A comeback almost seemed imminent.
The Port Allegany football team had jumped out to a 22-point halftime lead over Reynolds, and little had gone wrong for the District 9 champions.
Given the game’s setting, however — the state quarterfinals — surely Reynolds would have a rebuttal, right?
When Noah Archer took off on a 45-yard touchdown run down the home sideline, those fears quickly went away. A two-touchdown sequence for Archer and the Gators turned the dominant first half into a rout.
Port (12-1) paraded its way into the PIAA Class A semifinals with a 42-8 victory Friday at Parkway Field. Blaine Moses scored three touchdowns, Archer scored two and Drew Evens added three total, as the Gators used a savvy offensive approach to run over the Raiders.
“We have two rules in our program,” Port head coach Justin Bienkowski said after his team’s 11th consecutive victory. “We’re going to play as violent and as classy as possible. The people who watch us can see that is the style of football we like to play and we executed that (Friday).”
Port’s defense was in familiar form, responding to a few early first downs by blanking Reynolds (11-2) until the game was out of reach. The Gator offense mixed its power running with timely pass calls, allowing Evens and Archer to eat up the Raider defense and free up space for Moses inside.
“We’ve talked about just controlling the line of scrimmage and staying ahead of the chains,” Bienkowski said. “We don’t want to put our offense in precarious situations. Credit goes to our assistant coaches for controlling the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Our kids never got too high or low, they just kept battling and they represented our school very well.”
Moses got Port on the board four minutes into the first quarter before Evens found him for a 17-yard TD pass early in the second. Evens then slipped through several tacklers on a 15-yard TD run that capped the half, opening a three-score lead for Port.
Reynolds’ opening drive of the second half stalled at midfield. That’s when a superb run after the catch by Archer gave Port a 28-0 lead, seemingly sealing the game as he shook off Raider defenders on his way to the end zone.
If that wasn’t enough, Reynolds fumbled the first snap of its ensuing drive, giving the Gators the ball in plus territory. Archer was off to the races again.
He scored a 5-yard TD 65 seconds after his previous, enacting the PIAA’s 35-point running clock rule with six minutes left in the third. The Raiders responded by finally piecing together a touchdown drive, but a 10-yard TD run by Moses soon after left no doubt.
Evens finished 11-of-13 passing for 176 yards and two scores. Moses ran 15 times for 111 yards and Archer carried it 14 times for 85 yards, while Evens had eight carries for 58 yards and Peyton Stiles had two for 18.
Archer caught six total passes for 140 yards and a TD. Moses made three receptions for 27 yards and Stiles had two catches for nine.
“(Archer) would tell you it’s the five guys in front of him,” Bienkowski said. “(Archer, Moses and Evens) together are something special. They’re all about the team and it’s just a very good family atmosphere we have going.”
Moses led the Gator defense with 7.5 tackles, while Stiles had seven, Carson Neely had 6.5 and Gavin Burgess had five. Although Wagner ran 22 times for 116 yards, Port held Reynolds to 189 yards of offense — far short of the Gators’ 448.
Moses eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing for the season (1,009) and finished with 399 career tackles. Archer surpassed 2,000 career rushing yards (2,073) and approached the figure in receiving (1,949), while Evens exceeded 5,000 career passing yards (5,037).
The Gators’ semifinal trip is their first since 2012, a milestone they’ve been chasing for weeks.
“We talked about writing history for our program by getting as far as the ’12 team did, and frankly, we’re tired of the ’12 team,” Bienkowski said. “We love them and they did great things for our program but it’s time to live in the now. Be where your feet are, stay grounded and just play.”
These Gators have been compared to the 2012 team, and naturally so. But this year’s group has carved out its own place in Port — and District 9 — history.
The sweetest part of victory for Bienkowski’s group, however? They get to play again next week.
“The only way to get another seven days together was to win,” Bienkowski said. “These kids are a class act and I can’t say enough about them, but we’re not worried about all the hoopla of the year. We’re worried about playing the next down.”