PIAA Quarterfinal: Port Allegany vs. Sharpsville

PORT ALLEGANY 33

SHARPSVILLE 35

Lori Chase
Port Allegany Reporter Argus
December 8, 2011

For a while, it looked like Port Allegany’s magical 2011 football season was going to continue for at least one more week.

The Gators built a 26-6 second-quarter lead over Sharpsville on the frost-tipped turf at Slippery Rock’s Mihalik-Thompson Stadium, delighting their fans who had made the three-hour drive for Friday night’s PIAA Class A quarterfinal game and stunning the blue-clad contingent in the home stands. If Port could just hold on for 30 more minutes of gametime, a berth in the Western final awaited.

Unfortunately, Sharpsville had other plans. Roaring back with four consecutive touchdowns, the unbeaten District 10 champs took the lead for good on DerSean Alberty-Brown’s 35-yard punt-return score late in the third quarter. Following their 35-33 win, it will be the Blue Devils (13-0) who face District 7 powerhouse Clairton (14-0) for the right to go to the state championship game in Hershey.

“Can’t fault the kids. I’m happy with the way they performed,” Gator head coach Mike Bodamer said afterward. “We proved to everybody that Port Allegany could play football with the best of them. We just came up on the short end.”

That outcome would have been hard to imagine just an hour or so earlier, when the Gators (12-2) were busy dominating the first half of play. After taking the opening kickoff and marching down to the Sharpsville 5 before the drive ended on a lost fumble, Port didn’t stop short of the end zone on its next four possessions.

Tyler Burr’s fumble recovery at the Sharpsville 11 set up the first Gator score, with quarterback Matt Bodamer audibling to a bootleg and sprinting to his right for a 2-yard touchdown. The Blue Devils would answer on fullback Spencer Bland’s 13-yard run, but with both teams missing the extra point, the first quarter ended in a 6-6 tie.

That lasted one play into the second stanza, when Nick Conway snared Bodamer’s pass, put his hand down to steady himself on the slippery turf, and eluded a would-be tackler on his way to the first of two touchdown catches. Bodamer followed that with a 28-yard strike to Trevor Neal to make it 19-6, and the Gators struck again when Victor Bandish’s fumble recovery at midfield set up the second Bodamer-to-Conway score to give them a 20-point lead.

Sharpsville finally managed to battle back late in the second quarter, driving to a short Bland touchdown run. Port nearly got that one back as the half ended, but the clock ran out with the score still 26-6 and the Gators at the Blue Devil 15.

The tide began turning with the second-half kickoff, with Alberty-Brown racing to the Gator 32 before Conway managed to knock him out of bounds. Port managed to hold for three downs, but on fourth-and-6, Joey Pagliaroli got a step behind the defense and hauled in Jake Henwood’s pass for a 28-yard touchdown and a healthy dose of momentum.

“We talked at halftime; we knew this team was good enough to come back,” coach Bodamer said. “We said, We can’t let them score on the opening kickoff. Basically, two long passes killed us there, and they were right back in the game.”

Meanwhile, the normally prolific Gator offense was stuck in neutral, going three-and-out on its first three second-half drives. The second one proved a back-breaker, as punter Tyce Miller ended up on the ground after the kick while Alberty-Brown rambled 35 yards into the end zone on the return. While the Port sideline searched in vain for a flag on the play, Henwood hit Bryan Stafford for the two-point conversion to make it 27-26, and the Blue Devils were ahead to stay.

“We kind of lost control a little bit in the third quarter with some of those calls,” Bodamer admitted. “I was almost positive that kid ran into Tyce on the punt. We didn’t get the call there, and then the kid returned it on the same play. That just absolutely killed us. We tried to fight back, but it just didn’t happen for us.”

Bland’s third touchdown, a 2-yard run as the fourth quarter opened, and his two-point conversion gave Sharpsville a 35-26 lead. With time running out on their season, the Gators managed to draw back into the game when Matt Bodamer followed Trent Neal’s block into the end zone on fourth-and-goal with 9:30 remaining. Scott Brookens’ kick was good, and Port was back within two.

Trailing 35-33, the District 9 champs got the defensive stops they needed as they sent Sharpsville three-and-out on back-to-back possessions. But they couldn’t capitalize, as one Port drive stalled near midfield and another at the Blue Devils’ 20.

Knowing they didn’t want Port to get another shot at the end zone, Sharpsville handed the game over to Bland on fourth-and-inches from their own 29-yard line, and the 5-foot-11, 200-pound senior delivered with a 2-yard run.

“I knew with fourth-and-short, with that offensive line and that running back, I would’ve gone for it too. That was no surprise,” coach Bodamer said.

Two more Bland runs and another first down later, with no more timeouts, all the Gators could do was watch Henwood take the snap and kneel as the Blue Devils and their fans began to celebrate.

“We did what we had to do. We scored in the 30s. We knew we had to get that far. We just had to keep them in the 20s, which we couldn’t do,” Bodamer said.

“What caused us problems was their passing game. We let those three or four long passes go. We said during the week, we’ve got to stop the run and we’ll give up some on the pass, but that’s what burned us. I thought we controlled their run pretty darn well. They didn’t have too many sustained drives with the run. They would run a little bit, then hit one of those long passes to get them down to the goal line and we couldn’t stop them there.”

Matt Bodamer finished the game 19-for-39 for 211 yards, with just three completions and 15 yards of that coming after halftime. He also led all rushers with 19 carries for 121 yards, while Conway paced the receiving corps with five catches for 76 yards. For Sharpsville, Bland totaled 98 yards in 24 carries, while Alberty-Brown added another 57 rushing yards on 10 attempts.

Bodamer’s three touchdown tosses gave him 49 for the season, tying Chad Kroell’s 1994 District 9 record at Clearfield and three shy of the PIAA standard set by South Fayette’s Christian Brumbaugh last season. The 6-foot, 175-pound junior also made a strong run at the state single-season yardage mark; statistics provided to MaxPreps.com show him finishing the season with 3,766 yards, just 58 short of Derek Buganza’s 2009 campaign at Brockway.

“It comes with the team,” coach Bodamer said. “He can’t do it without the line, he can’t do it without the receivers. Those kids worked all summer, and I think it showed this season. We’ll get those juniors back in the weight room and back on the field, and see what we can do next year.”

While the Gators lose wideouts Charlie Buchanan (62 catches-813 yards, 13 touchdowns) and Trevor Neal (34-643, 9 touchdowns), and linemen Tyler Burr, Brock Taylor, Kyle Austin, and Dominick Magoon to graduation, a strong core of starters returns on both sides of the ball. Along with Bodamer and fellow Big 30 All-Stars Tyce Miller (74 catches-1,248 yards, 15 touchdowns) and Nick Budd, running backs Trent Neal (121 carries-682 yards, 9 touchdowns) and Trey Miller (61-274, 6 touchdowns), receivers Rickie Bova (44-695, 4 touchdowns) and Nick Conway (17-237, 7 touchdowns), leading tackler Alex Gular (113), and sack master Victor Bandish (5.0) are all part of a junior class that could make next season another one to remember at Gator Field.

They’ll have to work to top this one, though.

“I told the kids – they were upset and crying – I said, ‘You guys can’t cry. It’s been a great season,” coach Bodamer said. “We got our first district title, and came here proving to people that we can play. I think we proved to everybody that District 9 can play some football. Definitely doesn’t feel good losing, but I’m not upset at all. It’s been a great season and I’m very proud of the kids.”

 

Mihalik-Thompson Stadium
Slippery Rock University
December 2, 2011

Score by quarters:
Port Allegany Gators 6 20 0 7 33
Sharpsville Blue Devils 6 7 14 8 35

First Quarter
Port Allegany (7:27) – Matt Bodamer 2 run (3 plays, 11 yards after Tyler Burr fumble recovery, 0:56), kick blocked, 6-0
Sharpsville (2:23) – Spencer Bland 15 run (11 plays, 78 yards, 5:04), kick failed, 6-6

Second Quarter
Port Allegany (11:53) – Nick Conway 16 pass from Bodamer (7 plays, 69 yards, 2:30), pass failed, 12-6
Port Allegany (7:28) – Trevor Neal 28 pass from Bodamer (4 plays, 41 yards, 1:59), Scott Brookens kick, 19-6
Port Allegany (3:19) – Conway 27 pass from Bodamer (8 plays, 50 yards after Victor Bandish fumble recovery, 2:09), Brookens kick, 26-6
Sharpsville (0:44) – Bland 1 run (7 plays, 58 yards, 2:35), Joey Pagliaroli kick, 26-13

Third Quarter
Sharpsville (10:12) – Pagliaroli 28 pass from Jake Henwood (4 plays, 32 yards after DerSean Alberty-Brown 57 kickoff return), kick failed, 26-19
Sharpsville (3:43) – Alberty-Brown 35 punt return, Bryan Stafford pass from Henwood, 27-26

Fourth Quarter
Sharpsville (11:21) – Bland 2 run (6 plays, 57 yards, 2:17), Bland run, 35-26
Port Allegany (9:30) – Bodamer 4 run (6 plays, 58 yards, 1:51), Brookens kick, 35-33

Team Statistics: PA S
First downs 20 18
Rushes-Yards 26-143 52-198
Comp-Att-Int 19-39-0 4-10-0
Passing Yards 211 86
Total Yards 354 282
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 5-2
Punts-Avg. 3-29.3 3-23.3
Penalties-Yards 5-46 4-45
Total Plays 65 62
Time of poss. 21:00 27:00

Individual statistics:
Rushing:
Port Allegany – Matt Bodamer 19-121, 2 TDs; Trent Neal 6-30; team 1-(-12). Sharpsville – Spencer Bland 24-98, 3 TDs; DerSean Alberty-Brown 10-57; Joey Pagliaroli 6-19; Jake Henwood 6-19; Derrick Odem 2-14; Tyler Luchey 1-2; team 3-(-11).

Passing: Port Allegany – Bodamer 19-39, 211 yards, 3 TDs. Sharpsville – Henwood 4-10, 86 yards, TD.

Receiving: Port Allegany – Nick Conway 5-76, 2 TDs; Tyce Miller 5-45; Trevor Neal 3-40, TD; Rickie Bova 3-27; Charlie Buchanan 2-23; Trent Neal 1-0. Sharpsville – Alberty-Brown 1-33; Pagliaroli 1-28, TD; Luchey 2-25.

(Helmets courtesy of PAHelmetProject.com)

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Gator Football: District 9 Champs

PORT ALLEGANY 35

CLARION 34

Lori Chase
Port Allegany Reporter Argus
Dec. 1, 2011

The scoreboard read Port Allegany 35, Clarion 34 as quarterback Matt Bodamer prepared to take a knee, one final clock-burning play before the Gators could officially lay claim to the school’s first District 9 football championship.

Over on the visitors’ sideline at Varischetti Field, wide receiver Charlie Buchanan made a similar move, albeit for a slightly different reason.

“Indescribable,” he said afterward, shaking his head while he tried to explain the moment. “I just kind of had to kneel down for a second and gather myself, and realize that all the hard work we put in paid off and we were finally D-9 champs. To go there last year, to get that far and come away empty-handed, it was nice to come back this year and be able to come out on top this time.”

Meanwhile, in the huddle, tackle Tyler Burr couldn’t resist a glance toward the celebration beginning to unfold.

“Actually, I was more worried about looking over to see Mr. Bodamer getting drenched with water,” he said with a smile before adding, “That was the best feeling in the world.”

For the senior co-captains, and for the rest of their teammates who stood on a snowy, windswept Brockway field a year ago to watch Curwensville accept the championship plaque, last Saturday’s win was sweet redemption.

“We were here last year, and the kids didn’t like the feeling of not winning that. Curwensville was a heck of a team,” head coach Mike Bodamer said. “I knew we had the kids coming back that could compete. Our offense just really clicked this year, and it saved us today.”

To be sure, the Gators (12-1) needed every point they could get to hold off a powerful Clarion team bent on claiming its second D-9 crown in three seasons. In a wild game with four ties and three lead changes, the margin of victory came down to a missed game-tying extra point after the Bobcats’ final touchdown.

“Luckily, that kid just kind of shanked it,” coach Bodamer said. “I don’t think we got any pressure on him; I think he just mis-kicked it. I have to give credit to Scotty (Brookens, Port Allegany’s kicker). He was 5-for-5, and that was the game.”

Right from the start, it was clear that this wasn’t going to be a low-scoring struggle. Damien Slike’s 52-yard return of the opening kickoff gave the Bobcats (8-5) outstanding field position, and star running back T.J. Armstrong hammered the defense for 26 yards on his first four carries. But on his fifth, the ball popped free, with Brock Taylor recovering at the Port 2 to stop what looked like an inevitable touchdown.

Three plays later, the Gators were the team lining up to kick the extra point. Dropping into his own end zone on third-and-10, Matt Bodamer found Trevor Neal open a step behind the defense, and the anchor of Port’s 400-meter relay team used his sprinter’s speed to outrun everyone for a 98-yard scoring strike.

“Just a quick slant to Trevor, and finally he could use his speed.” coach Bodamer said. “I thought for sure he was going to get caught, but he had enough speed to get through.”

Leading 7-0, the Gators looked like they were about to add more after forcing a three-and-out on Clarion’s next possession. But back-to-back turnovers on a botched snap and an interception by Camron Kirkland set up Bobcat scoring drives of 19 and 32 yards, with quarterback Brandon Heeter finding Kirkland open over the middle for the first touchdown and diving in on a 3-yard keeper for the second. All of a sudden, as the first quarter ended, Port was playing from behind.

“We gave the momentum right back to them when we had our snap fumble on our dummy play and Matt threw that interception. We gave them 14 points right back,” coach Bodamer said.

The Gators would respond on Matt Bodamer’s 1-yard pass to Rickie Bova, but the first of three Armstrong touchdown runs would put the ‘Cats back in the lead with 2:34 left in the half.

Plenty of time for Port’s quick-strike offense to operate. Sure enough, it took under a minute for Bodamer to find Tyce Miller, who made a leaping catch, ducked a tackle, and raced in for a 27-yard score to tie the game at 21-21 as the teams headed into their locker rooms.

“Tyce is pretty good at that,” coach Bodamer said. “He’s kind of a slippery kid. Once he gets his speed going, he’s tough to catch.”

It was the third of five touchdown tosses – each to a different receiver – for the junior quarterback, who finished the game 24-of-39 for 369 yards and now has 6,780 career yards, passing Smethport’s Mike Defilippi (6,638) for second place on the all-time D-9 leaderboard.

“He’s a tremendous quarterback,” veteran Clarion coach Larry Wiser said. “I said to his dad, ‘Listen, I’ve seen some good quarterbacks over the years, and this kid ranks up there.’ But I think more than anything else, they have more than one receiver. You usually trap, double-team one receiver, and they had four kids they threw the ball to. We seemed to be guessing wrong almost all the time when we were trying to do some traps with some of the guys they were sending out there.”

Two of those receivers hit the century mark against Clarion, with Miller (7 catches-132 yards) stretching his team-leading totals to 69 catches for 1,201 yards and 15 touchdowns, and Neal (4-124) notching his first 100-yard game of the season.

But the Gators’ halftime talk wasn’t about the offense.

“Probably can’t print it,” coach Bodamer chuckled when asked about it afterward. “Halfway through the game I felt like, ‘Just let them score and let’s get the offense back on the field.’”

Whether or not he actually meant that, a quick Armstrong touchdown on Clarion’s first possession of the second half had Port High playing catchup again.

“If you try to hit him high, he’s going to go right over you,” Gator linebacker Alex Gular said of Armstrong, who finished with 138 yards on 29 carries. “I told the rest of the team, ‘Keep hitting him low, he’ll keep going down.’ Me, I’m not very good at hitting high, so I hit people low to start with. But that kid can run like a mule, and if he gets in open space, he’s fast.”

But as they had all day, Port responded once again. Trent Neal opened a long drive with a 12-yard screen pass from Bodamer and finished it with a sensational diving catch on a pass tipped just past the line of scrimmage, the 2-yard touchdown and Brookens’ extra point knotting the score at 28-28. And after Victor Bandish recovered a Bobcat fumble to stall their next drive, Bodamer found Conway for a 28-yard catch-and-run to make the score 35-28 Gators as the third quarter ended.

Clarion wasn’t through just yet. Armstrong’s third touchdown of the day brought them within a point, but Tanner Klein’s kick was low and wide right, leaving Port clinging to the slimmest of leads with 6:29 left in the game.

The Bobcats would get the ball back once more, but heavy pressure on Heeter by Bandish and Nick Budd forced back-to-back incompletions, and Conway swatted away his desperate fourth-and-long attempt from his own 21-yard line. One strong Trent Neal run and an offsides penalty later, all that remained was running the final minute off the clock as the celebration began.

“We knew we’d have a good enough team to make the playoffs, and once you get there you just want to keep going until you get to this game and see what you can do,” coach Bodamer said. “The kids responded well. It wasn’t our best game, but we did enough to win. We’re not going to give it away.”

Wiser added, “My hat’s off to both teams. I thought they gave the crowd a good game today. For a defensive coordinator, though, I’m going to go back and have nightmares all night.”

The Gators will face a tall task in their first PIAA playoff game, when they make the long trip southwest on Friday to face unbeaten Sharpsville at Slippery Rock University’s Mihalik-Thompson Stadium (7 p.m., WHKS-FM 94.9). No strangers to postseason play, the Blue Devils (12-0) claimed their seventh District 10 title last weekend under 16th-year head coach Paul Piccirilli (142-47), who also guided the team to the 1997 Class A state championship.

Sharpsville runs a traditional Wing-T offense behind a line which averages almost 240 pounds per player. 5-foot-11, 200-pound fullback Spencer Bland was the Blue Devils’ leading rusher during the regular season with 860 yards and 12 touchdowns. Dersean Alberty-Brown (655 yards, 11 touchdowns) also sees significant time in the backfield, though the team’s depth took a hit when starting halfback Joey Flynn (knee) and Derrick Odem (shoulder) both sustained serious injuries during the D-10 playoffs.

Senior quarterback Jake Henwood (39-87, 850 yards, 15 touchdowns, two interceptions) doesn’t often look to pass. When he does, with dual-threat Flynn out of the lineup, Tyler Luchey (18 catches, 361 yards, 7 touchdowns) is his most likely target.

The stout 5-3 defense is anchored by tackles Dylan Hogue and Robby Moss, with Bland making plays at middle linebacker. The Blue Devils have allowed just 93 points all season, notching five shutouts along the way.

“Sharpsville’s good,” said Bodamer after scouting the D-10 title game. “They are legitimate. Big, gigantic line, real good running backs. It’ll be a test. We’ll have to spread them out as much as we can and try to use our athletes, but it’s going to be tough stopping their run game.”

But for a day or two, anyway, there was time enough to savor this win.

“I just feel good for the kids,” Bodamer said. “They’ve busted their rear ends all year. We haven’t had a problem; they’ve worked hard. We’ve had no head cases.

“And the fans have been great. This is the way fans should act. They’ve been supportive all year – nothing derogatory, it’s just been positive. So I’d like to extend a thank-you to the fans, because they’ve been true fans this year. We really appreciate that.”

At Brockway, Nov. 26:

Score by quarters:
Port Allegany   7 14 14  0 35
Clarion 14   7   7  6 34

First Quarter
Port A (7:49) – Trevor Neal 98 pass from Matt Bodamer (3 plays, 98 yards, 0:57), Scott Brookens kick, 7-0
Clarion (5:35) – Camron Kirkland 19 pass from Brandon Heeter (2 plays, 19 yards, 0:42), Tanner Klein kick, 7-7
Clarion (1:28) – Heeter 3 run (8 plays, 32 yards, 3:44), Klein kick, 14-7

Second Quarter
Port A (11:57) – Rickie Bova 1 pass from Bodamer (8 plays, 55 yards, 1:31), Brookens kick, 14-14
Clarion (2:41) – T.J. Armstrong 1 run (12 plays, 86 yards, 5:41), Klein kick, 21-14
Port A (1:42) – Tyce Miller 27 pass from Bodamer (7 plays, 73 yards, 0:59), Brookens kick, 21-21

Third Quarter
Clarion (9:13) – Armstrong 2 run (5 plays, 59 yards, 1:59), Klein kick, 28-21
Port A (6:23) – Trent Neal 2 pass from Bodamer (13 plays, 70 yards, 2:50), Brookens kick, 28-28
Port A (0:00) – Kyle Conway 28 pass from Bodamer (7 plays, 61 yards, 3:26), Brookens kick, 35-28

Fourth Quarter
Clarion (6:29) – Armstrong 11 run (6 plays, 38 yards, 2:30), kick failed, 35-34


Team Statistics: Port A Clarion
First downs 20 19
Rushes-Yards 26-58 52-252
Comp-Att-Int 24-39-1 6-21-0
Passing Yards 369 115
Total Yards 427 367
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 2-2
Punts-Avg. 2-30.0 3-40.3
Penalties-Yards 6-57 9-70
Total Plays 65 73
Time of poss. 20:10 27:50

Individual statistics:
Rushing: Port Allegany – Matt Bodamer 12-44; Trent Neal 7-38; Nick Conway 1-5; Garrett Drabert 2-0; team 4-(-29). Clarion – T.J. Armstrong 29-138, 3 TDs; Camron Kirkland 8-69; Marcus Smerker 8-26; Brandon Heeter 4-13; Damien Slike 3-6.

Passing: Port Allegany – Bodamer 24-39, 369 yards, 5 TDs, 1 INT. Clarion – Heeter 6-20, 115 yards, 1 TD; Armstrong 0-1.

Receiving: Port Allegany – Tyce Miller 7-132, TD; Trevor Neal 4-126, TD; Nick Conway 3-45, TD; Charlie Buchanan 3-30; Rickie Bova 3-25, TD; Trent Neal 2-14, TD; Drabert 1-3; Bodamer 1-(-6). Clarion – Kirkland 2-39, TD; Slike 1-45; Smerker 1-18; Armstrong 1-8; Antonio Troese 1-6.

(Helmets courtesy of PAHelmetProject.com)