In most playoff games, it’s typically one big play that swings the momentum.
In Friday night’s District 9 Class A semifinal matchup between Coudersport and Smethport, it was instead a sequence of events that changed the tide from an upset bid to a quintessential Falcon victory.
After battling to a 6-6 tie with the Hubbers in the waning minutes of the first half, Coudy utilized 90 seconds of brilliance en route to 29 unanswered points to close out a 35-6 victory over the Hubbers on a crisp night at Bradford’s Parkway Field.
The win secures a chance for the defending D9 champion to have a chance at a repeat in next week’s title game.
Coudersport’s uncharastically slow start Friday could be blamed on several factors — including strong play from the Hubs — but nothing more key than the Falcons having to play without Travis Gleason (1,190 rush yards, 19 TDs) and Thomas Wilson (287 yards, 3 TDs). Both players are also amongst the leading team tacklers defensively.
“Unfortunately, everything was kind of short notice with a couple of (the backups) and at the end of the week and trying to get people up and going. We had them going for the last two weeks, but we kind of had that thought that (Travis) was going to get back,” Coudersport coach Tom Storey said. “But the guys stepped up and the guys we had running were on the offense already. They know what we’re doing.”
That sequence at the end of the first half — one that both coaches admitted afterwards swung the game’s momentum — went something like this.
Following a Coudy drive that stalled around its 40-yard-line, the Falcons brought out its punt team. Jacob Pitcher sent a booming punt that rolled and was downed at the one-yard-line. After nearly picking up a safety on a first down Smethport run, Coudersport’s Daniel Frame picked off Smethport QB Noah Lent as he dropped back to pass from his goal line.
The Falcons took over possession on the 15-yard-line and scored a few plays later on a Hayden Keck quarterback sneak from the one.
They never looked back from there.
“The field position there really hurt us. We weren’t too confident that we were going to get out of the end zone on second down, so we thought we’d take a shot there. It didn’t work out for us,” Smethport coach Adam Jack said.
Keck’s touchdown helped to salvage what was one of Coudersport’s worst halves of the season. The Falcons started the game strong with an 11-play, 75-yard drive that was capped off by a 21-yard touchdown from Keck to Minor on their opening drive. But the Hubbers scored on their next possession on a 3-yard run from Braedon Johnson to tie the game and end Coudy’s remarkable 15-quarter scoreless streak that dated back to Week 6.
But all it seemingly took was Keck’s run and a few minutes in the warm locker room to get the Falcons back playing to their typically high level.
“(Smethport) was throwing everything at us like they did before so just trying to pick all that stuff up and calling plays to get the boys where they need to go,” Storey said.
“The boys stepped up and they executed. We were a little rocky in the first half, but they stepped up and executed in the second half.”
Brandt Kightlinger took Coudy’s opening play of scrimmage in the third quarter 62 yards to the endzone to set in motion a dominant 40 minutes of football. The Hubbers picked up just 40 yards of offense in the half while the Falcons moved the ball with ease.
Kightlinger, as the featured back for the first time all season, picked up 111 yards on 15 carries.
“He stepped up, and played well and he’s been taking a leadership role with the team. He’s stepped up well,” Storey said.
Meanwhile Keck, named D9 Small School North co-offensive player of the year earlier in the week along with Gleason, continued his standout campaign with 85 yards rushing in the second half. He put an exclamation point on his 160-yard performance with touchdown runs of 46 and 22 yards to score the final two touchdowns of the game.
“Hayden has lived in this offense” Storey said. “That one long score he had was him audibiling, but he’s a playmaker. That’s what is nice about it. When I came into this job, or even when I was a volunteer coach, that’s what I heard. You put one of your best players with the ball at quarterback and let him go.”
Defensively, after allowing that second-quarter score, the Falcons clamped down. Noah Lent went just 6-for-16 for 32 yards in the second half and the Hubbers’ longest play from scrimmage over the last two and a half quarters was a 10-yard pass play.
“Coudersport is a good team; you have to give them credit,” Jack said. “They had us scouted well, they played well and made plays. We weren’t able to make those plays.”
Friday’s result marked the third straight victory for Coudersport in the rivalry, dating back to last year’s 44-7 win over the Hubbers in the Class A title game. In a trip back to the championship this year, the Falcons will face Redbank Valley (which they beat 56-0 on Oct. 12) next Saturday at 1 o’clock in DuBois.
“It’ll be good,” Storey said. “They are a good team. We just have to keep our heads in the game and play like we know how to play.”
Smethport 0 6 0 0—6
Coudersport 6 6 16 8—35
First Downs: S: 6, C: 13; Rushes/Yards Rushing: S: 19-11, C: 44-261; Yards Passing: S: 101, C: 47; Comp-Att-Int: S: 11-23-1, C: 3-5-0; Penalties: S: 5-35, C: 7-50; Fumbles-Lost: S: 2-1, C: 0-0; Total Yards: S: 94, C: 290; Offensive Plays: S: 48, C: 51
Passing: S: Noah Lent 11-23-101-0-1; C: Hayden Keck 3-5-47-1-0
Rushing: S: Lent 9-6, Braedon Johnson 8-20-1, Bryent Johnson 2-0, team rushing 1 (-15); C: Keck 14-119-3, Brandt Kightlinger 15-111-1, Jacob Pitcher 8-27, Kolby VanWhy 7-4
Receiving: S: Braedon Johnson 3-41, Bryent Johnson 3-44, Ryli Burritt 4-16, Neubert 1-0; C: John Minor 3-47-1
C: Minor, 21-yard pass from Keck (2-pt run failed), 3:34
S: Braedon Johnson 4-yard run (2-pt run failed), 11:23
C: Keck, 1-yard run (2-pt run failed), 0:36
C: Kightlinger, 62-yard run (Pitcher run), 11:44
C: Keck, 46-yard run (Pitcher run), 1:01
C: Keck, 22-yard run (Dalton Keglovits PAT), 1:29