Three times in the last two seasons, Port Allegany and Cameron County have met on the football field with either a division title or a playoff berth at stake. Three times, the Red Raiders needed a fourth-quarter touchdown to eke out a close win.
On a cold, clear Friday night in Emporium, four quarters wasn’t long enough to decide the game, but the ending was all too heartbreakingly familiar. Following a fourth-and-goal fumble to stop the Gators’ first possession in overtime, Jason Blose scored the game-winning touchdown – his third of the night – to give Cameron County a 27-21 victory and its fourth consecutive AML North championship.
“We had him stopped at the 10-yard line, but we didn’t make the wrap, didn’t make the tackle when we had to. At least two or three kids bounced off him, and that was that,” Port coach Mike Bodamer said quietly as the stands emptied.
Early on, it didn’t look like overtime was going to be an option, as the Red Raiders used a steady dose of Blose, who finished the game with 30 carries for 174 yards, and 240-pound fullback Andrew Fragale to pound their way to a 14-0 lead on their first two drives.
“We know we’re weak up front; we get pushed around,” Bodamer said. “We try to come up with the best defense we can to try to stop the run, but we just get ‘out-physicaled.’ That Cameron County line is a big, strong, physical team. We have a little bit of size, but our kids just aren’t as strong as they are.
“It was the same as last year. They came out and scored 14 quick ones on us last year and we had to come back. We just put ourselves in a hole. We can score, but it sets a bad tone for the game.”
After going nowhere the first two times they had the ball, the Gators finally found an answer on their third drive. Under heavy pressure from the blitzing Red Raiders, quarterback Matt Bodamer spotted Seth Lowery open in the right flat; the senior running back did the rest, picking his way through the defense for a 49-yard touchdown. Ken Kysor’s extra point was blocked, but Port was on the board.
An inspired defense sent Cameron County three-and-out on its next series, and after linebacker Brock Taylor recovered a fumbled snap to end the following one, the offense was back in business at the Raiders’ 44. With just 0:14 left in the half, Bodamer rifled a pass over the middle to Tyce Miller for a 17-yard touchdown, and bootlegged in the tying two-point conversion.
“Port didn’t quit,” Cameron County coach Mark Morelli said. “We jumped to a 14-0 lead, but they showed they were a good football team and showed some resolve when they came back to tie it up going into halftime. I was a little disappointed with our team; I thought the first 20 minutes we played very good football – probably the best football we’ve played all year – and then the last four minutes or so of the half, I thought we lost our intensity a little bit.”
As they did in last year’s playoff game, Morelli’s team came out of the locker room and marched down the field to regain the lead. This time, though, it was the passing game doing the damage, as quarterback Zack Austin completed all three of his attempts on the drive and a 36-yard halfback option from Blose to Vince Summers set up Blose’s 1-yard score.
“We talked a little bit about it at halftime, that we needed to start mixing it up a little more,” Morelli said. “Our gameplan coming in, we wanted to establish the line of scrimmage and take control of the game with our running game, and we did that for about the first quarter and a half. But credit to Port, they made some adjustments, started stuffing us here and there and slowing us down a little bit on the ground. That was one of the things we wanted to adjust at halftime; we wanted to get a little more throwing to loosen them up a little bit. I think Zack probably had his best game of the season in terms of completions … He did just enough to keep them off balance.”
Port appeared to have a quick answer when Bodamer followed Trey Miller’s long kickoff return with a 52-yard touchdown pass to Camrin Stuckey. But a holding penalty negated the score, and an interception ended the drive two plays later.
As the fourth quarter began, down by a touchdown and facing a 4th-and-3 deep in their own territory, the Gators gambled and won. Dropping back to punt, Stuckey instead took off for the chains and dove just past the first-down marker to keep the drive alive. Two plays later, Charlie Buchanan caught a Bodamer pass over the middle, broke a tackle, and almost scored, taking the ball 49 yards to the CC 4 before Austin finally managed to drag him down. Bodamer finished the drive with a 1-yard keeper, and Kysor booted the critical extra point to make it 21-all with 7:56 remaining. Neither offense could mount a serious challenge after that, trading punts before Bodamer ended regulation by picking off Austin’s pass as time expired.
The Gators got the ball first in overtime, and a tough Lowery run on first down moved it to the 3. Thinking they were closer, coach Bodamer called quarterback sneaks on the next two plays, but the stout Red Raider defense managed to keep Matt Bodamer out of the end zone.
“I apologized to Seth,” Mike Bodamer admitted. “I thought we were at the 1-yard line after the first time. I should’ve realized we were at the 3 and should have run Seth again, but I thought we were at the 1.”
Then, with fourth-and-goal at the 1, the unthinkable happened as the ball popped loose behind the line of scrimmage, ending Port’s scoring chance and setting the stage for Blose’s game-winning run.
“I told the kids, I take responsibility for that last play,” Bodamer said. “You can’t run the same play three times in a row. They were getting excited to get to the one-inch line, tried to go on a silent snap, and … I saw that ball fly out of there and thought, oh, God, no.
“I’m just getting tired of it. We’re so close. I’m tired of, ‘Good job, good job.’ (Moral victory) just doesn’t work any more. I’m over that. We’ve got to find a way to win.”
Now, with one regular-season game remaining, the math is simple for the 4-4 Gators: beat Coudersport – for the first time since 2003 – in Saturday afternoon’s home finale (1:30 p.m., WHKS) to clinch a District 9 playoff berth, or pack up the helmets and shoulder pads for the winter.
“We definitely should (win) if we can stop the run, because they’re going to run on us,” Bodamer said. “I think we can score, but we can’t make mistakes.”
At Emporium, 10/22:
|Score by quarters:|
CC – Jason Blose 12 run, Val Thomson kick, 7-0
CC – Andrew Fragale 1 run, Thomson kick, 14-0
PA – Seth Lowery 49 pass from Matt Bodamer, kick blocked, 14-6
PA – Tyce Miller 17 pass from Bodamer, Bodamer run, 14-14
CC – Blose 1 run, Thomson kick, 21-14
PA – Bodamer 1 run, Ken Kysor kick, 21-21
CC – Blose 10 run, 27-21