It’s no secret as to which team has had the upper hand in one of District 9’s fiercest rivalries of late.
But when it comes to tonight’s D9 Class A semifinal matchup at Bradford’s Parkway Field, both coaches say you can throw out the records and forget the last couple of scores.
Top-seeded Coudersport (9-0) and fifth-seeded Smethport (6-4) are set to square off for the second time this season at 7 o’clock this evening for a chance to play in next week’s championship game.
The Falcons won the Week 8 meeting 42-0 and have taken the last two against the Hubbers in blowout fashion following last season’s 44-7 victory in the title game.
“It’s always exciting to go up against Coudy and we have built this rivalry up the last couple of years,” Smethport coach Adam Jack said. “But I’m really proud of our kids. Nobody gave us a chance at the beginning of the season to even get this far. And now we have a new boost of energy after last week.”
Smethport defeated Elk County Catholic 28-7 in the first round of the playoffs last Friday after falling to the same Crusaders 18-0 a week prior.
Coudersport, meanwhile, enjoyed the perks of being a top seed and had the week off.
“We had a couple of issues coming out of Cameron County (in the regular season finale) that hopefully we got taken care of,” Coudersport coach Tom Storey said. “It’s always hard having that week lay off. Some people like it, some people don’t. But it was nice to recharge.”
To reverse its fortunes against Coudersport this time around, Smethport will have to do something that no team has done over the last two months of the season: slow down the Falcons on either side of the ball.
Coudersport, the best statistical team in District 9 through nine games, has outscored its opponents 425-26 on the year. The last time a team scored on the Falcons was 34 days ago — a second quarter touchdown pass from Otto-Eldred quarterback Cole Sebastian in Week 6 to be exact.
“It’s a challenge for sure. They are solid everywhere but there are looks that we have to try and take advantage of,” Jack said. “Just like against Elk, we have to make adjustments from the first game and do a better job of controlling the ball.”
Coudersport outgained Smethport 354-42, held the Hubbers to four yards passing, and forced three turnovers in the game as well as a safety in the first matchup.
It was nothing new for a defense that’s forced 43 turnovers and made 72 tackles behind the line of scrimmage so far in 2019.
But Storey is trying to keep his charges focused on the task at hand in the rematch against a Smethport team hungry to pull an upset.
“I guess you can say we are trying to keep their heads to the earth, and our motto that we’ve always had is one week at a time so we are doing our best to keep them grounded and focus on what we have to do,” he said. “It’s always good to be given a chance to make sure they understand that Smethport has nothing to lose.”
Paving the way for Coudersport tonight on the other side of the ball will be D9 Small School North co-offensive MVPs in running back Travis Gleason and quarterback Hayden Keck.
Gleason rushed for 180 yards and two scores against the Hubbers in Week 8, and has 1,178 yards and 19 touchdowns on the year. Keck, meanwhile completed just three passes and was limited to just 63 yards with his legs. But he has over 1,300 all-purpose yards on the year, 15 offensive touchdowns and has also returned two interceptions for touchdowns on defense.
Storey expects an aggressive gameplan from Smethport’s defense to try and slow down those two playmakers.
“They worked on us pretty hard (in that regular season game), they were blitzing a lot and they blitzed a lot in the last two games against Elk County,” he said. “Maybe they will come out firing at us, but we worked on stuff to defeat that.”
Smethport, meanwhile, will try to build off last week’s offensive attack that saw all four touchdowns come via passes from Noah Lent. The sophomore quarterback also had 123 yards with his legs last week and both facets of his game will be critical if the Hubbers have any success moving the ball.
“I expect Noah to perform at a high level like he has for most of the season,” Jack said. “Noah had a bounce back game last week and that is the player we have come to expect; he delivered. Need the same type of game from him this week.”
Regardless of the outcome, tonight’s game should feature a raucous atmosphere at a neutral site with two fan bases that travel especially well.
“Well, everybody has to stay warm; It’s going to be extra cold,” Storey said. “That’s something that we’ve worked on and talked about and we had a couple cool days last week where we got the chance to mess around a little bit out in the cold.
“Overall, I think it’s going to be a good game. Nothing is ever solid, so we plan on coming in and going to work again after a week off. I think it’ll be a good game, and hopefully everybody stays warm.”
Union/A-C Valley vs. Redbank Valley
The other Class A semifinal tonight is also a rivalry game between two schools (Union and RV) separated by just 12 miles. The Falcon Knights defeated the Bulldogs 28-7 just three weeks ago in RV’s first game without starting quarterback Gunner Mangiantini, who was lost for the year with injury. The game begins at 7 p.m. at Clarion University’s Memorial Stadium.