BRADFORD — Sixty minutes wasn’t enough time to decide a winner in Saturday night’s Big 30 All-Star Charities Classic, with the 46th annual edition of the football game ending in a 27-27 tie at Parkway Field in Bradford following one of the more unusual games in the history of the series.
Considering New York’s improbable comeback, though, scoring three touchdowns in a nine-minute span of the fourth quarter to recover from a 27-6 late third-quarter deficit and just missing on two late chances to pull out the win, it was easy to understand why the Empire State sideline was in a celebratory mood afterward while Pennsy coach Jeff Puglio lamented his team’s blown lead.
“I feel like we lost this game more than they came back on us to tie,” the Bradford High coach said following just the third deadlock in Big 30 history. “We didn’t lose, I guess, but I feel like that was all on us. Giving up that lead, we kind of sat on it and lost our composure a little bit, and stupid penalties brought them right back in it. So we have nobody to blame but ourselves.
Pioneer quarterback Nick Rinker rushed for one score and tossed three touchdown passes to tie a game record held by four other players, including Port Allegany’s Tom Nasto (2001) and Matt Bodamer (2013). Playing the entire fourth quarter following an injury to the other New York signal-caller – cited as a “game-changer” by Puglio – Rinker found his rhythm, consistently extending plays with his scrambling ability and hitting Cuba-Rushford’s DeAndre Ahrens for two long touchdowns to complete the rally.
Rinker finished the night 6-for-16 for 176 yards, with 122 of those going to Southwestern star Ray Card, including a 77-yard bomb for New York’s only first-half score. Elk County Catholic’s Cole Secco led all rushers with 10 carries for 125 yards and a touchdown; with Coudersport linemen Eli Ayers, Preston Cobb and Wyatte Osborne opening holes and Falcon runner Stevie Kelly tacking on another 39 yards on four attempts, Pennsy’s modified Wing-T offense piled up 326 yards on the ground.
Pennsylvania had the early edge, taking the opening kickoff and driving downfield to a 36-yard field goal by Smethport kicker Noah Costa, then turning an exchange of fumbles into an 18-yard scoring drive. Bradford running back Donny Pattison did the honors on his home turf, breaking tackles on a 12-yard jaunt to the end zone to give the red-jerseyed Keystoners a 10-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
Costa, who split time last fall between scoring goals for the Port-Smethport soccer co-op and kicking for the Hubbers football team, capped off another long Pennsy drive with his second three-pointer of the night to make it 13-0 early in the second frame. Two unsuccessful New York drives later, it looked like the rout was on when Ridgway speedster Daunte Allegretto gathered in a punt at his own 9-yard line and hit the afterburners for what would have been a game-record 91-yard touchdown. The return was nullified by an illegal block, though, keeping the 86-yard score by Port Allegany’s Claude Haskins from the 2004 game in the Big 30 record book for another year.
New York got on the board with just over five minutes left in the half, when Rinker took the snap and rolled left, spotted Card deep down the left sideline, and uncorked an arcing throw that the All-State receiver pulled in for the 77-yard catch-and-run score. The extra-point try by Allegany-Limestone’s Connor Golley was blocked, though, and Pennsylvania responded just before halftime with a six-yard touchdown pass from Coudy quarterback Mason Klesa to Ridgway’s Isaac Schloder to make the score 20-6 at the break. Klesa finished 3-for-6 for 15 passing yards with an interception, and also added 25 rushing yards.
After struggling to move the ball for most of the first half against the Pennsylvania defense, with several nice stops by Port Allegany linebacker Collin Smith, New York finally got on track early in the third frame, marching within sight of the goal line before a touchdown-saving tackle by Otto-Eldred’s Chris Connelly stopped the Blueshirts’ drive at the three.
It didn’t take long for Pennsylvania to flip the field, needing just three plays to move out to their own 35 before Secco took a handoff on a counter and broke free up the middle for a 65-yard score and a 27-6 lead with 2:26 left in the quarter.
The game’s momentum had already begun to shift, though, and the Pennsylvania offense wouldn’t see the New York side of the midfield stripe again.
A personal foul on the Pennsy defense on the kickoff return gave the New Yorkers the ball near midfield and Rinker did the rest, either running or throwing the ball on every play of the ensuing drive. A leaping catch by Card put the ball at the two, and Rinker followed his blockers into the end zone on the next play to cut the lead to 27-13.
A bobbled punt snap on Pennsylvania’s next series gave New York a drive start at the PA 29, and Rinker hit Ahrens in the back corner of the end zone on the next play. Golley’s extra point made it 27-19 with 11:04 left, and suddenly, what had looked like another Pennsy blowout was a one-score game.
Another personal foul against the defense, one of 12 penalties marched off against Pennsylvania in the game, helped set up another New York touchdown, this one a 25-yard Rinker-to-Ahrens hookup. Southwestern coach Jehuu Caulcrick dialed up a trick play for the all-important two-point conversion, with Salamanca running back Ira John taking the ball off a double reverse and finding Allegany-Limestone receiver Connor Parsons open in the end zone, and with 4:31 left on the clock, the score was deadlocked at 27-27.
The Pennsy offense was in disarray, fumbling the ball away on its own 25 to give New York a golden opportunity for a go-ahead score, but a fake field goal attempt from the 20 backfired for a turnover on downs. Another exchange of punts gave Pennsylvania one last shot with 48.5 seconds left, but Klesa’s last-ditch pass was picked off and returned to the Pennsy 30 with 8.1 seconds remaining. New York tried one pass, then sent Golley out for a final-play 47-yard field goal attempt that fluttered wide and short as the buzzer sounded to end the game.
With the tie, New York held onto its one-game edge in the series, now leading 22-21-3.