Port Allegany’s Homecoming football game against Union/Allegheny-Clarion Valley was a one-score contest well into the second half, but a trio of huge plays by the Falcon Knights’ Tanner Merwin helped spark the visitors to a 32-7 victory on Saturday afternoon.

The A-C Valley junior picked off three passes on the day, returning two of them for long touchdowns, and added a third score on a 41-yard pass from Luke Bowser to help Union/ACV improve to 5-1 while dropping the Gators to 1-5.

Port got on the board via a big play of its own, when freshman quarterback Drew Evens hit senior receiver Howie Stuckey for a second-quarter 61-yard catch-and-run touchdown. Stuckey pulled down a team-best 92 yards on three catches, with Evens finishing 12-or-27 for 146 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions, while junior Taro Tanaka rushed 18 times for 70 yards to lead the Gator ground game.

Afterward, Port coach Justin Bienkowski found himself rethinking the Gators’ offensive strategy.

“We should’ve kept running and establishing that line of scrimmage, but the clock kept getting away from us, the score kept getting away from us and we felt like we had to play catch-up fast,” he said.

Following yet another injury to a key Gator starter, with senior center D.J. Michelitsch sidelined due to a concussion in last week’s game, senior Dominick Button joined the reshuffled line with junior Derek Kallenborn moving to center.

“Dom started to play every offensive snap today, and did a remarkable job for us,” Bienkowski said. “Credit to our line; I feel like I should’ve rode them a little bit more on offense, and I didn’t.”

Freshman defensive back Noah Archer picked off a pass to stop Union/ACV’s first drive, and the first quarter ended with Merwin’s 40-yard pick-six the only points on the board. The Falcon Knights added another score in the second frame, with Eli Penny recovering a fumble deep in Union/ACV territory, then capping off a 13-play, 74-yard drive with a 10-yard run for a two-touchdown lead.

It didn’t take long for the Gators to get that score back, though. On first down, Evens dropped back and threw deep down the left sideline, where Stuckey hauled in the ball past a diving defensive back and raced untouched into the endzone. Shawn McNeil added the extra point, and with 8:13 left in the half, the Gators were back within 14-7. A fumble recovery by junior linebacker Blaine Moses thwarted another Falcon Knights drive, and Archer picked off his second pass of the day to end the half.

The score stayed the same until late in the third quarter, when Merwin struck again with another third-and-long interception, running it back 48 yards for the touchdown to make it 20-7 Union/ACV.

“Defensively was huge for us today with the turnovers and the points off turnovers. That was really the difference in the game,” Falcon Knights coach Brad Dittman said.

The visitors took advantage of two more Port turnovers to tack on two short fourth-quarter touchdown drives. A personal foul on the second extra-point attempt, which saw a Falcon Knights player ejected for throwing a punch, set up Port deep in Union/ACV territory with a chance to cut into that margin. The drive stalled at the 14 with a turnover on downs, though, and the clock ran out with the Falcon Knights up 32-7.

“I am so proud of our kids for playing good, hard, clean football,” Bienkowski said. “They gave us everything they had, and they didn’t get involved in any B.S., any dirty, nasty play. Good luck to Union, all the best to them, but our kids are high-character kids that keep grinding for us. They take care of each other, and that’s something we want to celebrate. As a football sense, we just need to take those one or two right things and make it into four and five.”

Junior defensive lineman Justin Young led the Gator defense with 10.5 tackles (10 solo), two sacks and three tackles for loss, with Moses contributing 8.5 tackles and senior defensive back Montgomery Tanner 7.5.

“I told them leaving the locker room at the half, it’s really hard to play four quarters of football on a day when it’s almost 80 degrees. Those kids are gassed,” Bienkowski said. “They left everything out on the field; they’re going to rest their head on their pillow knowing they gave everything they had.”

The Gators closed out their home schedule with the loss, with the final two games on the road against Sheffield and Cameron County.

“Very winnable games,” Bienkowski said. “Sheffield has some athletes and some size, and they’re flying high from their win over Cameron County last week, but we’re just going to take it one practice at a time.

“The kids give us everything they have. I love this team, make no mistake about it. One-and-five doesn’t always make you smile, but these guys are my second family and I love them. We just need to figure out a way to do enough things right to win.”

AROUND THE NORTH:In an interesting coincidence, all four Friday-night District 9 small-school crossover games ended in shutouts.

Coudersport stayed perfect at 5-0, with the Falcons’ stifling defense allowing just 12 yards of total offense and a single first down in a 44-0 romp at Curwensville (1-5). In a showdown between two other unbeaten teams, Redbank Valley (6-0) handed division co-leader Smethport (4-1) the Hubbers’ first loss by a 21-0 score. Keystone (5-1) rolled past Sheffield (1-5), 57-0, while Elk County Catholic (3-3) dropped Cameron County (0-5), 41-0.

In non-league action, Bucktail (1-4) rallied past Otto-Eldred (1-5), 22-12, at Renovo.THIS WEEK:

All six North teams are active in division play, with Coudy at O-E and Cameron County at Smethport on Friday night, while Port heads to Sheffield on Saturday afternoon for the Gators’ second consecutive 1:30 p.m. kickoff.

At Port Allegany, Sept. 28:Union/ACV – 8 6 6 12 – 32

Port Allegany – 0 7 0 0 – 7

SCORING SUMMARY

FIRST QUARTER

Union/ACV (6:35) – Tanner Merwin 40 interception return; Merwin pass from Luke Bowser, 8-0

SECOND QUARTER

Union/ACV (8:32) – Eli Penny 10 run (13 plays, 74 yards after Penny fumble recovery, 4:48); pass failed, 14-0

Port Allegany (8:13) – Howie Stuckey 61 pass from Drew Evens (1 plays, 61 yards, 0:11); Shawn McNeil kick, 14-7

THIRD QUARTER

Union/ACV (1:54) – Merwin 48 interception return; run failed, 20-7

FOURTH QUARTER

Union/ACV (7:25) – Merwin 41 pass from Bowser (2 plays, 39 yards after turnover on downs, 0:41); pass failed, 26-7

Union/ACV (5:44) – Kylar Culbertson 5 run (2 plays, 10 yards after Merwin interception, 0:40); kick failed, 32-7

TEAM STATS: UACV PA

FIRST DOWNS: 17 11

RUSHES-YDS: 39-137 28-44

COMP-ATT-INT: 11-19-2 13-30-4

PASSING YDS: 131 156

TOTAL YDS: 268 200

FUMBLES-LOST: 2-1 3-1

PUNTS-AVG 5-36.6 5-42.0

PENALTIES-YDS 5-50 1-5

PLAYS 58 58

INDIVIDUAL STATS:

RUSHING:

Union/ACV – Kylar Culbertson 16-96, TD; Tony Thompson 6-24; Eli Penny 4-20, TD; Gaven Bowser 5-13; Tanner Merwin 1-4; Caden Rainey 1-0; Luke Bowser 6-(-20).

Port Allegany – Taro Tanaka 18-70; Blaine Moses 3-7; Noah Archer 1-3; Trey Ayers 1-(-5); Drew Evens 4-(-10); team 1-(-21).

PASSING:

Union/ACV – Bowser 11-19-2, 131 yards, TD.

Port Allegany – Evens 12-27-3, 146 yards, TD; Howie Stuckey 1-3-1, 10 yards.

RECEIVING:

Union/ACV – Rainey 5-61; Merwin 3-50, TD; Colton Hoffman 1-12; Karter Vogle 2-8.

Port Allegany – Howie Stuckey 3-92, TD; Archer 4-28; Moses 2-17; Ayers 3-13; Montgomery Tanner 1-6.