ATHENS WILDCATS (1-0)
PORT ALLEGANY GATORS (0-1)
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:|
|Port Allegany Gators||14||0||0||0||–||14|
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
A (1:47) – Stivason 40 field goal, 14-17
A (1:39) – Cody Cain 29 pass from Forbes, Stivason kick, 14-24
A (3:35) – Brandon Sturzenegger 10 run, kick blocked, 14-30.
|Team Statistics:||Athens||Port A|
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.)