Aug. 1, 2013
The Don Raabe Big 30 Charities Classic, formerly known as the Big 30 All-Star Game, marks its 40th birthday at Bradford’s Parkway Field on Saturday night. And if the Port Allegany players and coaches on the Pennsylvania roster have anything to say about it, observers can expect plenty of fireworks to celebrate the occasion.
Starting with six players from the offense that propelled the Gators to a 25-3 record and back-to-back District 9 championships, shattering multiple district and state records for passing and scoring, then adding a dozen more of the area’s best?
“We’re going to try to spread them out as best we can, and if we can beat them vertical, we can score as many points as the game will allow,” offensive coordinator Jason Luther said following last Wednesday’s practice on the familiar turf at Parkway Field.
Considering that Port scored an astounding 90 touchdowns on offense last fall, an average of almost six and a half per game – and in games with 12-minute quarters, not the Raabe Classic’s 15 – New York’s 2003 record of 56 points could be well within reach.
Guiding what Luther and assistant coach Nate Zitnik describe as a “multiple-concept” spread offense, based on the “Air Raid” system perfected by Mike Leach at Texas Tech but with plenty of other wrinkles tossed in to baffle opposing defenses, will be a pair of record-setting dual-threat quarterbacks.
PIAA all-time passing leader Matt Bodamer will have plenty of familiar faces surrounding him, with Gator receivers Nick Conway and Tyce Miller, center Rex Windsor, and tackle Victor Bandish anchoring his platoon. Warren’s Austin Jerman – who compiled a county-record 4,348 career passing yards in his own right, and also led the Dragons in rushing last season – will helm the other offensive unit, which includes tight end Rickie Bova.
“Austin’s a pretty heady kid. He came in running a similar system, and he’s very gifted athletically and he’s very intelligent. He asks minimal questions, and he steps up, I would say 80 percent of the time and makes the correct reads in a system that we’ve run for the last two years,” Luther said.
If Jerman does need an assist during the game, he won’t necessarily have to look to the sideline for help.
“Rick knows the offense really well. So we feel like we need one guy, that if there’s ever a question he can go right to him. Rick knows it like this,” Luther said, snapping his fingers, “as good as Matt. We kept him there for that purpose, and he’s always in the right spot. Every single play.”
Conway, Miller, and 6-foot-5 Mark Davis – Jerman’s favorite target at Warren – headline the receiving corps, but both quarterbacks will have plenty of options in the single-back, four-receiver set.
“Between Matt Yurkewicz (Bradford) and Mitch Holmberg (Johnsonburg) in the slot area, they are as shifty as you can get,” Luther said. “Tyce on the edge. Zac McKnight from Ridgway has just made some guys look silly on turf tonight, so I’m really interested to see him in space. At tight end, Rick’s Mister-right-place-right-time-every-time, and adding Nate O’Brien (Eisenhower) to Matt’s repertoire of what he can do, Nate is a huge target running across the middle and he’s got great hands.”
“We were used to Tyce and Nick, but now instead of two kids, we’ve got 10 kids that can run and catch the ball. So if we can get the ball out in their hands, we should have a good chance to run down the field with it,” agreed Pennsy head coach Mike Bodamer.
With New York concentrating on trying to stop an aerial assault, running backs John Pascuzzi and Caden Whitman (Coudersport) should get some chances to shine, too.
“John Pascuzzi packs a punch, and he’s got shifty feet,” Luther said of Eisenhower’s all-time leading rusher. “Then we have Whitman, who’s healthy for the first time in three years and in an offense where he has no other choice but to be successful because of the numbers situation.
“My big concern is what we can do up front. We’ve got a group of kids that, other than Rex and Victor, have all come from a system that is run-heavy, and it’s completely different. So we’ve been working with them. They’re great kids, they’ve been receptive to everything, they ask intelligent questions and they work hard. That’s all we can really ask.”
Mike Bodamer and Justin Bienkowski are in charge on the other side of the ball, with Gator defensive tackle Nick Budd and linebacker Alex Gular on their squad.
“We definitely have a real good defensive line – Nick, Shea Meyer and Hank Cappiello from Elk County, they’re real good up front,” Bodamer said. “It’s kind of hard trying to piece things together, but the kids know the coverages, they know their assignments. We just have to figure out what New York’s going to run against us.”
Gular, speaking for the Port players, has enjoyed the experience.
“It’s been real fun, getting to meet a lot of new kids,” he said. “We’re running the same offense and defense packages that we ran all year, so it’s not much of a change for us. Some of the other kids are having a little trouble understanding it, but it’s all starting to come together.”
A jelling process hastened, no doubt, by the number of Port players and coaches involved.
“It’s a real big help for us, because we have so many of us that know both ways of the ball,” Gular said. “Like me, I’m playing defense, but I can still help some of the kids on offense and vice-versa. We have so many Port kids that it’s almost like instead of having our four coaches, we’ve got 12 coaches out there.”
Luther agreed, saying, “You can’t put a price tag on it. I spend a lot of time with Austin, and then Matt goes and takes somebody, Nate takes somebody, Rick’s helping somebody, Nick’s helping somebody – it’s like you have six or seven coaches. And then Rex knows everything offensive-line wise, so if we go over a draw concept, we don’t even have to be there. He can tell them exactly how to do it. It’s easy. It’s about as stress-free football as I’ve had in a long time.”
That’s a view New York’s defensive coaches may not share on Saturday night.
The Port Allegany participants in the game will be trying to keep two unbeaten streaks intact on Saturday evening.
Pennsylvania is 4-0 when coached by the Port staff, with Mike Borro notching the first Pennsy win in 1979 and Bob Haskins adding a trio of victories in 1987, 1994, and 2004. Current Gator head coach Mike Bodamer was an assistant for the latter two squads.
Also, the PAHS Class of 2013 and their coaches are 4-0 in playoff action at Parkway Field, downing Brockway 49-21 in the 2011 District 9 semifinal, then sweeping Elk County Catholic (48-7), Clarion (47-8) and Sharpsville (28-21) in three consecutive trips to Bradford last November.