TWICE AS NICE: After repeating as District 9 Class A champs, the Gators strike a pose at snowy Parkway Field.
(Photo: Pam Fischer)
CLARION BOBCATS (12-1)
PORT ALLEGANY GATORS (12-0)
Nov. 29, 2012
A fresh carpet of snow greeted visitors to Bradford’s Parkway Field on Saturday morning. A pretty backdrop for a Christmas-card picture, perhaps, but how would it affect Port Allegany’s precision passing attack in their District 9 Class A football championship game against Clarion?
It didn’t take long to answer that question. Ten seconds on the scoreboard clock, to be exact, or the amount of time it took for Matt Bodamer to loft a pass deep downfield to Nick Conway for a 68-yard touchdown on the first play of the game.
“When it happens on the first play, the way our team goes, you kind of know it’s going to be a good day. Once we get the momentum, it’s hard to get it back from us,” the Port quarterback said.
“Good day” may have been an understatement. Combining their high-powered offense with a dose of stout defense – as they’ve done all season – the Gators buried the previously unbeaten Bobcats, 47-8, to claim their second consecutive D-9 crown.
“We decided right from the get-go we were going to take a shot the very first play, and Nick just happened to get behind the kid and Matt made a nice pass,” coach Mike Bodamer said. “With Nick’s speed, no one’s going to catch him. Definitely lucky, but we were going to take that shot and it worked out for us.”
And as the Port mentor noted, the seemingly adverse conditions may have played a factor … but not the one he’d feared when he heard the weather forecast.
“Actually, I think it kind of helped, because once it gets packed down the kids could actually get some traction on the snow,” he said. “Last week on the carpet (against Elk County Catholic) they were kind of slipping and sliding, but the snow being packed down gave them a little better footing, I think.
“And our receivers know where they have to go, so it’s kind of a disadvantage to the defensive back because they’re not sure where we’re going. Nick and Tyce just took off on their routes, and we were lucky to hit a couple.”
Conway was especially unstoppable, hauling in seven passes for a championship-game record 203 yards and three touchdowns.
“Like we’ve said all year, if it’s not Tyce – Tyce had 205 last week – so this week it’s Conway’s turn,” coach Bodamer said. “We just look for the mismatch. Wherever it is, that’s where we go to and the kids know what they’re supposed to do, which makes it actually pretty easy.”
While the Gator offense was frolicking in the wintry wonderland, Clarion’s celebrated ground game was spinning its wheels with a little help from the Port defense. The Bobcats, who came into the title tilt averaging 253.7 rushing yards and 42.3 points per game, managed just 98 total yards – 13 on the ground – and three first downs before halftime as the Gators built a 33-0 lead.
ALL-WHEEL DRIVE: Trent Neal plows through the Clarion defense on a second-quarter carry.
(Photo: Pam Fischer)
“Our defense came out with a game plan, we knew what we had to do and we just went out and executed,” linebacker Alex Gular said. “The coaches did a good job scouting them, getting us ready for it, and we knew almost all their formations and what they ran out of them. We had a few slipups; we bent but we didn’t really break.
“Our defense – how do I say it? We kind of all feed off of each other. If one time I make a play, the next time, our other two linebackers are challenging each other to see who’s going to make the next one. We’re 11 guys out there playing as one.”
Victor Bandish led the charge into the Bobcats’ backfield, registering a game-high 11 stops, including two of the Gators’ five tackles for loss.
“We made a great statement, showing them that we actually can play defense and that we’re underrated. We showed them that we play pass pretty well, we play run pretty well,” Bandish said.
They were at their best when they had to be. Late in the first quarter, after Matt Bodamer had capped off a 90-yard drive with a short touchdown run to give the Gators a 14-0 lead, Clarion receiver Cody Hearst snuck past the defense for a 27-yard catch from quarterback John Katis to set the Bobcats up at the Port 30. From there, though, the drive skidded to a stop as Rex Windsor pressured Katis into back-to-back incompletions before Conway stopped Hearst just short of the marker on fourth down.
A quick Port three-and-out and a short punt set Clarion up right back inside the 25-yard line, but once again the Gators held firm, with Bandish stuffing Camron Kirkland in the backfield on fourth-and-5 for a second straight turnover on downs.
“I think it was huge,” Clarion coach Larry Wiser said of Port’s defensive stand. “They get up 14-0 there, and I thought we got kind of out of our game plan, or at least thinking we were out of it. We came back out and settled down a little bit in the second half, but they still made some great plays on us.”
The stop fired up the Gator offense, which put together another long scoring drive to go up 21-0 early in the second quarter.
“We knew they got a big play, but we’ve been in that situation a couple of times, like last week,” Windsor said. “After we stopped them, you get really pumped and you feel really good about it, and then you go down and score again. It feels nice.”
The avalanche continued, with Brandon Raymo and Nick Budd dumping Division 1 recruit T.J. Armstrong for a loss on first down and Gular leaping to bat away an attempted screen pass on Clarion’s next series, and Bodamer followed by hitting a wide-open Conway in stride for a 48-yard touchdown.
OPEN ROAD TO THE END ZONE: Leaving a bevy of Bobcats in his wake, Tyler Shaffer sprints down the shoveled-out sideline for a Gator touchdown.
(Photo: Pam Fischer)
Then, if the weather and the snowballing score weren’t enough to make the Bobcats miserable, there was a lightning strike. After a 28-yard Tyler Shaffer punt return put the Gators back in Clarion territory, the junior running back took a pitch from Bodamer, headed for the sideline, picked up some blocks downfield, and sprinted down the shoveled-out sideline for a 48-yard touchdown run.
“That’s just the way he is – get to the outside and just go,” Mike Bodamer said.
Clarion would connect on one more big play before the half, with Katis hitting Ian Corbett for a 53-yard pass, but Conway stopped the threat with an interception to send the Gators inside to thaw out with a 33-0 lead.
If there were still any questions left about the Port defense, they were emphatically answered early in the third quarter, when Gular and Bandish teamed up to separate Armstrong from the ball and Bodamer scooped up the fumble for a 30-yard score to invoke the mercy rule at 40-0.
“We definitely wanted that mercy rule to get that time off in the second half,” Mike Bodamer said, smiling. “Matt doesn’t make a lot of tackles, but he definitely makes some big plays. I think that’s his fourth or fifth defensive touchdown this year. He steps up to the plate when he needs to.”
DASHING THROUGH THE SNOW: No sleigh necessary for Nick Conway, as the Gator receiver sprints to the end zone for his third long touchdown catch of the afternoon.
(Photo: Pam Fischer)
The Gators would tack on one more Bodamer-to-Conway touchdown early in the fourth quarter before starting to send in the reserves, and Clarion avoided the shutout with a 33-yard touchdown run by Kirkland midway through the final period.
So while the Bobcats finish the season at 12-1, the Gators (12-0) move on to face District 10 champ Sharpsville in a rematch of last year’s PIAA quarterfinal, where the Blue Devils came back from a 26-6 halftime deficit to claim a 35-33 victory. Sharpsville (11-1) still has playmakers Ross Llewellyn (134 carries-914 yards, 9 TDs), Derrick Odem (137-806, 11 TDs), and Joey Pagliaroli (77-547, 13 TDs) lining up in their Wing-T backfield behind quarterback Bryan Stafford (71-119, 1105 yards, 9 TDs, 5 INTs), and Big 22 All-Star Tyler Luchey (44 catches-758 yards, 8 TDs) split out wide.
“Sharpsville’s a good team,” Mike Bodamer said. “It’s a rematch from last year; we played well the first half down there, then kind of fell apart in the third quarter. It’ll be a good game.”
The game is set for a 7 p.m. kickoff Friday night, again at Parkway Field in Bradford.
RECORDKEEPING: Port is now the highest-scoring team in District 9 history, amassing 629 points to move past the previous standard of 621 set by Brockway in a 13-game season in 2010. Only Aliquippa, which has played one more game, has tallied more points (658) than the Gators, whose 52.4 average leads the state … Conway’s first touchdown catch was his 20th of the season, breaking a tie with Wes Dahlem (Clearfield, 1994) and Brad Beggs (Clarion-Limestone, 2003) for the D-9 record. He finished the game with 22 … With three more touchdown passes, Bodamer equaled the 49 he threw last year to tie Clearfield’s Chad Kroell (1994) for the district mark. Christian Brumbaugh (South Fayette, 2010) holds the state record with 52.
At Bradford, Nov. 24:
|Score by quarters:
|Port Allegany Gators
PA – Nick Conway 68 pass from Matt Bodamer (1 play, 68 yards, 0:14), Scott Brookens kick, 11:46
PA – Bodamer 5 run (12 plays, 90 yards, 2:51), Brookens kick, 5:26
PA – Bodamer 1 run (9 plays, 79 yards, 3:16), Brookens kick, 9:33
PA – Conway 49 pass from Bodamer (1 play, 49 yards, 0:08), kick blocked, 8:21
PA – Tyler Shaffer 48 run (3 plays, 38 yards, 1:40), pass failed, 4:38
PA – Bodamer 30 fumble return, Brookens kick, 7:53
PA – Conway 54 pass from Bodamer (5 plays, 75 yards, 2:26), Brookens kick, 9:45
C – Camron Kirkland 33 run (6 plays, 65 yards, 3:22), Damien Slike run, 6:23
|Time of Possession
Rushing: Clarion – Kirkland 6-46, Armstrong 8-18, Allen 2-16, Slike 9-14, I. Corbett 8-11, Strauser 1-5, team 1-(-4). Port Allegany – Shaffer 8-106, Bodamer 10-53, Neal 6-9, Gaines 1-4, Seefeldt 2-(-10), team 2-(-11).
Passing: Clarion – Katis 5-17-2-110, Troese 0-1-0-0. Port Allegany – Bodamer 12-18-2-262, Seefeldt 0-1-0-0.
Receiving: Clarion – I. Corbett 2-55, Hearst 2-32, Kirkland 1-23. Port Allegany – Conway 7-203, Ty. Miller 2-34, Bova 2-29, Shaffer 1-(-4).
(Statistics by D9Sports.com. Helmets courtesy of the Pennsylvania Helmet Project.)
SHOVEL-READY: With the clock ticking toward the Gators’ second straight D9 championship, is Alex Gular planning a snowy substitute for the traditional Gatorade shower?
(Photo: Pam Fischer)