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:|
Port Allegany – Derick Morey 4-yard run, Pat Warnick kick, 7-0 PA
Portville – Kris Young 35-yard field goal, 7-3
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.