Port Allegany’s District 9 Small-School North Division football game at Sheffield featured two teams each looking for their second win of the season.
The Gators rallied from a two-touchdown deficit to tie the game early in the fourth quarter, but Sheffield responded with a late score to secure a thrilling 22-14 victory, setting off an early Homecoming celebration on Saturday afternoon at Wolverine Mountain.
“Whole lot of enthusiasm. The energy level for these kids is the greatest thing in the world, because this is a memory they’re going to have for a lifetime,” said second-year Sheffield head coach Chris Korbar, still dripping after a celebratory postgame water-bucket shower.
“We preach about all kinds of good stuff like resiliency and perseverance. We brought some guys in (several former NFL players from the Jack Brewer Foundation) to help us out this week; they did an excellent job teaching and keeping that energy up, and these kids bought into it. They played with their hearts. They finished, and they haven’t done that in a while. Win number two. We’re going to keep it going strong.”
The Wolverines’ scoring this season has come mostly from big plays, and Saturday was no different. Facing third-and-10 from their own 33 midway through the first quarter, quarterback Aujamier Slappy-Washington lofted the ball down the left sideline and found receiver Caden Smead just past the fingertips of a Gator defender. The Sheffield senior made the catch and went the rest of the way for the 67-yard score, giving the home team a 6-0 lead.
Taking over at their own 20 following a touchback on a Gator punt, the Wolverines struck for another huge play, with junior running back Jihad Bennett taking a handoff and patiently sliding along the line of scrimmage until he found a hole, then bouncing outside and hitting the jets on an 80-yard sprint to the end zone. Walker Kyler added the two-point conversion, and with 10:39 left in the second quarter, the stunned Gators were staring up from a 14-0 hole.
Bennett finished the game with 154 yards on 20 carries, while Slappy-Washington went 7-for-16 for 128 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
“That was what scared me all week,” Port coach Justin Bienkowski said of the Wolverines’ quick-strike potential. “We thought we could outscheme them, and I thought we were better between the tackles, but a penalty here, a penalty there…
“We told them, ‘They’re going to go up the middle and they’re going to kick it.’ Number 20 (Bennett), I’ll bet you he started every run up the middle and then kicked it. He wanted to show off his speed, and we let him show off his speed. That’s shame on us.”
Port turned the ball over on downs on its next drive, but thwarted a Sheffield foray by forcing and recovering a fumble deep in Gator territory, and the half ended with no change in the score.
“This is no disrespect to Sheffield; I told coach Korbar (after the game), ‘Enjoy it,’” Bienkowski said. “But 14-0 at the half, I said in the locker room, ‘Port Allegany is beating Port Allegany 14-0 at the half.’ Everything was self-inflicted.”
Port started moving the ball on its first drive after halftime, pushing inside the Sheffield 20 before another turnover on downs. Montgomery Tanner got the ball right back for the offense, though, picking off Slappy-Washington to put the Gators in business at the Wolverine 35. A holding penalty helped lead to a fourth-and-long situation, but the Gators opened up the playbook as Drew Evens lateraled to Howie Stuckey, who found Tanner downfield for a 19-yard pickup and the first down at the Sheffield 10. Three plays later, Noah Archer took a pitch around left end for a six-yard touchdown, and the game was back in reach at 14-6.
The two teams traded three-and-outs to end the third quarter, but the Gators won the field-position battle as Stuckey boomed a 56-yard punt that Tanner downed at the Sheffield 2. From there, a bobbled handoff led to Justin Young and Taro Tanaka teaming up to stuff Bennett in the end zone for a safety. Tanner returned the ensuing free kick 24 yards to the Sheffield 39, and from there, a steady dose of running plays led to Blaine Moses’ game-tying one-yard score with 8:43 left in the game. The extra-point attempt was blocked, but it seemed like momentum had switched to the visitors’ sideline.
Sheffield had other ideas. After the kickoff return set them up in decent position at their own 45, a personal foul on the Gators helped move the ball into Port territory, and the Wolverines’ running game drove down the field to first-and-goal at the 10-yard line. A big hit by Trey Ayers stuffed their first-down play for a short gain and a holding penalty knocked them back to second-and-goal from the 18, but Slappy-Washington dropped back and found Mirahn Price cutting across the middle, and the Abraxas junior darted into the end zone for the go-ahead score with 2:03 left in the game.
“We let them back in it, but like we said, perseverance and resiliency,” Korbar said.
Port’s own comeback attempt stopped at the Sheffield 40 with Price picking off the Gators’ desperation fourth-and-long heave, and the celebration started in earnest on the Wolverines’ sideline.
“I’m so disappointed in myself, our staff, our players. Just disappointed with the product that we put on the field. We always talk about potential, and we didn’t execute our potential,” Bienkowski said. “I’m in charge of this show and I’m so dang proud of it, but we didn’t stay true to the six letters across our chest today.”
Tanaka led the Gator rushing attack with 94 tough yards, with Moses contributing 40 and a touchdown. On defense, Young finished with a pair of sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss, sharing the safety with Tanaka.
Following a long-awaited bye week, Port closes out the season with another road trip, traveling to Emporium to take on winless Cameron County on Oct. 18.
“We’re going to give the guys a couple extra days off and then come back and try to have some fun this coming week, and then we’ll get back and try to prepare for Cameron,” Bienkowski said. “As we showed today, we can’t just show up and beat anybody. We have to show up and play and compete and execute, and we didn’t do that today.
“So we’ll lick our wounds a little bit, we’ll feel sorry for ourselves over the weekend, but we have to come back ready to finish the season. As we say, we need to attack everything with our best, we need to finish everything the best that we can, and that’s what we’ll try and do.”
AROUND THE NORTH:
Coudersport remained unbeaten, traveling to Duke Center to overwhelm Otto-Eldred, 73-12. Although allowing double digits for the first time all season, the Falcons won their fourth game in a row by at least 44 points, and are outscoring their opponents by an astounding 283-26 margin for the season.
In Smethport, the Hubbers rebounded from last week’s loss at Redbank Valley by rolling past Cameron County, 39-7. Next week’s showdown against Coudy will decide the District 9 Small-School North Division champion for the second year in a row.
While the Gators (1-6 overall, 1-3 North) get a chance to rest up before next week’s season finale, a Saturday-night special between unbeaten teams highlights the D-9 small-school crossover schedule as Redbank Valley (7-0, 3-0 South) visits Coudersport (6-0, 3-0 North) for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
Elsewhere, Smethport (5-1, 4-0 North) travels to Keystone (6-1, 2-1 South) in another intriguing matchup, Otto-Eldred (1-6, 1-3 North) is at Curwensville (1-6, 0-4 South), and Cameron County (0-6, 0-3 North) heads to Allegheny-Clarion Valley to face Union/ACV (5-2, 2-1 South) on Friday night, with Elk County Catholic (3-3, 1-2 South) at Sheffield (2-5, 2-2 SSN) on Saturday.
At Sheffield, Oct. 5:
Port Allegany 0 0 6 8 — 14
Sheffield 6 8 0 8 — 22
Sheffield (4:32) – Caden Smead 67 pass from Aujamier Slappy-Washington (3 plays, 67 yards, 2:39); run failed, 0-6
Sheffield (10:39) – Jihad Bennett 80 run (1 play, 80 yards, 0:51); Walker Kyler run, 0-14
Port Allegany (2:59) – Noah Archer 6 run (10 plays, 35 yards, 3:36 after Montgomery Tanner interception); kick failed, 6-14
Port Allegany (11:52) – Safety (Bennett tackled by Justin Young in Sheffield end zone); 8-14
Port Allegany (8:43) – Blaine Moses 1 run (7 plays, 61 yards, 3:09 after safety); kick blocked, 14-14
Sheffield (2:08) – Mirahn Price 17 pass from Slappy-Washington (11 plays, 55 yards, 6:26); Jacob Disshon pass from Slappy-Washington, 14-22
TEAM STATS: PA S
FIRST DOWNS: 15 12
RUSHES-YDS: 39-156 28-142
COMP-ATT-INT: 10-25-1 7-16-1
PASSING YDS: 42 128
TOTAL YDS: 198 270
FUMBLES-LOST 0-0 1-1
PUNTS-AVG 5-42.4 3-40.7
PENALTIES-YDS 6-45 6-45
PLAYS 64 44
RUSHING: Port Allegany – Taro Tanaka 21 carries-94 yards; Blaine Moses 11-40, TD; Noah Archer 6-17, TD; Trey Ayers 1-5.
Sheffield – Jihad Bennett 20-154, TD; Caden Smead 2-6; Walker Kyler 1-3; Mirahn Price 2-(-5); Aujamier Slappy-Washington 3-(-16).
PASSING: Port Allegany – Evens 9-23-1, 24 yards; Stuckey 1-2-0, 18 yards.
Sheffield – Slappy-Washington 7-16-1, 128 yards, 2 TD.
RECEIVING: Port Allegany – Montgomery Tanner 1-18; Tanaka 2-9; Archer 2-9; Ayers 1-4; Stuckey 2-4; Moses 1-3; Evens 1-(-5).
Sheffield – Smead 2-70, TD; Price 2-46, TD; Bennett 2-7; Kyler 1-5.