Week 1: Athens 30, Port A 14

ATHENS WILDCATS (1-0)

30

PORT ALLEGANY GATORS (0-1)

14

Lori Chase
Sept. 5, 2013

Early in Friday night’s season opener against the visiting Athens Wildcats, in the first home football game under the lights in Port Allegany High School history, it looked like it was going to be business as usual as Port sprinted to an early two-touchdown lead.

But as the game wore on, injuries to key players and an overall lack of depth – what coach Mike Bodamer described as his “worst nightmare come true” – took their toll on his young squad, and Athens, a Class AA school from District 4, rebounded to wear down the Gators in a 30-14 non-league victory. The loss was the first for Port this side of the state playoffs since dropping a 25-19 decision to Elk County Catholic in Week 4 of the 2011 campaign, snapping a span of 14 regular-season wins.

Running back Tyler Shaffer, dubbed the “workhorse of the team” by Bodamer in preseason interviews, looked more like a thoroughbred, galloping down the Port sideline on touchdown runs of 84 and 77 yards – the first on a fake punt, the second sprung by a solid block from Chad Gaines to seal the edge – to give the Gators a 14-0 lead less than three minutes into the game.

But with the offense once again on the move, the game changed when Shaffer came up limping on his next carry. With the senior standout sidelined, trying to walk off the effects of taking a helmet to the hip, the Wildcats keyed on shutting down sophomore quarterback Jordan Seefeldt and the Port passing game.

“That’s what I’ve said from the very beginning, injuries are going to kill us. (Shaffer) goes out, our offense is going to stall bigtime. We don’t have the threat of the run, so everyone tees off on the pass, and Jordan’s just a young quarterback who’s got to get used to (the position),” Bodamer said of Seefeldt, who was making his first varsity start.

Athens didn’t waste any time taking advantage of the situation. Mixing an efficient passing attack behind senior quarterback Troy Stivason with some strong running by Brandon Sturzenegger and Tyler Forbes, the Wildcats grabbed the momentum, scoring on back-to-back drives and adding a 40-yard field goal from Division 1 kicking prospect Stivason late in the first half to claim a 17-14 lead.

The Gators regrouped in the two-minute drill, with Seefeldt finding Cory Burr deep downfield for gains of 37 and 24 yards. But just when it looked like they were about to score the go-ahead touchdown, a hard hit from Forbes at the Athens 1 forced a fumble into the end zone, with only a trio of white-jerseyed Wildcats in position to recover.

“He read that, and he just laid a smack on the kid and popped the ball loose,” said Athens coach Jack Young after earning his 100th career win and the program’s 499th. “We talk about that stuff – when a team’s driving, don’t hang your heads. Somebody’s got to step up and make a play, and that’s what Tyler did right there. We were very fortunate; it could have been a 21-17 game at halftime.”

Both defenses took control in the third quarter, turning the game into a field-position battle with the deeper, bigger Wildcats slowly pushing the Gators further into their own end of the field. Late in the quarter, a long punt return by Forbes put Athens at the Port 29, setting up his halfback-option toss to a wide-open Cody Cain on the next play for a touchdown and a 24-14 lead.

From there, the Wildcats went into ground-and-pound mode, chewing up more than six minutes of the fourth quarter on a 12-play, 73-yard drive against a tired Gator defense for a final score to put the game away and make the long drive back to Bradford County a little easier to endure.

“They were big and physical up front. The kids got pushed around a little bit, but in the second and third quarter they found their stride and made some nice stops. The fourth quarter … we just completely ran out of gas in the fourth quarter. That’s what happens, you give up a couple of late ones, it makes it look a lot worse than what it was,” Bodamer said.

Shaffer led all rushers with 164 yards on just five carries before going out for good after a single third-quarter attempt. R.J. Veilleux finished with 44 yards on seven carries, while Sturzenegger netted 119 and Forbes added another 50 for Athens. Burr staked an early claim as the leader of the Gator receiving corps, hauling in half of Seefeldt’s 14 completions in 31 attempts for a game-high 113 yards.

With several players nicked up, Bodamer’s squad doesn’t have much time to recuperate before heading to Kane next Friday night for its second consecutive game against a Class AA team. The Wolves were less than a minute away from joining the Gators as District 9 champions last November before losing a 33-27 heartbreaker to Karns City and appear to be in position to make a return trip this season, allowing Sheffield just 51 yards of total offense as they drilled the Wolverines 34-6 in last week’s season opener.

Bodamer’s gameplan against the Wolves – who, like Athens, list more than 40 players on their varsity roster to the Gators’ 28?

“Get another 20 kids on the team?” he said with a rueful chuckle.

Reflecting on the Athens game, he concluded, “The kids gave it their all. We had mental mistakes, but I think a lot of it was the idea that they were just so tired and banged-up and hurting. Your brain just doesn’t work as well then. We’re just so low on numbers, I knew that was going to happen.”

At Port Allegany, Aug. 30:

Score by quarters:
Athens Wildcats 14 3 7 6 30
Port Allegany Gators 14 0 0 0 14

First Quarter
PA (11:06) – Tyler Shaffer 84 run, Shaffer run, 8-0
PA (9:20) – Shaffer 77 run, pass failed, 14-0
A (6:02) – Adam Hunsinger 14 pass from Troy Stivason, Stivason kick, 14-7
A (0:06) – Tyler Forbes 3 run, Stivason kick, 14-14

Second Quarter
A (1:47) – Stivason 40 field goal, 14-17

Third Quarter
A (1:39) – Cody Cain 29 pass from Forbes, Stivason kick, 14-24

Fourth Quarter
A (3:35) – Brandon Sturzenegger 10 run, kick blocked, 14-30.

Team Statistics: Athens Port A
First downs 15 11
Total Yards 299 348
Rushes-Yards 39-162 24-192
Passing Yards 137 154
Comp-Att-Int 10-15-0 13-30-0
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 3-1
Punts-Avg. 4-34.0 7-31.9
Penalties-Yards 9-65 6-40
Total Plays 54 54

Individual statistics:

Rushing: Athens – Sturzenegger 21-98, Forbes 12-50, Stivason 4-13, Vargason 2-1. Port Allegany – Shaffer 5-164, Veilleux 7-44, Tanner 1-9, Seefeldt 9-(-12), team 2-(-13).

Passing: Athens – Stivason 9-14-0-108, Forbes 1-1-0-29. Port Allegany – Seefeldt 13-30-0-154.

Receiving: Athens – Hunsinger 3-51, Cain 2-39, Shadduck 3-29, Vargason 1-15, Forbes 1-8. Port Allegany – Burr 7-113, Lashway 4-31, Gaines 1-10, Veilleux 1-0.

(Helmets courtesy of the Pennsylvania Helmet Project.)

Week 1: Athens at Port Allegany (and info on D9Sports.com postgame show)

ATHENS WILDCATS (0-0)

PORT ALLEGANY GATORS (0-0)

FRIDAY, AUGUST 30, 2013
PORT ALLEGANY, PENNSYLVANIA
7:00 PM ET

HISTORY

SERIES RECORD: This is the first meeting between the two schools. Port Allegany hasn’t played a team from District 4 since 1991, when they finished a six-game series with Cowanesque Valley with a 13-0 win over the Indians.

RADIO: A new local postgame show makes its debut tonight, hosted by Dustin Kifer and Chris Rossetti of D9Sports.com from 9:30 – 11:00 p.m.

“The RRR Roadhouse Friday Night Overtime Show with D9Sports.com will be a traditional wrap-up show that includes scores from around District 9, live reports from select games and analysis of what it all means each week during the 2013 season. The plan is to cover all 25 District 9 football teams every Friday night with scores and highlights from the games and live reports from reporters at select games.”

Listen live: RRR ROADHOUSE FRIDAY NIGHT OVERTIME SHOW WITH D9SPORTS.COM

(Helmets courtesy of the Pennsylvania Helmet Project.)

PAHS Football: 2013 preview

A new chapter in Port Allegany High School football begins this week.
Following a major remodeling project that started last spring, the Gators will officially debut their upgraded facility on Friday, Aug. 30, when they host District 4’s Athens Wildcats for the first home night game in the 100-year history of the program.
Not just the lights, bleachers, and pressbox are new, though. It will be a different look on the field, too, with lineman Brandon Raymo the only returning full-time starter from the team that shredded the District 9 and PIAA record books last fall on its run to the state semifinals. Will Mike Bodamer’s young squad be ready for prime time?
Hold that thought. The core of the back-to-back D-9 champions may have moved on via graduation, but there’s still some talent at Gator Field. More than anything, despite 20 returning lettermen, it’s the size of his roster that concerns the ninth-year head coach.
“You have to take every year differently,” said Bodamer, whose glittering 25-3 record the last two seasons improved his career mark to 56-32. “Last year, those kids knew what they wanted to accomplish. This year, we basically have two starters back. The others got a lot of playing time, but they’re still relatively young and inexperienced. I really don’t know what they expect.
“A kid like Brandon Raymo, he knows how to win and knows what it takes to win. He and Tyler Shaffer come gametime will be fine, but they’re going to have to pick the other nine kids up and lead the way, show them what it takes. At this point we’re just really unsure. I know we have the talent – we have 15 kids that can really play well – but whether or not we can sustain a whole game with that lack of depth is going to be the big question.”
With all-time PIAA passing leader Matt Bodamer now at Edinboro, sophomore Jordan Seefeldt takes over the reins of coordinator Jason Luther’s multiple-concept spread offense. Seeing significant playing time as Bodamer’s backup last season, Seefeldt completed 26 of 38 passes for 229 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions and also rushed for 91 yards and a score.
“He’s really improved in these first two weeks,” Mike Bodamer said. “The first scrimmage down at Curwensville, he hit all the receivers right in the chest. I think he was 6-for-9 for 80 yards or so, which is pretty productive for 20 plays. Deep ball, we’ve got to work on that, but I think the short passing game he’ll be okay. And he’s a decent runner, so that’s going to be another dimension. Matt ran last year, but it was more just scrambling. We didn’t have a lot of direct calls. Jordan’s going to be a little different. We’ve added a couple more option plays, zone-read type plays. Hopefully that will be a good part of his game.”
Being able to turn and hand the ball off to Shaffer should help ease any growing pains. The 6-1, 190-pound senior exploded into the spotlight midway through last season with two long touchdown runs against Smethport, finishing the year with 51 carries for 573 yards (for a gaudy 11.24-yard average) and 11 touchdowns while splitting time with Trent Neal in the Gators’ “Thunder and Lightning” backfield. As the electrifying half of that tandem, Shaffer showed he could score from anywhere on the field, outrunning the entire Brockway defense on an 89-yard sprint to the end zone in the Allegheny Mountain League championship game and taking a 66-yard interception to the house in the Gators’ playoff opener against Elk County Catholic.
“He’s going to have to get in shape early,” Bodamer said, “because he’s definitely going to be the workhorse of the team.”
Senior Cory Burr – who was on track to play a significant role last year before a concussion ended his season after just four games – and juniors Chad Gaines, Chris Lashway and Rick Veilleux are the top options to line up at receiver. Sophomore Mac Tanner will split time between running back and H-back.
“Our four receivers, we’re awful small, but all the kids are good athletes,” Bodamer said. “Mac’s an extremely good runner once he gets it. Chad’s a lot like Tyce, he’s got that deceptive speed. And Cory, we call him ‘Crazy Legs’ because once he catches the ball, he just runs all over the place. If we can get the ball to them, we should be okay.”
Raymo will switch from right to left tackle with junior Christian Moses moving into his old spot, while senior Bryce Stahlman takes over at center. Ethan Budd is penciled in as one starting guard, with fellow sophomores Nate Lowery and Bryan Stahlman, junior Chevy Smith and senior Tyler Bee among the options for the other spot.
“Lack of depth is a problem, but our first five, six kids, they’re pretty good,” Bodamer said. “If those kids stay healthy, we should be all right.”
More concerning, he admitted, was the rebuilding project on defense.
“We don’t have a lot of kids back on the defensive side of the ball – all of our secondary, all of our linebackers are brand-new,” he said. “So we’re definitely going to have to score some points. Unlike last year, when I think we had them at zero most of the time at halftime, I don’t think that’s going to be the case this year. Teams are going to score on us. We just have to keep things under control and just manage our offense the best we can.”
Bodamer is relying on Raymo (defensive tackle) and Moses (middle linebacker) to anchor the unit, while trying to take advantage of Shaffer’s and Tanner’s speed at the other linebacker slots. Budd, Smith, both Stahlmans and sophomores Cullen McDowell and Hunter Strawderman will compete at end, while senior Jake Safford is slated to start next to Raymo at tackle. The four new starters in the secondary will come from the group of Burr, Lashway, Gaines, Seefeldt, sophomore Tre Garzel and senior Joel Schroll. Burr, Raymo, and Shaffer have been selected as team captains.
“We’ll have a 4-4 or 4-3 look depending on what team we’re playing,” Bodamer said. “We’re going to be bringing a lot of people. We don’t have a lot of size to stuff people, so we’re going to have to stunt quite a bit, use what speed we do have and try to get after the quarterback and control the run game.”
Longtime assistants Justin Bienkowski (offensive/defensive lines) and Nate Zitnik (receivers/defensive backs) return for another season along with junior high coaches Bob Rankin and Dan Eskesen, while Willie Bova, Scott Lowery, Chad Saltsman and Josh Saltsman will serve as volunteer coaches.
With more and more AML teams trying to copy the success of the spread-style offense that first Brockway and then Port employed to dominate the league, will any of them be good enough to dethrone the Gators for the league crown? We’ll see.
“Actually, seeing some of the tapes, I think it’s going to be competitive all the way around,” Bodamer said. “Brockway’s probably the favorite, just because they have most of their skill guys back. But I’ve heard their line isn’t what it was, they’re not as big, so that could hurt them. North-wise, I’m thinking Eldred probably has the most talent, the most experience coming back. But I think the North’s wide open. Anybody could win it. In the South, I still think Brockway’s probably – probably – the team to beat.
“A lot of us depends on injuries,” he said. “We definitely have a shot. As long as we can do well enough to make the playoffs, that’s our goal. We just want to be one of those eight teams. It’s going to be tough this year … but if we stay healthy, we’ll be okay.”
Schedule:
Aug. 30 Athens H 7:00
Sept. 6 Kane A 7:00
Sept. 14 Ridgway H 1:30
Sept. 20 Coudersport H 7:00
Sept. 27 Otto-Eldred A 7:00
Oct. 4 Smethport A 7:00
Oct. 12 Sheffield H 1:30
Oct. 18 Cameron Co. H 7:00
Oct. 25 Brockway A 7:30

PAHS Fall Sports: Week 1 notes

Last Friday’s dress rehearsal at Gator Field went off without a hitch, as a decent amount of observers checked out the new-and-vastly-improved bleachers while Port High scrimmaged Elk County Catholic under the lights.

“There’s a lot of curiosity and interest in things,” athletic director Dan Stavisky said.

The old wood-and-steel stands, part of the landscape for more than 40 years, had become a legitimate safety concern as the school’s maintenance department tried to keep up with replacing splintered and worn-out boards. There are no such worries with the aluminum model: With handrails on slip-resistant steps, a ramp for handicapped access, fencing around a camera deck which runs the full length of the much-larger pressbox – a far cry from when radio and television crews used to climb onto the slanted roof of the original to broadcast games, and the only access to the second-floor coaches’ boxes was via a ladder leading up through a hole in the floor – and no open spaces to the ground below, the structure should serve the school’s needs for many years to come.

On the night of the scrimmage, a sprinkler soaked a large patch of fresh green sod in the corner of the end zone near the concession stand, where Mike Kallenborn of Pine Valley Landscaping was called in to deal with a drainage problem that had bubbled up to the surface. But with that and a few other late odds and ends taken care of, Stavisky feels that everything should be in order for Port Allegany’s official introduction to “Friday Night Lights.” The Gators kick off at 7 p.m. against the Athens Wildcats, a Class AA team from District 4 which replaced Johnsonburg on the schedule.

“Definitely a different environment,” said Mike Bodamer, the coach of the two-time defending Allegheny Mountain League and District 9 champions. “Hopefully we’ll get some more people to the games. Even when we’ve had good years, Saturday afternoon is still awful tough to get people to come to games – there are a lot of things to do on the weekends. High school football is without a doubt Friday night; it’s good to bring it here finally. We’ll see how it goes. It will definitely save the end of August, early September heat games where we’re all dying of heat exhaustion. That will definitely be nice.”

“It’s good for our kids to have good support at the games. The more fans, the more excited the kids are to play,” Stavisky agreed. “It will be exciting. There will be some adjustments, but we’re ready to go.”

***

Both Gator soccer teams will also be in action this weekend, with the girls heading to the Bradford Tournament on Friday afternoon and the boys opening with a non-league home game against Coudersport at 10 a.m. Saturday morning.

The boys’ game is one of three additions to the schedule, along with a third game against Smethport on Oct. 10 and a trip to Wellsville (N.Y.) on Oct. 15, to give them the regular-season maximum of 18 games.

“I like having a full schedule. My opinion is, you don’t get better by sitting at home,” head coach Aaron Clark said. “I told Dan to give us a game against anyone in the state, or even in New York state, and we’d go and play them. I didn’t care if it was the state champs.”

***

Like the football team, both the boys soccer and volleyball squads are coming off back-to-back league championships. The Lady Gators travel to Portville next Tuesday for their season opener, before beginning their North Tier League title defense at Smethport on Thursday. Tuesday also marks the beginning of the cross country schedule, when the Gators and new coach Jeanette Burleson travel to Coudersport.

***

The Port golf teams were the first fall sport to swing into action, with the girls dropping a 39-16 match at Bradford last Tuesday. Debbie Andrus led the Gators with a 61, Hannah Buchsenschutz shot a 71, Kaylee Ernst 76, and Alysa Dickinson 78.