Gators’ quest for PIAA title ends in Western Final

PORT ALLEGANY GATORS (13-1)

12

CLAIRTON BEARS (15-0)

44

Lori Chase
Dec. 13, 2012

Trent Neal burst into the end zone from five yards out, and Port Allegany lined up for a two-point conversion to tie the score midway through the second quarter of Friday night’s PIAA Class A Western Final.

A buzz rumbled through the crowd at Deer Lakes High School. Could this possibly be the night Clairton’s state-record 61-game winning streak came to an improbable end against a team that Port head coach Mike Bodamer joked was probably a 60-point underdog?

The Gators gave it their best shot, holding the mighty Bears scoreless in the first quarter and trailing by just 10 points at halftime at foggy Lancer Stadium, but the District 7 powerhouse reasserted its dominance after the break. Led by stars Tyler Boyd and Terrish Webb, Clairton scored on all four second-half possessions to cruise into its fifth consecutive state championship game with a 44-12 victory.

“We did our best,” Bodamer said. “Just met a Goliath, and David didn’t beat him this time.”

Boyd flashed the talent that has multiple major-college coaches knocking on his door, rushing 15 times for a game-high 105 yards and two touchdowns and passing for another one to fellow Division 1 recruit Webb, who finished with five catches for 132 yards.

And when the game was still in doubt early in the third quarter, with Port desperately trying to keep the score within reach at 16-6, there was little doubt who was getting the ball. Boyd on a lateral from quarterback Armani Ford for seven yards. Boyd out of the wildcat for another 10. And Boyd picking his way through the entire Gator defense on a spectacular 33-yard touchdown run, starting to his right, cutting back across the field and diving for the left pylon. The two-point conversion made it 24-6, and the Bears were on their way back to Hershey for next Friday’s state final.

“We told them we were in the game,” Bodamer said of his halftime message to the team. “I said the big thing was the opening kickoff in the second half, if we could stop them, but they just came out and ran the ball right down our throats. We tackled real poorly in the second half, made way too many hand tackles.

“Boyd came out with a couple of those – I mean, we had him stopped on that one touchdown run. We had two guys on him in the backfield, and he broke it and went all the way back across the grain and scored. That’s the type of kid he is. He just breaks games wide open.

“Nick Budd came off and I just looked at him and said, ‘Boy, that kid’s got moves.’ Nick said, ‘Yeah, I can’t even touch him.’ That’s why he’s a Division 1 prospect. He definitely looks the part.”

While Boyd and Webb garner the headlines, it was the Bears’ overall team speed that contained Port’s prolific offense for the first time all season, flowing to the ballcarrier on running plays and making life miserable for Matt Bodamer and his receivers. The Gator quarterback was under heavy pressure all night, finishing 12-for-24 for 191 yards, one touchdown, and a pair of interceptions.

“Even their defensive ends were beating our tackles upfield,” Mike Bodamer said. “Matt couldn’t get outside, and when he stepped up inside they had the linebacker standing there. So he definitely didn’t scramble like usual, but they’re three-time state champs for a reason.”

The Gators gave as good as they got for most of the first half, earning a measure of respect for the team from lightly-regarded District 9. A big hit by Alex Gular forced a drive-killing incompletion the first time Clairton had the ball, and Port had a golden opportunity to start the second quarter when Boyd’s knee touched down at his own 27 after a low punt snap. But the Bears cranked up the heat on Bodamer, hitting him on consecutive incompletions, and the Gators turned the ball over on downs.

Clairton struck paydirt first midway through the second quarter, with a 43-yard catch by Webb setting up Boyd’s 16-yard touchdown run. But if anyone thought Port was going down without a fight, a 60-yard rocket screen from Bodamer to Nick Conway quickly erased that notion. Webb finally ran Conway down at the 5 – “I kind of teased him because that No. 5 caught him,” Mike Bodamer said – but Neal crashed in for the score on the next play, and the Gators were right back in it.

But with Ford, Boyd, and the speedy Bryan Clifford rotating at quarterback, keeping the Port defense off-balance, the Bears were beginning to find their groove. Webb hauled in a fourth-and-goal lob from Boyd for Clairton’s second touchdown, then picked off Bodamer deep in Bears territory to end a scoring threat just before the break.

And as they’ve done to so many other teams during their historic four-year run, the Bears took over the game in the second half, grinding out yards and touchdowns and shutting down the Gator attack until Bodamer hooked up with Conway for one final score with just under a minute remaining. The touchdown was the 24th of the year for Conway, who finished with a game-high 140 yards on seven receptions, and Bodamer’s PIAA record-tying 52nd. The Gator quarterback also added the single-season yardage record to his lengthy list of achievements, finishing the year with 3,951 to break Derek Buganza’s previous mark of 3,824.

“That’s a good accomplishment for him and for the team, but I think they’d much rather have the game or played a little bit closer,” his coach and father said. “Matt’s over the idea of any state records. He just wanted to keep winning.”

So while WPIAL champ Clairton (15-0) moves on toward a likely fourth consecutive state title, Port Allegany (13-1) concludes one of the most successful runs in the history of the program. For a team whose season-long motto was “Something To Prove,” they’ve proven plenty.

“The last two years these kids have been 25-3 and won two district titles. People try to compare District 9 and District 10 with this league down here. I’m the first person to be honest, District 9 is definitely the lesser between District 10 and District 7. So many people live in this area (D-7), it’s just a different brand of football,” Bodamer said.

A large senior class took the field for the final time as Gators on Friday night. Led by captains Rick Bova, Matt Bodamer, Nick Conway, Tyce Miller, Trent Neal, and Nick Budd, starters Trey Miller, Johnny Sena (who missed the game due to injury), Alex Gular, Victor Bandish, Billy Downey, and Rex Windsor, along with kickers Scott Brookens and Sam Kysor and reserves Josh Poorman, Aaron Majot, Logan Warnick, RJ Powell, and Paul Green, the Class of 2013 leaves behind a legacy which will be tough to top.

“Most of these kids were on my fourth-grade all-star basketball team,” Bodamer said. “I have one kid (Matt), but actually I have more like 10 kids. I’ve known them ever since they were little. Great athletes, great kids. They’ve worked so hard at it. Those kids from Clairton are true athletes. Our kids have had to work for it, and they’ve turned themselves into decent athletes.

“I love the kids and they’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do. I feel good for them. They’ve given us a good showing.”

At Cheswick, Dec. 7:

Score by quarters:
Port Allegany Gators O 6 O 6 12
Clairton Bears O 16 15 13 44

Second Quarter
C – Tyler Boyd 16 run (10 plays, 73 yards, 2:56), Boyd run, 8-0
PA – Trent Neal 5 run (2 plays, 65 yards, 0:19), pass failed, 8-6
C – Terrish Webb 3 pass from Boyd (8 plays, 52 yards, 3:46), Boyd run, 16-6

Third Quarter
C – Boyd 33 run (4 plays, 76 yards, 1:05), Brandon Murphy pass from Armani Ford, 24-6
C – Webb 61 pass from Ford (6 plays, 69 yards, 4:20), Bryan Clifford kick, 31-6

Fourth Quarter
C – Murphy 15 run (7 plays, 73 yards, 3:40), kick blocked, 37-6
C – Vinny Moody 1 run (6 plays, 54 yards, 2:49), Clifford kick, 44-6
(running clock)
PA – Conway 10 pass from Bodamer (8 plays, 66 yards, 5:21), pass failed, 44-12.

Team Statistics: Port A Clairton
First downs 9 21
Total Yards 241 480
Rushes-Yards 22-50 43-284
Passing Yards 191 196
Comp-Att-Int 12-24-2 9-15-0
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 2-0
Punts-Avg. 4-34.8 1-48.0
Penalties-Yards 2-28 11-60
Total Plays 46 58
Time of Possession 19:57 28:03

Individual statistics:

Rushing: Port Allegany – Neal 10-39, Bodamer 9-12, Shaffer 3-(-1). Clairton – Boyd 15-105, Clifford 10-65, Murphy 3-57, Moody 4-37, Booker 5-29, Ford 4-5, team 2-(-14).

Passing: Port Allegany – Bodamer 12-24-2-191. Clairton – Ford 8-13-0-193, Boyd 1-1-0-3, Clifford 0-1-0-0.

Receiving: Port Allegany – Conway 7-140, Tr. Miller 2-36, Ty. Miller 3-15. Clairton – Webb 5-132, Sims 2-36, Boatright 2-28.

GATOR FOOTBALL BY THE NUMBERS:

1: Port Allegany’s spot atop the Olean Times Herald large-school football poll for the last two seasons.

2: District 9 championships.

11: The number of Allegheny Mountain League titles Port now owns, including four since the modern two-division era began in 1986. The Gators claimed back-to-back AML crowns for the third time in 2011-12, matching the 1953-54 and 1967-68 squads.

13: PAHS record for wins in a season.

36: District 9 career touchdown-catch record.

52: PIAA single-season touchdown-pass record, shared with Kyle Smith (Lancaster Catholic).

137: PIAA career touchdown-pass record.

177: District 9 career receptions record.

669: District 9 scoring record. The Gators averaged 47.79 points per game, slightly ahead of the 2010 Brockway team which held the previous mark of 621 in 13 games.

3,065: District 9 career record for receiving yards, which belongs to Tyce Miller along with the marks for receptions and touchdowns. Remarkably, both Miller and running mate Nick Conway – who obliterated Mike Vervoort’s D-9 single-season marks with 1,482 yards and 24 touchdowns – eclipsed the previous district touchdown-catch standard of 29. Conway’s score against Clairton was his 31st.

3,951: PIAA single-season passing-yardage record.

10,948: PIAA career passing-yardage record – along with every other state record listed here, now owned by 2012-13 Gatorade Pennsylvania Football Player of the Year Matt Bodamer.

(Helmets courtesy of the Pennsylvania Helmet Project.)

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PIAA Western Final: Clairton stops Port A’s title bid, 44-12

As if there was any doubt, Tyler Boyd is as good as advertised. My longer story will post tomorrow, after the Reporter Argus is on the newsstand – buy a paper! – but here’s a link to my piece for last Saturday’s Olean Times Herald:

Clairton’s dominance ends Port A’s season

And if you still haven’t seen what Alex Gular did following his final game in a Gator uniform, do yourself a favor:

PIAA CLASS A WESTERN FINAL: Port Allegany vs. Clairton

PORT ALLEGANY GATORS (13-0)

DISTRICT 9 CHAMPIONS

CLAIRTON BEARS (14-0)

DISTRICT 7 (WPIAL) CHAMPIONS

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 7, 2012
LANCER STADIUM
DEER LAKES HIGH SCHOOL
163 EAST UNION ROAD
RUSSELLTON, PENNSYLVANIA 15076
7:00 PM EDT

WHKS 94.9 FM – Red Zone Media

The last unbeaten teams in Class A, and two of just six statewide, meet at Lancer Stadium on Friday night. While this is Port Allegany’s first trip to the state semifinals, three-time defending champ Clairton is seeking its fifth consecutive trip to Hersheypark Stadium for the PIAA title game.

PIAA Class A Bracket

PREVIEWS:
D9Sports.com preview
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

RANKINGS:
Harrisburg Patriot-News

Expanded Port Allegany team stats

(Helmets courtesy of the Pennsylvania Helmet Project.)

PIAA Class A Football: Gators stun Sharpsville

SHARPSVILLE BLUE DEVILS (11-2)

21

PORT ALLEGANY GATORS (13-0)

28

Lori Chase
Dec. 6, 2012

BRADFORD _ Long after the bedlam had died down and ecstatic Port Allegany fans had filtered out of Parkway Field, Tyce Miller and Nick Conway stood outside the Gators’ locker room, trying to find the right word to describe what had just happened.

“It was crazy,” said Miller, thinking back to his game-winning touchdown catch with 17.7 seconds left in Port’s stunning 28-21 PIAA quarterfinal victory over the Sharpsville Blue Devils.

Then he reconsidered, and smiled.

“Magical,” he said.

“Yeah, that’s better,” Conway said, nodding in approval. “Magical. I like that.”

And really, when you think about it, how else could you describe it?

Just when it looked like the Blue Devils (11-2) had salted away a 21-20 win with a little more than a minute remaining, converting a fourth-and-short play from their own 29 to pick up the first down they needed to run out the clock – “The game was over,” Port coach Mike Bodamer said – the Gators (13-0) pulled one last desperate trick out of their bag, as Tyler Shaffer knocked the ball out of running back Joey Pagliaroli’s grasp and Conway fell on it to give his team a last-minute shot at redemption.

“The line made a pile and the running back cut outside, and I just started grabbing him by the shoulder pads and punching up through his arms. And the ball came out and I thought, ‘My God,’” Shaffer said. “And I saw just black jerseys piling on it, piling on it, and I just started crying. I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, this is so … This doesn’t even feel real.’”

Linebacker Alex Gular was the first to touch the loose ball – “I was down there and had it for a second, and just got annihilated” – before Conway grabbed it and held on for dear life.

“I was just in the right place at the right time and dove on it,” he said. “You can’t describe it with words. I don’t know what to say.”

When reporters finally caught up with an emotional Bodamer amid the on-field celebration, the Port mentor was still in disbelief at the turn of events.

“We practice things all week in practice and it seems like they’re not important,” he said. “Every week we do the strip drill – every week, go practice the strips, practice the strips – and sure enough, we have the kid stood up, and Shaff comes in and just strips the ball out. Saved our season.

“The kid had (the first down), all he had to do was fall … He feels horrible. I talked to him after the game,” said Bodamer, who spent more than a minute with his arm around the distraught Sharpsville senior’s shoulders. “He can’t blame himself, he’s just a kid trying to make a play. He had the first down, they had the victory, and our kids just made a play at the last second.”

But even with a second lease on life, there was still work to be done.

Forty yards of turf stretched between the Gators and the end zone as they took the field with no timeouts and just 1:11 left on the clock. True, Port’s explosive no-huddle attack is perfectly suited to run a two-minute drill … but considering how convincingly they overwhelmed every District 9 opponent they faced, they’d never had to do it with the pressure of an entire season on the line. How would they respond?

On first down, quarterback Matt Bodamer fired a pass to Tyce Miller, who alertly cut toward the right sideline and raced out of bounds at the Sharpsville 24 for a 16-yard gain.

1:03.

Bodamer worked the right side of the field again, this time finding Conway, who stepped out at the 15.

0:59.1.

On second-and-1, Bodamer tucked the ball and dove for the first down at the 12, temporarily stopping the clock.

0:48.9.

Heavy pressure by the Blue Devils forced Bodamer to run again for a short gain, then hurry the Gators back up to the line for a clock-stopping spike.

0:20.8.

Knowing the game might end on any play short of the goal line, Bodamer looked for Miller again – and hit him in stride, the senior receiver cradling the ball with both arms as his right cleat hit the red turf in the end zone a step in front of two Sharpsville defenders.

BEDEVILED: Sharpsville defenders react in disbelief to Tyce Miller’s game-winning touchdown catch in Friday night’s PIAA Class A quarterfinal in Bradford.
(Photo credit: Pam Fischer)

26-21, Port Allegany.

0:17.7.

Pandemonium.

“I was crying and laughing at the same time. I didn’t know what emotion to have. I was ecstatic,” Miller said. “I caught it and I stood there for a second thinking, okay, just another touchdown. Then I thought ‘game-winner,’ and I just started going crazy.”

Back at the 20, Bodamer was picking himself up off the turf, but not from being hit.

“I threw that last touchdown pass and I was nearly crying before I threw it because I thought we were going to lose,” the Port quarterback said. “I threw it, and I just sat down and cried. You can’t explain that. Absolutely ridiculous game. So much props to Sharpsville, too.”

Ricky Bova (7) and Nick Conway (13) celebrate with Miller as Billy Downey (55) races to join in…
(Photo credit: Pam Fischer)

…while Victor Bandish (54) congratulates Matt Bodamer (8).
(Photo credit: Pam Fischer)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gators composed themselves for the extra point, with Bodamer finding Trey Miller along the back line for the two-point conversion, and Sharpsville’s comeback ended in another turnover as the clock hit 0:00.

“You know it’s over, because we’ve got the ball back and the time was out,” defensive end Rex Windsor said after recovering the last-play fumble. “Best feeling I’ve ever had.”

And as families, friends and fans spilled onto the turf, Mike Bodamer addressed his team’s postgame huddle:

“I’ve never been more proud of a bunch of guys in my life.”

***

LIGHTNING STRIKE: Tyler Shaffer stretches the ball toward the pylon on the first of his two touchdown runs.
(Photo credit: Pam Fischer)

The Gators struck on their first possession for the 13th time in as many games, taking a 6-0 lead as Shaffer stretched the ball just inside the left pylon on a 1-yard sweep set up by Bodamer’s 59-yard scramble down the sideline. The kick sailed wide, though, and the game settled into a field-position battle with both teams coming up with fourth-down stops deep in their own territory.

Sharpsville finally broke through just before halftime on Tyler Luchey’s spectacular 26-yard touchdown catch, as the all-star receiver outleaped Conway and brought down Bryan Stafford’s pass while falling backward into the end zone. Pagliaroli’s extra point made it 7-6, and as the Gators walked into the locker room, they trailed for the first time all season.

For the younger Bodamer, it was time to speak up.

“Since day one, we’ve worked so hard. That’s what I said at halftime,” he said. “I told everyone to shut up and close their eyes and just think, from day one, how hard we’ve worked, and just don’t let anything happen.

“We have 24 minutes for the rest of our lives.”

The offense responded, putting together touchdown drives on their first two possessions of the second half to take a 20-7 cushion into the fourth quarter, but the Blue Devils weren’t going away. Grinding out tough yards with their Wing-T offense and aided by untimely Port penalties, they scored twice and added both extra points to reclaim the lead with just 5:46 left in the game.

“The defense wasn’t the best,” Mike Bodamer said. “I knew they were going to run the ball down our throats – they’re so big and physical. We tried to hold them out, but when you get to this point, all the teams are good. When we had them 20-7 I thought the game was in hand, but we let them get back into it.”

The Gators fought back, driving deep into Sharpsville territory, but Sam Kysor’s 27-yard field goal attempt pushed wide left with 2:11 remaining to set the stage for the frenetic finish.

“To be honest with you, I don’t think we deserve the win, but I’m certainly not going to turn it over,” Mike Bodamer said. “They had us beat and we just got a lucky play at the end, then (with) a minute left we put our offense back on and they did their job.”

For Gular, it was simple.

“We had our moments when we were falling apart, but we came together and played as a team. That’s all we could do,” he said. “It’s not the best game we’ve ever played – it’s probably one of the worst – but we came together and won it. Played some real Gator football.”

Port’s reward for its first state playoff win in school history? A trip to Deer Lakes High School just outside Pittsburgh on Friday night (7 p.m., WHKS 94.9 FM/redzonemedia.com) to face District 7 champ Clairton and its 61-game winning streak in the PIAA Class A Western Final. The Bears are led by elite running back Tyler Boyd (180 carries-2,350 yards, 47 TDs), the WPIAL career recordholder with 114 rushing touchdowns. WR/DB and Pitt recruit Titus Howard (20 catches-510 yards, 6 TDs) will miss the game with a dislocated elbow suffered in Clairton’s 53-0 quarterfinal win over Berlin-Brothersvalley, as will two-way lineman Devontae Harvey, but quarterback Armani Ford (67-106, 1,658 yards, 23 TDs, 7 INTs) can still look for leading receiver Terrish Webb (33-735, 14 TDs).

“I’ve read the Bible, David and Goliath, and we’re definitely David,” Mike Bodamer said. “I sat down at the beginning of the season, looked at the mirror, looked at myself and I said, ‘If we take it one more step to get to the final four…’

“You can’t say anything about Clairton – three-time defending state champs and probably 61 in a row. They’re favorites by probably 60 points against us, but we’re gonna go down and play and have fun, see what we’ve got.”

And for one night, anyway, talk of Clairton could wait.

“When you see what looks like your whole town running on the field, (you think about) how proud you are just for everyone,” Matt Bodamer said. “For your team – I’m proud to be a Gator. So many guys deserve it. With the support we get, everyone deserves it.”

At Bradford, Nov. 30:

Score by quarters:
Sharpsville Blue Devils 0 7 0 14 21
Port Allegany Gators 6 0 14 7 28

First Quarter
PA (9:35) – Tyler Shaffer 1 run (4 plays, 87 yards, 0:40), kick failed, 6-0

Second Quarter
Sh (1:11) – Tyler Luchey 26 pass from Bryan Stafford (14 plays, 81 yards, 5:32), Joey Pagliaroli kick, 7-6

Third Quarter
PA (8:18) – Shaffer 9 run (10 plays, 74 yards, 3:42), Tyce Miller pass from Matt Bodamer, 14-7
PA (2:12) – Nick Conway 15 pass from Bodamer (7 plays, 52 yards, 2:44), kick failed, 20-7

Fourth Quarter
Sh (11:01) – Pagliaroli 6 run (8 plays, 50 yards, 3:06), Pagliaroli kick, 20-14
Sh (5:46) – Derrick Odem 11 pass from Stafford (7 plays, 47 yards, 3:46), Pagliaroli kick, 21-20
PA (0:17.7) – Tyce Miller 11 pass from Bodamer (6 plays, 40 yards after Conway fumble recovery, 0:54), Trey Miller pass from Bodamer, 28-21.

Team Statistics: Sharp PA
First downs 18 22
Total Yards 280 446
Rushes-Yards 51-178 35-214
Passing Yards 102 232
Comp-Att-Int 9-12-0 21-36-1
Fumbles-Lost 2-2 2-0
Punts-Avg. 2-29.5 2-37.5
Penalties-Yards 3-30 10-100
Total Plays 63 71
Time of Possession 26:58 21:02

Individual statistics:

Rushing: Sharpsville – Pagliaroli 16-72, Odem 17-49, R. Llewellyn 11-33, Luchey 4-13, B. Stafford 3-11. Port Allegany – Bodamer 19-101, Shaffer 13-91, Neal 3-22.

Passing: Sharpsville – Stafford 9-12-0-102. Port Allegany – Bodamer 21-35-1-232, team 0-1-0-0.

Receiving: Sharpsville – Luchey 6-86, Odem 1-11, R. Llewellyn 1-3, Pagliaroli 1-2. Port Allegany – Ty. Miller 9-99, Conway 9-93, Tr. Miller 2-21, Shaffer 1-19.

(Helmets courtesy of the Pennsylvania Helmet Project.)