Gators down Portville 7-3 in first “Border War”


2006 PAHS grad Jake Rohrer (23) knocks away Portville's final pass into the end zone to secure Port High's 7-3 win in Saturday afternoon's "Border War" at Gator Field. (Photo by Pam Fischer / Reporter Argus)


Lori Chase
Port Allegany Reporter Argus
July 22, 2010

Fourth and goal.

With “Border War” bragging rights on the line at Gator Field last Saturday, precisely one minute left on the clock, and the ball resting on the Port Allegany 5, Portville quarterback Brian Nitsche prepared to take the snap. The 2004 Big 30 Co-Player of the Year dropped back, scrambled right under pressure, and heaved one last pass toward the end zone, where receiver Kyle Witherell was waiting.

But Gator defensive back Jake Rohrer was there, too. As Witherell leaped, Rohrer got a hand on the ball, which fell harmlessly incomplete to end the Panthers’ threat. As the crowd filling the home stands and lining the track celebrated, two Mark McNeil kneeldowns burned off the final few seconds of Port High’s 7-3 victory in the inaugural alumni game between the two old Border Conference foes.

Afterward, while many of the Port players mingled with friends and relatives on a gorgeous summer afternoon, two generations of Big 30 All-Stars met as Dick Sherwood (1987) and nephew Derick Morey (2008) posed for family pictures together on the field.

Morey, who scored the game’s only touchdown on a four-yard plunge late in the first quarter, summed up the feelings of many players when he said it reminded him of an all-star game.

“It’s been a good time, especially with my uncle, Dick Sherwood,” he said. “Getting to play with him and all the older guys that you always hear about during school, all the records. You know how good they are, and to finally get to play with them … it’s been amazing.”

Early on, it didn’t look like the game was going to be a low-scoring battle. After Isaac Greeley recovered a Panther fumble at midfield on the opening drive, Port just barely missed connecting on two long passes – including one into the end zone – before turning the ball over on downs.

The teams traded punts on their next possessions, with Brandon Bliss’ perfectly placed kick bouncing out of bounds at the Portville 10 to pin the visitors deep. The Panthers paid a hefty price just two plays later when defensive lineman Jamie Kisko pounced on a loose ball to set up first-and-goal for Port High at the 7.

From there, it was up to the 6-0, 215-pound Morey and his blockers.

“Once we got it down close, I thought I was going to go in at quarterback and QB-sneak it,” he said. “But they handed it off to me instead, so I punched it in.”

Pat Warnick, one of three 1986 PAHS grads in the game, booted the extra point to give the Gators a 7-0 lead with 0:22 left in the first quarter.

They had a chance to extend the lead midway through the second stanza, constructing a 10-play, 92-yard drive with halfback Cody Anderson doing most of the damage. The 2006 grad carried the ball seven times on the drive for 84 of his game-high 120 yards, including a brilliant, twisting 51-yard jaunt to get the Gators out of their own end of the field. But the Panther defense stiffened as the ball got closer to their goal line, and on fourth-and-3 from the 5, Anderson came up a yard shy of converting the first down.

Nitsche, who led the Panthers with 89 rushing yards on top of completing 9-of-28 passes for another 117, marched his team down the field as the final seconds of the half ticked away. A roughing-the-passer call moved the ball to the Port High 35 and allowed the New York State squad one more play with no time left on the clock. Kris Young’s 51-yard field goal attempt had plenty of distance, but veered wide left to keep the margin at a touchdown as the teams headed to the locker rooms.

Portville quickly gained the momentum at the beginning of the third quarter on the first of defensive back Chris Buchanan’s two interceptions. Mixing quick slants with a dose of “wildcat” offense, the Panthers took the ball inside the Gator 20 before B.J. Greenman’s pass deflection in the end zone forced them to settle for Young’s 35-yard field goal.

A three-and-out put the visitors back in business a couple of minutes later, with Nitsche hitting Witherell on a long pass completion down to the Gator 20. But the Panther receiver made a crucial mistake by grabbing the facemask of tackler J.R. Page, one of several penalties that left veteran Portville coach Gary Swetland shaking his head after the game and complimenting fellow 100-game winner Bob Haskins and the Port High players on their discipline.

Linebacker Alan Lovell ended the scoring threat on the very next play, jumping in front of Nitsche’s intended receiver to make the interception.

“It was supposed to be a straight dropback, so I dropped, and he was just looking right at the receiver,” said Lovell, one of more than 20 Big 30 Game/Raabe Classic participants on the Gators’ roster. “I just read the quarterback the whole time. I’d noticed that quite a bit throughout the day; he was kind of sticking on one receiver instead of checking off.”

Almost the entire fourth quarter was played in Port Allegany’s end of the field, with the defense digging in to hold off Portville’s comeback attempt. Rohrer and Chad Saltsman combined to knock down one fourth-down throw into the end zone before the Panthers’ final drive … a drive that needed a near-miraculous fourth-and-17 conversion, Nitsche’s pass skipping through tight end Brad Holcomb’s hands to running back Luke Hellwig for a 22-yard gain, to set the stage for Rohrer’s game-saving play.

So with no rain, no serious injuries, a victory for the home team, and an even bigger win for both towns’ libraries and youth football programs, co-creators Brandon Bliss and Kerry Hawver couldn’t have asked for much more.

“Anybody watching the game would have to enjoy it,” Swetland said. “Neither team really lost; the communities benefited, and both teams played very well. Hats off to Port Allegany. What a nice job they did, especially for their first game.”

At Port Allegany, July 17:

Score by quarters:
Portville 0 0 3 0 3
Port Allegany 7 0 0 0 7

First quarter

Port Allegany – Derick Morey 4-yard run, Pat Warnick kick, 7-0 PA

Third quarter

Portville – Kris Young 35-yard field goal, 7-3

Team Stats: PCS PAHS
First downs 14 10
Rushes-Yards 32-155 44-167
Passing Yards 130 28
Comp-Att-Int 10-31-1 3-14-2
Total Yards 285 195
Fumbles-Lost 3-2 1-0
Punts-Avg. 4-32.3 5-24.0
Penalties-Yards 9-65 6-40
Total Plays 63 58

Individual stats:


Portville – Nitsche 15-89; L. Hellwig 7-29; Yarnes 4-15; J. Holcomb 2-11; A. Hellwig 4-11.

Port Allegany – Anderson 13-120; Zitnik 9-24; Fillhart 7-22; Bliss 5-6; Tanner 2-5; Morey 6-(-3), TD; Nasto 1-(-3); McNeil 1-(-4).

Note: Rushing statistics include sack yardage for QBs.


Portville – Nitsche 9-28-1, 117 yards; Buchanan 1-3-0, 13 yards.

Port Allegany – McNeil 2-9-1, 21 yards; Nasto 1-2-1, 7 yards; Morey 0-2-0; Hawver 0-1-0.


Portville – A. Hellwig 3-42; Witherell 2-32; L. Hellwig 2-27; Yarnes 2-16; B. Holcomb 1-13.

Port Allegany – Tanner 1-13; Fillhart 1-8; Page 1-7.

“Border War” revisits old rivalry

Lori Chase
Port Allegany Reporter Argus
July 15, 2010

When the Port Allegany High School and Portville Central School alumni football teams line up for this Saturday afternoon’s kickoff at Gator Field, it will mark the first time the Gators and Panthers have knocked helmets since 1984. But while younger area fans have no memories of any rivalry between the two schools, during the heyday of the Border Conference, games with Bolivar, Portville, and Allegany were often just as hotly contested as the ones against their Allegheny Mountain League brethren south of the state line. In fact, for a period of time the Panthers even supplanted Smethport as Port High’s traditional end-of-season opponent.

According to data compiled by the Portville alumni website, Port Allegany won the first game between the two teams in 1936. They played just four more times between then and 1959, before beginning a series that would continue for the next 25 years. The Gators won most of those early games, but the New York squad dominated the 1970s and ’80s to build an 18-11 edge in the series.

The last Port Allegany win came in 1980. Both teams entered the Oct. 25 game unbeaten and ranked among the Big 30’s best in both offense and defense, with defending Border champ Portville (6-0) riding a 13-game winning streak and Port High (7-0-1) seeking to complete its first undefeated season since 1968.

It wasn’t a day for offensive fireworks; a constant downpour and some stingy defense led to the teams managing a single pass completion apiece and combining for just 196 yards of total offense.

Port Allegany quarterback Mark Petzold made his lone completion count, finding Rick Wilson alone behind the Portville defense for a 27-yard touchdown just before halftime. After that, it was up to the D. Mud dripping off their facemasks, they dug in, forced four turnovers, and never let the Panthers escape beyond their own 40-yard line. Charlie Caskey added two second-half field goals and Mike Wellman intercepted a pair of errant Panther passes – nearly returning the second one for a touchdown while the final seconds ticked off the clock – as the Gators celebrated a soggy Homecoming afternoon in “The Swamp” with a 13-0 victory.

Portville captured the next four meetings. In 1984, Big 30 Player of the Year Jon Gardner tossed four touchdown passes in the Panthers’ 36-6 victory at Gator Field; two weeks later, they downed Smethport 14-7 in a battle of unbeatens to clinch the conference title.

It would be the final one. Following the departures of Emporium and Bradford Central Christian the year before, the league was down to five teams. Seeking a more stable schedule and a chance at a playoff game in Rich Stadium, Portville and Allegany applied to join the Western New York Football Federation’s Chautauqua County-based Division VIII, and the Border Conference faded into history after 19 seasons.

The remaining Pennsylvania schools began discussions on expanding the AML, with Port Allegany principal Ed Babcock leading the way. The revamped 12-team league began play in 1986, the Gators defeating Johnsonburg 23-14 to claim the first championship game, and District 9 added its own playoffs the following year.

So the Panthers, Bolivar Bulldogs, and Allegany Blue Devils gave way to Wolves, Rams, and Golden Tide on Port’s schedule, something that had to happen to make the district and state playoff systems work … but there are still many people, including this writer, who remember those “border wars” with fondness.

On the Web:

“Pain-free Kinney back in the groove”

Here’s a story by Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader sportswriter Kary Booher on Port Allegany native and current Memphis Redbirds pitcher Josh Kinney, who spent the 2005 season and a 2008 rehab assignment with the St. Louis Cardinals’ Double-A team in Springfield.

Pain-free Kinney back in the groove

Since the story originally appeared on June 20, Kinney has continued to pitch well for the Redbirds. In his last 10 appearances, he struck out 15 batters without allowing a walk, gave up just one earned run, earned three saves, and compiled a microscopic 0.84 ERA to lower his season average to 2.14.