many games in a Gators jersey, Guerrero will anchor the center of the Pennsylvania defense.

“He’s our inside linebacker. Josh is known as one of the tougher kids in the area … We played against him at Ridgway, so I know what he’s capable of doing: Dominating, shutting down the middle of the defense when the offense tries to run plays up the middle. He’s a good kid to have, with his experience and background in the middle,” Morelli said before concluding, “We’re looking for major contributions from them next Saturday, and hopefully we can continue the Pennsylvania tradition that we’ve established recently of winning the Big 30 Game.”

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