SHARPSVILLE BLUE DEVILS (11-2)
PORT ALLEGANY GATORS (13-0)
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.
Bodamer worked the right side of the field again, this time finding Conway, who stepped out at the 15.
On second-and-1, Bodamer tucked the ball and dove for the first down at the 12, temporarily stopping the clock.
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.
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.
26-21, Port Allegany.
“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.”
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.”
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|
PA (9:35) – Tyler Shaffer 1 run (4 plays, 87 yards, 0:40), kick failed, 6-0
Sh (1:11) – Tyler Luchey 26 pass from Bryan Stafford (14 plays, 81 yards, 5:32), Joey Pagliaroli kick, 7-6
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
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.
|Time of Possession||26:58||21:02|
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.)