2009 Don Raabe Charities Classic: PA 13, NY 6

Lori Chase
Port Allegany Reporter Argus
August 6, 2009

During the buildup to last Saturday’s 36th annual Don Raabe Charities Classic, New York defensive coordinator Paul Furlong admitted that he worried about getting burned by a big play.

On a gorgeous August evening before a packed house at Parkway Field in Bradford, Furlong’s fears were realized. Pennsylvania connected on two long scoring passes in the first half, then counted on the defense to keep New York out of the end zone the rest of the way. The D met the challenge, allowing a record-low 60 yards of total offense – none through the air, breaking another Raabe Classic mark – and holding New York to two field goals in Pennsy’s 13-6 victory to narrow the Empire State’s lead in the series to 18-16-2.

“We had a heck of a time running the ball against (our defense), trying to establish anything offensively against them, and they showed why tonight,” Pennsylvania head coach Mark Morelli said. “There’s no doubt about it that the defense probably deserves the MVP trophy in this game. We were fortunate to score on the two plays that we scored on, and they threatened several times and our defense came up big. We just can’t say enough about the effort of the kids who played defense for Pennsylvania tonight. That was the difference in the game, as far as I’m concerned.”

Pennsylvania came up empty on some early chances, losing a fumble at the New York 3 and having a field-goal attempt blocked on its first two possessions. But the defense stood firm, forcing New York to punt on each of its first four drives.

Then, Cameron County’s Andrew Kesterholt turned in the highlight of the night. The 6-2 Kesterholt tipped a long Kenny Kane pass away from a cornerback, then reeled it in and sprinted to the end zone for a 61-yard touchdown. Josh Catalano’s extra point was blocked, but with 12:29 remaining in the second quarter, the score was 6-0 Pennsylvania.

“That play was something we just put in during the second week of practice,” Morelli said. “Kenny Kane suggested it because they had success with it at his school. So we took a chance at it and the football gods were looking down on us, and fortunately the tipped pass came our way, and that was a big play to help us get on the scoreboard first.”

Obviously, the reaction was far different on the other sideline.

“I thought, ‘Good, we got the pick,’ and then, ‘Oh, no.’ That’s when your heart just sinks,” said New York head coach Jason Marsh.

Seconds later, Port Allegany linebacker Josh Guerrero gave his team a golden opportunity to add to its lead, leaping to intercept a pass at the New York 22-yard line. Guerrero followed his blockers to the 14, giving Pennsy its best starting field position of the night.

“I’ve been reading that play every night in practice and picked a couple or three of them off. I guess I just know the formation, so I sat down and waited,” Guerrero explained. “I thought I was in the wrong spot, but they threw it anyway. And then I saw big Evan Abplanalp running down the left side, so I was just following him.”

However, the offense was denied yet again when New York stopped a fake field goal attempt just shy of a first down.

“The defense saved us. Their backs were against the wall all night, and they kept coming up with play after play,” Marsh said.

As the half ended, though, the team in the red Pennsylvania jerseys was making the plays. After forcing yet another New York punt, Pennsy took over at its own 27 with 55.6 seconds remaining, and Morelli had no intentions of running out the clock. A 43-yard strike from Ren Yonker to St. Marys running back Mitchell Straub quickly moved the ball to the New York 30, and Morelli reached into his bag of tricks for the next play. Tight end Craig Carrow, Yonker’s Johnsonburg teammate, lined up in the backfield, took the pitch, and found Straub wide open behind the defense for an easy touchdown. Catalano’s extra point was good, and Pennsylvania headed to the locker room with a 13-0 lead.

“The halfback pass – that’s something I always ran at Ridgway for a little bit of a surprise play. The way New York was pinching hard inside and coming inside, we just thought that play was available,” said Morelli, the longtime Elkers mentor who will coach the defense at Cameron County this fall.

Nobody could have realized it at the time, but that touchdown ended up being the game-winner, as N.Y. kicker Rigel Johnson scored the only second-half points in a game dominated by defense.

New York finally found its way inside the Pennsy 20 early in the third quarter, but on third down from the 17, Bolivar-Richburg running back Anthony Poole was trapped for a 10-yard loss by Port High’s Bryce Healy and St. Marys defensive end Shane Krise, forcing a 44-yard field goal attempt that sailed wide left.

However, the momentum was beginning to shift. Following a Carrow punt, Johnson tied a Raabe Classic record with a 47-yarder that would have been good from beyond 50, putting New York on the scoreboard for the first time since 2007. Pennsylvania responded with a long drive of its own, but Kane’s fourth-down pass into the end zone was picked off, and the quarter concluded with the score still 13-3.

Johnson added a 39-yarder with 6:06 remaining to cut the deficit to seven points, and two plays later, it looked like New York had the break it needed when Franklinville’s Seth McClory recovered a fumble at the Pennsylvania 20. But a facemask penalty against the defense negated the turnover, and Pennsylvania would burn four precious minutes off the clock before giving the ball up on downs.

“Our coach gave us a talk, and we just came out a lot more fired up than in the first half,” Gators guard Damen Brodhun said. “We were running more inside than outside in the second half. Most of the time we were just trying to kill the clock, but it seemed to work.”

The defense did the rest, recovering a fumble on New York’s only pass completion of the night with 2:01 remaining to end any thought of a comeback.

“We made it a one-possession ballgame, and then we couldn’t come up with the big play that we needed,” Marsh said.

Afterward, an “ecstatic” Morelli spoke about the contributions made by the Port players to help Pennsylvania continue its recent domination of the series, winning its fifth game out of the last six.

“(Josh’s) career is well chronicled,” he said. “I think he went out with a great game, a great effort on defense. When you get to the big games, the big kids surface and make the plays. That’s what you need.”

He continued, “Bryce was our ‘hero’ back. That was a big responsibility for him, making the calls for the defense, getting everyone lined up the right way. That was obviously a key.

“And when it was crunch time in the fourth quarter, when we needed our offensive line to take control of the game, Damen was part of that line that helped us eat up the time on the clock. So all in all, all those kids had a big part in our win. We tip our hat to all of them.”

For their part, all three players spoke about both the game and the overall experience, with Healy perhaps expressing it best: “It was a good experience, meeting a bunch of people and having fun with them, and getting to play one more football game. And getting a win in that last football game is very good.”