Port Allegany will take time to enjoy the accolades — of which there are plenty — once the season ends.
For now, however, the Gators are focused on what is ahead of them: the PIAA football playoffs.
Tonight, the District 9 Class A champions return to familiar Parkway Field, where they have played — and won — their last two games. This time, they’ll try to replicate what Port’s 2012 championship team accomplished, as the Gators seek a berth in the PIAA semifinals.
Standing in their way? A team that replicates many of Port’s strengths.
Reynolds (11-1) upset top-seeded Eisenhower, 28-14, on Saturday to win the District 10 Class A football championship.
The win marked the Raiders’ third consecutive D10 title. They’ll bring several familiar components to Friday’s quarterfinal with Port: A stout group of linemen, a quality defense and a dangerous backfield trio.
“We’ve been all business,” Port head coach Justin Bienkowski said. “We talked about all the logistics of this week, but there was no sense that we accomplished much. We’ll embrace everything that comes with this stuff when it’s done. We don’t really talk about it, to be honest, and the kids take the approach of, ‘Okay, next.’ When we run out of nexts, we’ll sit back and talk about everything.”
Compare Reynolds’ roster to Port’s and you’ll find several similarities.
Both teams prefer to run the ball but will throw when needed, and both have three seniors who account for the majority of their yards.
Jalen Wagner is Reynolds’ backfield work horse, logging 251 carries for 2,708 yards (10.8 average) and 37 touchdowns. Brayden McCloskey quarterbacks the Raiders, having completed 65-of-122 pass attempts for 1,465 yards, 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Hayden McLaughlin has caught 21 passes for 826 yards — an average of 39.3 yards per reception.
Port counters with fullback Blaine Moses, who has shouldered 193 carries for 988 yards and 18 touchdowns, and tailback Noah Archer, who has rushed 142 times for 869 yards and 11 scores. Drew Evens has completed 102-of-177 pass attempts for 1,189 yards, nine touchdowns and six interceptions, and is a steady threat to run, carrying the ball 101 times for 469 yards.
“As soon as you turn on the tape, you can see (Wagner),” Bienkowski said. “A very good running back; very athletic. They have some young men up front just like we do. I think it’s eerily similar styles. I would think they’d call (Wagner, McCloskey and McLaughlin) their big three just like we know who our big three are.”
Ball possession, field position and clock control will all be paramount. With two defenses that are more prone to create mistakes than they are to make them, the importance of turnovers will be heightened.
“I don’t think any of us are looking to go into the bag of tricks too much,” Bienkowski said. “I just don’t. You’re not playing average joes at this time of year, and the other thing is, they’re defending District champs and they have a little bit of that bravado about them.”
Reynolds’ lone loss came 11 weeks ago, a 47-21 defeat to D10 Class 2A runner-up Sharpsville. Port (11-1), meanwhile, has only lost to D9 Class 2A champion Central Clarion, a 29-24 setback Sept. 2.
Reynolds has won nine in a row; Port has won 10.
Perhaps the only metric with a gap between the teams is in point differential, where Reynolds is +387 and Port is +252. The reason for that, though, is that Reynolds has scored 42.6 points per game, better than Port’s 30.3.
The Gator defense, however, may be the best the Raiders have seen. Anchored by Moses, Miska Young and many more, Port gives up just nine points per game.
“We were uncharacteristically penalized (in the D9 final) and just didn’t bring our best in that department,” Bienkowski said. “We need to get that right. We’re still trying to prove something. We’re not happy, we’re still hungry, whatever you want to call it. And Reynolds knows what it’s like to play football this time of year.”
Kick-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Parkway Field, where Port defeated Brockway last week to win the District 9 title before also beating Keystone there six days prior.
Parkway Field became the team’s adopted home on its path to the state semifinals in 2012, a formula this year’s team will try to replicate once more.
After their first win in Bradford, the Gators felt at home during their second trip. They’ll hope their third visit will be just as friendly.
“There is a sense of comfort there,” Bienkowski said. “Same side of the field, same sideline, same locker room, same bus departure times... just all the stuff that goes into it. You draw in Bradford people, New York state people and some others to watch the game, and our kids feel comfortable there.”