Gators set for D-9 playoff opener at ECC

Port Allegany Reporter Argus
November 11, 2010

When two-a-days began in the August heat, 26 football teams dreamed of playing for a District 9 championship. Now, as the calendar reads November and the season’s first snow dusts the northern Pennsylvania hillsides, 13 remain.

For Port Allegany (5-4), which clinched the No. 6 seed in Class A with a win over Coudersport in the final week of the regular season, the playoff road begins with Friday night’s trip to St. Marys to take on third-seeded Elk County Catholic (7-2). The two teams met on the same field in Week 4; after a back-and-forth first half, ECC ran out to a 27-14 lead, then held on for the 27-20 victory.

Although a long touchdown pass from Kyle Schneider to Tyler Herzing turned the tables in that meeting, the Crusaders relied on senior running back Ricky Pearsall (31 carries – 159 yards) to provide most of their offense. Pearsall finished third among all District 9 runners behind Bradford’s Pat Pascarella and Curwensville’s Alex Holland this season, toting the ball 200 times for 1,469 yards and 17 touchdowns, and containing him remains a high priority for the Gator defense.

But while most of their attention will be focused on the maroon No. 3 jersey, Port will also need to watch out for the quick handoff to junior fullback Cole Gerber, who rushed for 91 yards and the game-winning score in the first meeting. Schneider doesn’t drop back often (41-83, 727 yards, 8 touchdowns, 2 interceptions), but when he does, he’ll most likely be looking for fellow senior Herzing (17 catches – 387 yards, 4 touchdowns).

The Gators counter with a balanced offense, throwing for 1,619 yards and rushing for 1,591 this season. Matt Bodamer trailed only PIAA passing king Derek Buganza among D-9 quarterbacks, completing 76 of 123 attempts for 1,604 yards and 19 touchdowns while tossing just five interceptions. Eleven of those scoring throws were hauled in by Camrin Stuckey (26 catches – 807 yards), good enough to tie the senior receiver for eighth in the state in that category.

Seth Lowery led Port High in rushing for the third consecutive season, pounding out 736 yards and four TDs on 109 carries, but is coming off an ankle injury sustained in the Coudy game. Fellow senior Zach Ramadhan added 224 yards and four TDs on 42 attempts, and Bodamer (83-450, 9 TDs) is a constant threat to pull the ball down and run.

Both teams boast a solid kicking game. David Bojalad handles both jobs for ECC; last year’s Class A All-State punter is averaging 38.8 yards this season, and is 27-33 on PAT attempts. For the Gators, Stuckey (38.3) has matched Bojalad almost yard-for-yard, and Ken Kysor (4 field goals, 29-35 PAT) is the team’s third-leading scorer in addition to being among the state leaders in touchbacks.

The game is set for a 7 p.m. kickoff at Dutch Country Stadium on the St. Marys High School campus, with the winner moving on to face either Kane or Redbank Valley next weekend at a site to be determined. Tickets are $5 for adults, $2 for students.

Other District 9 Class A games this weekend, all Friday night at 7 p.m.:
#8 Smethport (4-5) at #1 Curwensville (8-1)
#5 Cameron County (7-3) at #4 Clarion (5-5) (at Clarion U.)
#7 Kane (4-5) at #2 Redbank Valley (5-5)

(Note: The original story included a reference to Lowery leading the Gators in rushing for the second consecutive season. He was also the Gators’ top ground-gainer as a sophomore, making this year his third in a row atop the stat sheet. This reporter regrets the error, which has been corrected in this version.)