BRADFORD — The Brockway football team saw its run for a District 9 Class A championship end Friday night, as the Rovers lost a hard-fought 21-14 battle against top-seeded Port Allegany at Bradford’s Parkway Field.
It was the second meeting of the season between the two teams and was a stark contrast from the regular season matchup that saw the Gators win in a rout, 40-7, on their home field.
Brockway morphed into a different team after that loss, which saw the Rovers fall to 2-3 on the season. Brockway had won six of seven games since that setback, avenging its lone loss (to Redbank Valley) in that stretch by upending the Bulldogs, 7-3, in last week’s D-9 semifinals.
It looked like the Rovers might be on the verge of avenging another loss when it took 14-7 third-quarter lead Friday night against Port when Jendy Cuello ripped off a 43-yard touchdown run with 3:15 left in the quarter. Cuello enjoyed another big night as he ran for 124 yards on 22 carries.
The hug run came right after a big 15-yard holding penalty put the Rovers in a big 2nd-and-25 hole. Aiden Wilcox’s second extra point of the evening put Brockway up seven, but the Rovers were unable to hold on to that lead as the Gators found the end zone twice in the fourth quarter to pull out a 21-14 victory to take home the title and advance to the PIAA quarterfinals.
Noah Archer scored both those touchdowns as part of a monster night for the Gators that saw him rack up 190 total yards (158 rushing, 32 receiving). Archer pulled the Gatos within a point at 14-13 when he scored from six yards out with 10:30 to play.
Port Allegany (11-1) elected to go for two at that point, and Archer came up with another big play as he faked a run up the middle before hitting a jump pass to Peyton Stiles to put Port up 15-14.
Archer made an outstanding, leaping one-handed grab across the middle for 14 yards on 4th-and-3 at the Brockway 42 to keep the scoring drive alive late in the third.
Brockway quickly countered with a nice 23-yard kickoff return by Carter Hickman that gave the Rovers the ball at the Gators 47.
Two five-yard runs by Cuello gave Brockway a first down before Miska Young sacked Rovers QB Brayden Fox for a 6-yard loss. Cuello then ripped off a 14-yard run to set up a key 4th-and-2 play at the Port 29.
Fox appeared to draw one of Port’s interior lineman offsides, which the Brockway linemen reacted to. However, no call was initially made until a late flag came in. After a discussion by the officials, they called Brockway for a false start — having ruled the Port player hadn’t crossed into the neutral zone.
The penalty gave Brockway a longer fourth down play, on which Fox threw incomplete as the Rovers turned the ball over on downs in a one-point game.
Port Allegany was back in the end zone just three plays later in a quick turn of events as Archer took a toss left, then made a cut upfield before racing 57 yards to paydirt with 6:20 to play.
Brockway did block the Gators’ extra point, keeping it a 7-point game at 21-14.
The Rovers started their ensuing possession at their own 30 and got off to a good start as Cuello rumbled for a pair of 6-yard runs and a first down.
Brockway managed just one yard in its next two snaps before the Port defense then came with with a couple big plays.
Braylon Button sacked Fox for a 5-yard loss on 3rd-and-9, then Archer broke up a fourth down pass to force yet another turnover on downs at the Rover 37.
Port picked up two first downs from there as the Gators were able to run out the final 3:49 and end the game in the victory formation by taking two kneel downs.
The Port run game proved to be the difference in the game as they churned out 52 carries for 316 yards. Blaine Moses nearly joined Archer in going over the century mark as he had 16 carries for 97 yards and Port’s opening touchdown. Peyton Stiles (2-46) and Drew Evens (8-21) also factored into the attack.
“Props to Justin (Bienkowski). He has a great team, and he is a great coach,” said Brockway coach Jake Heigel. “They have really worked the program back to where it’s at. I can respect that. They are a great character program, and props to them.
“But, I understand the turnaround we’ve made the last three years is worth recognition, but right now it’s just not on my mind. It’s talking about the seniors and what they have done for the program. They are the ones who got us back to where we’re at, and they are the reasons we are going to continue on this track.
“I want to give them all the props, because if we don’t have Seth Stewart from grade 9 on up and some of these other guys, are program doesn’t get back to where it is.”
Brockway got the ball to start the game on a cold night in Bradford ad quickly got runs of 8 and 17 yards by Cuello to get into Port territory at the 37. Dropped passes that hurt Fox on three straight plays at the Rovers turned the ball over on downs.
The teams then traded punts before Port’s offense came alive on its second possession and picked up a pair of first downs before the Rover “D” forced a 4th-and-1 at its 34.
Evens was stuffed on a QB sneak but bounced off the pile and tried to get outside to the right. He was surrounded there as well and pitched the ball to Archer, who was tackled for no gain.
Brockway wasn’t able to capitalize on the big defensive stop, though, as the Gators got the ball back four plays later when a Rover receiver couldn’t haul in a pass and Gator Nick Wilfong caught the deflection for an interception near midfield.
Port was able to take advantage, as Moses took an option pitch right and raced 38 yards for a touchdown to cap a quick 7-play, 52-yard drive. Jarrod Funk’s extra point made it 7-0 with 10:02 left in the first half.
The Gators defense then forced a Brockway punt before putting together a long 12-play drive that saw Port march from its own 27 down to the Brockway 8. Archer had a key 8-yard run on 4th-and-3 along the way.
Archer appeared to make it two score game as he scored from the 8, but the Gators were called for holding on the play. Kaden Price then dropped a touchdown pass on 3rd-and-goal.
Brockway then got big time pressure on Evens on fourth down, as he was called for intentional grounding on a ball that was first ruled a fumble.
Either way, Brockway had the ball late in the half at the Port 33 and wasted little time moving down the field after a couple quiet drives.
Fox hit Andrew Brubaker for 17 yards, then Alex Carlson for 20. A 12-yard grab by Brubaker then put the Rovers at the Port 12 with less than 30 seconds left in the half.
Fox threw incomplete on first down, then scrambled out of the pocket to his left on second down. The lefty lofted a pass high towards the left front corner of the end zone, where Carlson outjumped a pair of Gator defenders and got two feet inbounds for a 12-yrd TD catch with 21 seconds on the clock.
Wilcox’s kick made it 7-7 as the Rovers took some momentum into the half.
The Brockway defense got a stop to start the third quarter, then the Rovers grabbed the lead on its ensuing possession when Cuello broke free for his 43-yard scoring run.
Port Allegany had an answer though, the Gators scored twice in the fourth to pull out the victory.
“Regardless if its a call, a caught pass, a dropped pass ... those type of plays impact a game when you get this far,” said Heigel. “Our guys made some great plays tonight, they really did. But, sometimes there is magic, and they (Gators) got a couple magical bounces here and there and we didn’t. That happens.”
Brockway finished the season with an 8-5 record after its 2-3 start.