Aug. 2, 2012
Allegheny Mountain League football fans will see a lot of familiar faces in Bradford on Saturday night, when teams from New York and Pennsylvania kick off the Don Raabe Big 30 Charities Classic’s 39th annual rendition at Interstate Parkway Field.
Featuring 28 of the players on Pennsylvania’s 42-man roster – including every single skill-position player on offense – and coached by the Sheffield staff, the AML influence is even stronger than usual on this year’s squad. Of course, with four league teams going to the district playoffs last season and Port Allegany bringing home the D-9 Class A crown, there was a lot of talent to choose from.
“Overall, it’s a lot of fun to have 42 kids that are seniors – they’ve played since third grade, a lot of them – and it’s nice to come out and really just coach football, try to teach our formations and our philosophies to them and see how they pick it up as it goes,” said Pennsy head coach Bryan Gould after last Wednesday’s practice at Gator Field. “With the athletes that we have, it’s a lot of fun because now we can see, ‘Wow, this stuff really does work when you have a whole group of all-stars compared to your everyday high school kids.’
“It makes a big difference, it really does. A lot of times I think we should be doing a little better offensively, but then you look across the ball and you think, ‘Well, jeez, where am I going to run? Because he’s good, he’s good, he’s good …’ Everybody’s good at this level. It makes it tough.”
Five Gators will take part in this year’s game, with linemen Kyle Austin and Tyler Burr and receivers Charlie Buchanan and Trevor Neal on offense and linebacker Brock Taylor on defense.
Buchanan and Neal are part of a three-receiver rotation running in plays to quarterbacks Ike Nearing (Sheffield) and Kevin Lord (Smethport), meaning they’ll be on the field at the same time for plenty of snaps in the shotgun-heavy offense Sheffield employed last fall.
“The terminology is a little different, but the style of offense is fairly similar to what we run. So it’s just getting used to the different terminology and snap counts and stuff,” Buchanan said. “We feel pretty much like we did in the season. Feels comfortable. I get ready, then I look out there and (Trevor) is right next to me.”
The only Port player on the other side of the ball, Taylor, will be calling the defensive signals from his middle linebacker spot.
“He’s doing exceptionally well,” Gould said. “Actually, it was tough to give him up to the defensive side because he’s a very good lineman as well, but he’s doing a very nice job at middle linebacker.”
Saturday night’s game will be Gould’s Big 30 swan song. After taking over as interim coach for a Wolverine program in disarray three seasons ago and rebuilding it into a team which made the D-9 Class AA playoffs for the first time in school history last season, he’s going home to teach and coach at Blairsville in District 6, with defensive coordinator Dave Fitch taking over in Sheffield.
But before that, there’s one more game to play, and more memories to be made in what Buchanan says has already been a rewarding experience.
“The camaraderie is awesome,” he said. “Every town we go to, we eat at the school and then we all go out someplace else and get pizza or ice cream or something. It’s just cool to meet with that different group of friends that you’ve been playing against your whole life.”
The 2012 game marks the fifth time a quintet of Port Allegany players has participated, joining the 1979, 1981, 1987, and 2004 squads. Interestingly, Pennsylvania won all four previous games, with Gator coaches Mike Borro (1979) and Bob Haskins (1987, 2004) calling the shots in three of them.
After starting out 5-0, New York still clings to a slim 19-17-2 lead in the series, though Pennsy is closing fast with six wins in the last eight years.
Saturday’s festivities get underway at 2 p.m. with a parade through downtown Bradford, featuring floats with each school’s players, cheerleaders, and Homecoming queen. The route proceeds down Main Street and out West Washington, then turns toward the Bradford high school before ending at Callahan Park, where a tailgate party will begin at 3 p.m.
Pregame ceremonies will include tributes to Staff Sgt. Kenneth Van Giesen, a 1999 participant who was killed in action in July 2011 while serving with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, and former New York coach Matt Conte, who passed away in March. Player introductions are scheduled for 6:45, with kickoff slated for 7 p.m.