AML Football: Crusaders ground Gators

ELK CO. CATHOLIC 25

PORT ALLEGANY 19

Lori Chase
Port Allegany Reporter Argus
September 29, 2011

For the first three weeks of the season, opposing football teams had little success trying to stop Port Allegany’s high-flying attack as the Gators rolled up 121 points on the way to a 3-0 record.

On Saturday afternoon at Gator Field, Elk County Catholic unveiled a different strategy: The offense can’t score if it doesn’t have the ball. The Crusaders played keep-away, running the clock down before every snap on several time-consuming drives.

And it worked. With the score tied, when fullback Cole Gerber slammed into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown to cap an epic 14-play, six-and-a-half-minute march, just 15 seconds remained in the game – time for only two desperate plays by Port before ECC began celebrating a 25-19 upset.

“It’s really enjoyable when everyone picks against you,” Crusaders coach Travis Skrzypek said with a smile after watching his team improve to 3-1, handing the Gators (3-1) their first loss of the season.

Running behind a stout ECC line, Gerber (28 carries-140 yards) and backfield mate Brock McCullough (24-136 yards) did most of the damage, combining for 52 of the Crusaders’ 61 rushing attempts, three touchdowns, and all but 34 of their 310 total yards.

“We wanted to keep our offense on the field as long as possible – long, sustaining drives – and keep their offense off the field as much as we could,” Skrzypek explained. “I think we got them in some bad situations where they were deep (in their own end of the field), weren’t as willing to throw the long ball as much. But it’s a great team. They’re having a great run at it right now, and all the respect in the world to them.”

Over on the Port sideline, the answer was simple for a disappointed Mike Bodamer: “We didn’t deserve to win.”

The Gators coach added, “We played absolutely horrible. I saw it in the kids’ eyes at the beginning of the game. We preached to them all week, ‘Forget about last week,’ and I just don’t think they did. They thought they’d come out here, you know, another day at the park. We kept telling them, ‘It’s not going to be that way.’ This is a good, solid athletic team, they’ve got good athletic backs, and we just basically stood there and took it like we did that first night down in Brockway. We didn’t attack, we didn’t … For half the game, every time we made a tackle, it was three or four yards down the field.

“Either the kids bounce back from it, or it could ruin the season. Hopefully they come back from it.”
Port jumped out to an early lead on the opening drive, with quarterback Matt Bodamer rolling to his left on fourth-and-19 from the ECC 22, then throwing back across the field to a wide-open Tyce Miller in the right corner of the end zone.

The Crusaders were quick to respond after McCullough returned the kickoff to the ECC 45. With Gerber pounding the inside of the Gator defense and McCullough slashing through on some nifty cutback moves, it took just five plays to set up first-and-goal at the 1, and quarterback Mitchell Vallone snuck the final yard for the score. Scott Krellner’s extra point made it 7-6, and the Gators would never lead again.

“It was the same plays: Quick fullback, and sweep outside. They ran two plays. We just couldn’t stop it,” coach Bodamer said.

The teams swapped turnovers to open the second quarter. Trent Neal recovered a fumble to thwart a Crusader drive, but linebacker Joe McLaughlin returned the favor by intercepting a tipped Bodamer pass and returning it to midfield.

Time for the ECC running game to go back to work. Vallone’s only pass completion of the game gave the Crusaders a first down at the Port 39, but it was all ground-and-pound after that, with McCullough capping the 13-play, almost seven-minute drive on a 5-yard scamper.

The Gators answered on Neal’s 15-yard touchdown run with 1:24 remaining in the half – which, as it turned out, was one-tenth of a second too much to leave the Crusaders. Following another long McCullough kickoff return out past the 40, a series of runs set up a first down at the Gator 10, and Vallone spiked the ball to stop the clock with 0:00.1 showing. Skrzypek called Gerber’s number, and the senior back dove past the pylon on the final play of the half to send ECC into the locker room with a 19-12 lead.

A goal-line stand by the Gator defense kept it a one-score game as the third quarter ticked away, with Alex Gular and Nick Budd stuffing McCullough for a loss and Trey Miller sacking Vallone to force a turnover on downs.

The Port offense responded by putting together a 10-play, 92-yard trip to the end zone, with Tyce Miller’s 20-yard slant from Bodamer setting up Neal’s two-yard dive for his second touchdown of the game. With the pressure on, junior kicker Scotty Brookens nailed the extra point to tie the game 19-19.

An ECC three-and-out on the ensuing possession seemed to have the momentum shifting toward the home sideline, but the Gator drive stalled out after one first down, and the Crusaders set off on their final march to victory.

Port A will try to regroup on the road this week, with Friday night’s game at Otto-Eldred. The Terrors (1-3), who defeated Johnsonburg 26-13 in Week 3 for their lone win of the season, are led by senior running back Luke Kerr (46 carries-312 yards, 2 TDs) and sophomore quarterback Dakota Vaughn (36-169 yards, 5 rushing TDs; 15-of-46 passing, 208 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT).

“We’re not going to do anything this year if we’re not able to stop the run,” coach Bodamer said. “The rest of the season we’re going to see running teams; there are very few passing teams around here. If we can’t stop the run, it’ll be a long season. Hopefully we can get through these next four or five and still be where we wanted to be.

“Like I said, we definitely didn’t deserve to win, we didn’t play well enough to win. So we’ve got to take it for what it is and keep moving on.”

At Port Allegany, Sept. 17:

Score by quarters:
ECC 7 12 0 6 25
Port A 6 6 0 7 19

First Quarter
Port A – Tyce Miller 22 pass from Matt Bodamer (11 plays, 60 yards, 4:00), pass failed, 6-0
ECC – Mitchell Vallone 1 run (7 plays, 55 yards, 2:52), Scott Krellner kick, 6-7

Second Quarter
ECC – Brock McCullough 5 run (13 plays, 50 yards after interception, 6:53), kick failed, 6-13
Port A – Trent Neal 15 run (5 plays, 71 yards, 1:18), run failed, 12-13
ECC – Cole Gerber 10 run (8 plays, 57 yards, 1:24), pass failed, 12-19

Fourth Quarter
Port A – Neal 2 run (10 plays, 92 yards, 2:59), Scott Brookens kick, 19-19
ECC – Gerber 1 run (14 plays, 61 yards, 6:28), kick failed, 19-25

Team Statistics: ECC PA
First downs 19 21
Rushes-Yards 61-296 19-104
Comp-Att-Int 1-5-0 21-30-1
Passing Yards 14 241
Total Yards 310 345
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 2-0
Punts-Avg. 2-38.0 2-29.0
Penalties-Yards 4-31 3-33
Total Plays 66 49
Time of poss. 31:10 16:50

Individual statistics:
Rushing: ECC – Gerber 28-140, 2 TD; McCullough 24-136, TD; Vallone 5-16, TD; Cappiello 1-3; McLaughlin 3-1. Port A – Bodamer 10-50; Neal 5-25, 2 TD; Trey Miller 2-21; Drabert 2-8.

Passing: ECC – Vallone 1-5, 14 yards. Port A– Bodamer 21-30-1, 241 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT.

Receiving: ECC – McLaughlin 1-14. Port A – Tyce Miller 8-91, TD; Bova 2-59; Buchanan 3-39; Trevor Neal 4-31; Conway 2-30; Trent Neal 1-(-1).

(Helmets courtesy of PAHelmetProject.com)

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AML football: Gators roll Tide

CURWENSVILLE 13

PORT ALLEGANY 35

Lori Chase
Port Allegany Reporter Argus
Sept. 22, 2011

There were plenty of storylines to watch during last Saturday’s Gator Field showdown between Port Allegany and the visiting Curwensville Golden Tide: The rematch of last year’s District 9 Class A football championship game, between two unbeaten teams expected to be among the Allegheny Mountain League’s best again this season, and featuring two players (Curwensville running back Alex Holland and Port A quarterback Matt Bodamer) within reach of the 4,000-career-yard milestone.

Holland eventually got his yards, but the quick-strike Gator spread was just too much for the defending D-9 champs to handle. With Bodamer tossing four more touchdown passes, three to Charlie Buchanan, Port rolled to a 35-13 win to stay atop the AML North division at 3-0.

“It feels good today, but tomorrow we’ve got to forget about it, because it’s definitely a long season,” Gator coach Mike Bodamer said. “I’m sure we’ll see them down the road somewhere. If things go as it is, we could have to travel down there for the AML game. So it could be rematch number two, and definitely in the playoffs. This is just another one of our nine steps, so tomorrow we forget about it.”

“They’re very athletic. They’re a very good football team, and they played well. It was their day today. They executed their offense exactly, and their defense came up big for them,” said Curwensville coach Andy Evanko, whose team dropped to 2-1.

The Gators, who never led in either game against Curwensville last year, served quick notice that things would be different this time. Lining up at their own 38 following the opening kickoff, it took a single play to move into Tide territory and just 2:33 to find the end zone, with Buchanan breaking into the clear down the left sideline and Bodamer finding him on 4th-and-10 from the 21 for the game’s first score.

“We decided earlier in the season that with our offense, if it’s fourth down there’s a good chance we’re going to go for it,” coach Bodamer explained. “We have a lot of crossing patterns, and kids get open. So fourth down’s not a big thing. If field position’s not too bad, we’re probably going to go for it.”

After that, the game settled into a defensive battle, with Port dodging a bullet when an apparent Curwensville touchdown was nullified by a motion penalty and linebacker Brock Taylor batted down a fourth-and-goal pass attempt on the next play.

When another Tide drive ebbed midway through the second quarter, the Gator offense went to work. Bodamer started the drive with a 20-yard strike to tight end Rickie Bova, passing the 4,000-yard mark in the process, and ended it by hitting Buchanan on a crossing pattern at the goal line for a 13-0 lead. The junior quarterback went 13-for-23 for 207 yards on the day, giving him 4,134 for his career.

Meanwhile, although the Gator defense was bending, it wasn’t breaking, allowing just 83 yards to Holland and one pass completion in the first half.

“We knew he was going to get his,” coach Bodamer said of the Curwensville star. “We kind of gave up on the pass and had eight men at the line of scrimmage, and Alex Gular and Trey Miller did a nice job with the outside contain. Because we know he likes to pitch, we had those guys come upfield. He had to turn it up most of the time, and we had our linebackers filling. Justin (Bienkowski) did a good job this week with the defense.

“After last week in that Friday night game, when we kind of sat there and Brockway kind of put it to us, we came back and said, ‘We just can’t do this anymore. We’re not big enough. We have to go and attack.’ That night, we kind of switched our philosophy and became more of an attacking defense, and it definitely seems like it’s working.”

Things went from bad to worse for the Tide at the beginning of the second half, when a high snap sailed over punter Jesse Zorger’s head and he was taken down at his own 20. It took just one play for the Gators to cash in, with Tyce Miller taking a pass from Bodamer at the 10, cutting inside, and spinning out of a tackle at the 5 on his way to the end zone.

“Once we get the ball in the hands of those kids, him and Charlie and Rickie, they all run so well that that’s basically our run game,” coach Bodamer said. “Get it out to them and let them run with it.”

Down 21-0 and with the passing game stuck in neutral, Evanko decided to concentrate on what his team does best: Hand the ball off to Holland. The All-State running back responded, breaking free down the left sideline for a 65-yard touchdown run and adding another score following a Gator fumble, and suddenly, Port’s comfortable lead had shrunk to an eight-point margin midway through the third quarter.

“Same thing at Smethport the first week,” coach Bodamer said of the Tide back, who finished with 286 yards on 40 grueling carries against the Gators. “They were tied in the fourth quarter, and they pitched to Holland twice. You can see it in the kid’s eyes. It’s like, ‘No one’s going to bring me down.’ Sure enough, he broke off two or three long runs over there. They’re definitely never out of it with a kid like him.”

But Port has playmakers, too. Driving down to the Curwensville 2 before turning the ball over on downs when an apparent Bodamer-to-Buchanan touchdown hookup was ruled incomplete, the duo left no doubt the next time the Gators had the ball, once again making the practice time the team spends on ‘scramble drills’ pay off.

Dropping back on 2nd-and-10 from the Tide 27, Bodamer avoided a strong pass rush, sprinted back to his left, and spotted Buchanan working his way toward the left pylon for the senior wideout’s third touchdown catch of the day and a 27-13 lead.

“When (Matt) scrambles, he sees the field and he can get out where he needs to,” the elder Bodamer said. “Good thing is, the receivers keep running. We work a lot on actually breaking off the patterns, because we know he’s going to be scrambling. So when they see him scramble and they break off their patterns, that’s how we find our guys open downfield like that.”

With time running out on Curwensville, Buchanan stopped their next drive with a pick at the goal line. Trent Neal capped the scoring by hitting a seam up the middle and outrunning the defense for a 63-yard touchdown, and Gular recovered a Holland fumble at the Gator 3 to end the final Tide threat, securing Port’s first win against its Clearfield County foes.

“We definitely talked about it (during the week),” coach Bodamer admitted. “I told the kids we were 0-8 against them; every year we play them, they seem to be on their up cycle every time we’re down. They’re a very good football team. They’re tough, they’re physical, they love to hit. It was a good statement by our kids. I told them this week, ‘You’ve got to look them eye-to-eye and say, We’re just not going to take it anymore.’ I think they responded to that.”

Port concludes the crossover portion of its AML schedule on Saturday afternoon, when Elk County Catholic (2-1) visits Gator Field for a 1:30 p.m. Senior Day kickoff. The Crusaders opened the season with wins over Cameron County and Otto-Eldred before dropping a 12-7 decision to North Division contender Coudersport last weekend; their run-heavy offense is paced by backs Cole Gerber (44 carries – 337 yards, 3 TDs) and Brock McCullough (36-136, 2 TD runs plus a 90-yard kickoff return TD), with Johnsonburg transfer Mitchell Vallone (11-26-1, 184 yards, 1 TD pass) stepping in at quarterback.

“Athletic kids. They’ve got some speed in the backfield,” Bodamer said. “Like we do every week, we’ll just have to stop their run game, and take what they give us on defense.”

But for now, the Gators will take being 3-0.

At Port Allegany, Sept. 17:
Curwensville 0 0 13 0 – 13
Port Allegany 7 6 7 14 – 35

Scoring summary:
First quarter:
PA – Buchanan 21 pass from Bodamer (Brookens kick), 7-0, 9:27
(drive of 8 plays, 65 yards, 2:33)

Second quarter:
PA – Buchanan 7 pass from Bodamer (kick failed), 13-0, 4:37
(6 plays, 75 yards, 1:09)

Third quarter:
PA – Tyce Miller 20 pass from Bodamer (Bodamer run), 21-0, 9:33
(1 play, 20 yards, 0:10)
Cv – Holland 65 run (Smeal kick), 21-7, 9:23
(1 play, 65 yards, 0:10)
Cv – Holland 9 run (kick failed), 21-13, 6:20
(4 plays, 53 yards, 1:36)

Fourth quarter:
PA – Buchanan 27 pass from Bodamer (kick failed), 27-13, 8:41
(5 plays, 53 yards, 1:44)
PA – Trent Neal 63 run (Bova pass from Bodamer), 35-13, 3:40
(4 plays, 94 yards, 1:50)

Cv PA
First downs 17 16
Rushes-yds 53-313 20-174
C-A-I 2-15-1 13-23-1
Passing yds 21 207
Total yds 334 381
Punts-avg 2-28.5 2-38.0
Fumbles-lost 2-1 2-1
Penalties 8-48 6-55
Total plays 68 44
Time of poss. 32:01 15:59

Individual stats:
Rushing: Curwensville – Alex Holland 40-286 yards, Josh Greslick 4-20, Jordan Russell 1-10, Brad Coudriet 3-9, Hunter McCracken 3-1, Jesse Zorger 2-(-13). Port A – Trent Neal 9-90 yards, Matt Bodamer 9-75, Trey Miller 2-9.
Passing: Curwensville – McCracken 2-15-1, 21 yards. Port A – Bodamer 13-23-1, 207 yards.
Receiving: Curwensville – Coudriet 1-14 yards, Zorger 1-7. Port A – Charlie Buchanan 7-93 yards, Tyce Miller 3-54, Trevor Neal 1-26, Rickie Bova 1-20, Trent Neal 1-14.

(Helmets courtesy of PAHelmetProject.com)

Back to work

For those of you wondering where I’ve been for the last month, this post on my personal blog, Cut to the Chase, might provide some insight.

With that said, it’s time to pick up where we left off. Should be interesting to try to step in at midseason, but I’ll do what I can.