ELK CO. CATHOLIC CRUSADERS (8-3)
PORT ALLEGANY GATORS (11-0)
Nov. 21, 2012
The game was shaping up just the way Elk County Catholic wanted it to: Run the ball right at the Port Allegany defense, mix in a few passes, eat away at the clock, follow the same recipe the Crusaders used during the 2011 regular season when they were the last team from District 9 to beat the Gators.
This time, though, the defending district champs wrote a different ending to the script. Despite what Port head coach Mike Bodamer called “probably the worst half we’ve played,” his squad came up big when it had to, then pulled away in the second half to roll to a 48-7 win in Friday night’s D-9 Class A semifinal game at Bradford.
“I thought in the first half we did a good job on them,” ECC coach Travis Skrzypek said. “Tried to bring some pressure, make (Matt) Bodamer scramble. But they’re a very good football team and they made the plays. He was able to bring it down and really extend their drives on us when we had him pressured there.”
Bodamer completed 15 of 23 passes for 317 yards and two touchdowns – becoming the first quarterback in Pennsylvania prep history to throw for 10,000 career yards – and added another 134 on 15 carries, although his coach still noticed some room for improvement.
“Probably not his best game. He was a little antsy,” Mike Bodamer said. “A lot of times we were trying to run their pressure upfield, and he’d actually escape the pocket right into it. But he’s got enough speed and athletic ability, he can get away from most of those things. Cold night, he had a little trouble throwing the ball, but he still made plays with his feet …
“He made some passes, that one he threw short to (Nick) Conway, he never does that stuff. I think his head just wasn’t quite as much into it as it usually is, but I’ll take him at 90 percent any day.”
Port caught an early break when a low snap forced punter Hank Cappiello to try to run for the first down, with Trey Miller stopping him behind the line of scrimmage to set the Gators up at midfield. From there, it didn’t take long for the highest-scoring offense in the state to find the end zone, as Tyler Shaffer capped off the short drive with a sweep around the right side from 17 yards out.
Undeterred, the Crusaders went back to work, moving steadily down the field and burning up most of the first quarter to push inside the Port 10. But on fourth-and-1 from the 6, Victor Bandish broke through to hit 1,000-yard rusher Brock McCullough in the backfield, and Alex Gular and Nick Budd combined to wrap him up for a loss.
Taking over deep in its own territory, the Gator offense flashed its quick-strike capability, with Tyce Miller ripping the ball away from an ECC defensive back, then breaking a tackle and sprinting to the end zone for a 65-yard touchdown catch. The Bodamer-to-Miller connection dialed long distance again after an ECC three-and-out, as District 9’s career receiving leader hauled in a pass near the first-down marker at midfield, cut back to his left, and picked up a block from running mate Conway on a 59-yard scoring jaunt. Miller finished the game with 206 yards on eight receptions, completing his collection of D-9 career records by passing Brockway’s Mike Vervoort (161 catches) with 163.
“Tyce is just an athlete. That first one, he just outjumped the kid and took it. The second one, he made some really nice runs across the field. Tyce has been doing it for three years, so it doesn’t amaze me now. It’s just like, ‘When’s it going to happen,’” coach Bodamer said. “Nick is very similar to Trevor Neal last year; he blocks very well downfield. Mr. Zitnik practices that every day – once someone catches it, the other guys gotta find somebody and block them. And they do it.”
Trailing 21-0, the Crusaders hit the scoreboard on quarterback Mitchell Vallone’s 37-yard touchdown scamper midway through the second quarter, and seemed poised to climb right back into the game when a big hit separated Tyce Miller from the ball on the ensuing kickoff with ECC’s Dan Singer recovering at the 35-yard line.
But Port’s defense stood tall when it had to, with Johnny Sena tackling Vallone just short of the sticks on fourth down, and a Tyce Miller interception stopped another Crusader foray inside the Gator 30 just before halftime.
“We knew coming in points would be at a premium for us, that they’d played defense well all year,” Skrzypek said. “That’s big when they get the stop there (inside the 10), and then we got the fumble and couldn’t punch it in. We had to make those plays to win this football game, and we didn’t tonight.”
Even though the Gators piled up 329 total yards and a 21-7 lead going into halftime despite owning the ball for just 7:18, Mike Bodamer wasn’t pleased.
“I still think they were handling us,” he said. “That first half, I thought their offense was beating our defense pretty good. Those couple of stops, we stepped up to the plate, but I still think they were pushing us around wherever they wanted to … We changed some things, a little bit more pressure, and the kids stopped them a little bit better in the second half. But definitely not our best defensive performance.”
One of those changes was to give ECC a dose of its own medicine, as the Gators turned to their own ground game. Following a long catch-and-run by Trey Miller – the only pass completion of the drive – Trent Neal burst into the end zone from the 7. The “Thunder and Lightning” tandem stormed through the Crusader defense again at the end of the third quarter, with Neal rumbling for 33 more yards before Shaffer flashed the final 14 for his second touchdown of the night just after the teams switched ends.
“The second half, Trent Neal really gave us a spark with his running. That really brought the team alive,” coach Bodamer said.
Meanwhile, the defense was cranking up the heat on the Crusaders. After moving the ball well in the first half, ECC managed just three first downs and 57 yards after the break, never making it past the Port 44-yard line.
And if anyone on the Elk County side of the field still envisioned a miraculous comeback, those hopes were dashed when defensive end Rex Windsor drilled Vallone on a fourth-and-14 prayer, with Shaffer taking the ensuing interception 66 yards to the house and Sam Kysor adding his sixth extra point in as many tries to invoke the mercy rule for the 10th time in 11 games.
“Speed kills,” coach Bodamer said of the junior running back/cornerback, who finished off his four-score night with a late rushing touchdown. “He just hits that edge, and … We limited him to one move, so you get one move and then you gotta go, and he’s responded to that pretty well. He made some nice cuts, and that interception was probably the backbreaker. He caught it, no one’s going to catch him.”
Shaffer (10 carries-93 yards) and Neal (8-58) combined with Bodamer for the majority of Port’s season-high 274 rushing yards, while McCullough paced ECC’s ground attack – which came into the game averaging more than 212 yards per game, but managed just 127 against the Gators – with 14 carries for 44 yards.
So while the Crusaders end their season at 8-3, Port (11-0) will return to Bradford on Saturday (1 p.m., WHKS-FM, redzonemedia.com) to face fellow unbeaten Clarion in a rematch of last year’s D-9 final, won by the Gators in a 35-34 thriller. The Bobcats (12-0) rallied from a 14-7 second-quarter deficit to pull away from Brockway, 35-14, in their semifinal at DuBois on Saturday evening.
The Clarion offense relies heavily on its ground game, with Damien Slike (100 carries-833 yards, 10 TDs), T.J. Armstrong (143-820, 14 TDs), Camron Kirkland (77-733, 7 TDs), and Ian Corbett (57-402, 6 TDs) headlining the attack. Stacking the box against the run may not be the best answer, though, with junior quarterback John Katis completing 56.3 percent of his passes (80-for-142) for a Bobcat single-season record 1,528 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Cody Hearst (30 catches-690 yards, 9 TDs) and Kirkland (29-543, 5 TDs) are his main targets, with Slike (9-114, 4 TDs) and Armstrong (5-96, 3 TDs) also able to swing out of the backfield, though the latter may still be limited due to an injury which restricted him to playing defense against Brockway.
Of course, the Gators have put up a few impressive numbers of their own. After becoming just the second quarterback in Pennsy history to post two 3,000-yard seasons, Bodamer comfortably leads the state rankings with 3,257 yards and 46 touchdowns, the majority of that mileage going to Tyce Miller (65-1,276, 17 TDs), Conway (54-1,044, 19 TDs), and tight end Rick Bova (29-385, 6 TDs). Bodamer is also the team’s leading rusher with 95 carries for 673 yards and 11 TDs, with Neal (100-638, 7 TDs) getting the tough yards inside and Shaffer (27-374, 8 TDs) providing an outside burst at the end of the season.
At Bradford, Nov. 16:
ECC – 0 7 0 0 – 7
PA – 7 14 7 20 – 48
PA – Shaffer 17 run (5 plays, 50 yards, 1:21), Kysor kick, 8:33
PA – Ty. Miller 65 pass from Bodamer (4 plays, 93 yards, 0:59), Kysor kick, 11:40
PA – Ty. Miller 59 pass from Bodamer (8 plays, 89 yards, 2:35), Kysor kick, 7:25
ECC – Vallone 37 run (6 plays, 61 yards, 1:27), Seelye kick, 5:58
PA – Neal 7 run (7 plays, 79 yards, 1:52), Kysor kick, 10:08
PA – Shaffer 14 run (8 plays, 79 yards, 3:10), Kysor kick, 11:52
PA – Shaffer 66 interception return, Kysor kick, 9:43
PA – Shaffer 7 run (9 plays, 44 yards, 6:20), run failed, 0:36
First downs 11 25
Total offense 201 591
Rushes-yds 35-127 36-274
Passing yds 74 317
Comp-Att-Int 7-18-2 15-23-0
Punts-avg. 4-32.5 1-16.0
Fumbles-lost 2-0 3-1
Penalties-yds 6-70 7-74
Total plays 53 59
Time of Poss. 26:54 21:06
Rushing: ECC – McCullough 14-44, Cappiello 14-42, Vallone 6-41, McLaughlin 1-0. Port Allegany – Bodamer 15-134, Shaffer 10-93, Neal 8-58, Seefeldt 2-(-2).
Passing: ECC – Vallone 7-18-2-74. Port Allegany – Bodamer 15-23-0-317.
Receiving: ECC – McLaughlin 3-31, McCullough 1-27, Childs 1-11, Housler 1-5, Cappiello 1-0. Port Allegany – Ty. Miller 8-206, Tr. Miller 2-69, Conway 3-15, Neal 1-14, Shaffer 1-13.