Curwensville, Coudersport Renew Rivalry in AML Title Game

CURWENSVILLE — There was little doubt in longtime Coudersport Coach Paul Simcoe\’s mind after the hard-earned, season-opening 20-12 victory at Curwensville that the two teams would cross paths again this season if they lived up to their potential, if not in the Allegheny Mountain League championship game, then very likely in the District 9 Class A Playoffs.

It\’s no surprise to Curwensville Coach Andy Evanko, either, that the undefeated champion Falcons, 9-0 and unscored upon in four October wins, are the hosts for Saturday\’s 7 p.m. AML title game after claiming their fifth consecutive North Division crown. He\’s just proud the way the Golden Tide rebounded from that Sept. 1 defeat to run the table, win the South Division championship for the third year in a row with an 8-1 record and earn the opportunity to dethrone the Falcons.

\”Honestly, we feel fortunate to play in the championship game,\” Evanko said. \”In all reality, we just took it one game at a time, and we\’re happy to here. We just want to play to the best of our ability. It will be a tough game between two good teams.\”

Simcoe, who has a 192-74-8 record in his 28th season at Coudersport, agrees.

\”Two really good teams are going to go at it,\” he said. \”We knew they definitely were going to be one of the best teams in the south, if not the best. They\’re a very solid team, and we think we are, too. We\’ve been fortunate our defense has played extremely well all year, especially in the second half of the year. We\’re not as big (as last year), but we\’re a little quicker.

\”I\’d be surprised if it\’s a blowout, either way. It could come down to who executes in key situations.\”

Sub-freezing temperatures and possible snow flurries will be the setting at the Coudersport Area Recreation Park Field for the fourth meeting in just over 12 months between the AML, and the turf condition could become a key factor.

\”Unfortunately at this time of year, you\’re not going to play on a grass field anywhere that\’s in good shape, as much rain as we\’ve had,\” Simcoe said. \”Two weeks ago, we played on probably the worst field we\’ve every played on at Smethport. Ours was in pretty good shape going into last week\’s game (against Kane), but it got torn up because it was so wet. And it hasn\’t dried out much this week.\”

After watching his team play on quagmires at Ridgway and Sheffield the last two weeks, Evanko know what to expect. And he adds that protecting the ball will be imperative, for both teams.

\”Turnovers will be absolutely huge,\” he predicts. \”They always are in this game. Whoever makes the most mistakes is not going to come out on top.\”

Although both teams have very strong running attacks and enough big-play passing capabilities, neither coach is expecting a lot of points because of the stout defenses.

Coudersport has allowed only 37 points in defeating Curwensville, Otto-Eldred 62-12, North Division runner-up Cameron County 8-6, Elk County Catholic 12-0, Port Allegany 28-7, Sheffield 51-0, Johnsonburg 24-0, Smethport 22-0 and Kane 18-0, the latter two scores deceiving because of mud-caked field.

Curwensville has allowed 97 points, but six more than a third have come after the first defensive unit went to the sidelines. The Golden Tide\’s winning streak has come at the expense of Elk County Catholic 14-12, Brockway 29-0, Cameron County 46-29, Johnsonburg 18-3, Kane 42-0, Smethport 55-19, Ridgway 21-8 and Sheffield 50-6.

The game features the top two rushers in District 9, according to D9Sports.com statistics.

Curwensville\’s Nick Sipes has run for 1,435 yards and 24 touchdowns on 236 carries, extending his string of consecutive games with more than 100 yards to 32. His career yards have soared to 5,411, and his 77 career touchdowns have him three away from tying District 9 record-holder Dave Richards, the former Clearfield Area High School standout.

Coudersport\’s Chris Cavallari, a wideout who was thrust into the spotlight when Sam Decker went down with a knee injury in the first quarter of the opener, has come through with 1,259 yards and 13 TDs on 187 carries, and he only carried three times against Sheffield. In addition, he\’s caught nine passes for 119 yards and two scores.

\”We knew he was a good athlete,\” Simcoe said. \”He\’s not big. He weighs about 170 pounds, but he\’s real strong and real quick. He must be about 4.5 for the 40.\”

Simcoe explained Coudersport\’s running game didn\’t suffer at all with Cavallari, but he added, \”It hurt us at receiver because it took away a great receiver who could stretch the field vertically.\”

The Falcons, who\’ve gotten 196 yards and four touchdowns from fullback Adam Foust, don\’t got to the airways a lot, but Simcoe isn\’t against take a shot now and then. The Golden Tide certainly hasn\’t forgotten the 99-yard touchdown pass from Boomer Wetzel to Logan Hathaway that put the Falcons up 20-0 less than 15 minutes into the season opener. Hathaway had another catch for 17 yards in that game but has only seven receptions for 78 since, though three have gone for scores.

Juniors Wetzel and Justin Kinder have share the quarterback duties for the Falcons. Wetzel, who was the D9Sports.com Rookie of the Year in 2005, has completed 19 of 46 passes for 350 yards for five TDs, while Kinder, who has done more of the throwing in recent games, is 16-for-44 for 166 yards and two TDs.

\”We used both all summer in seven-on-sevens,\” Simcoe said. \”Both threw the ball very well. We\’re actually in a fortunate position to have two kids of that caliber.\”

Coudersport is averaging 241.7 yards rushing and 60.2 passing. Curwensville has a similar ratio with 290.1 on the ground and 68.9 through the air.

The Golden Tide does show more balance on the ground, as quarterback Shawn Sopic has gained 595 yards on 78 carries and fullback Brandon Hess has 380 yards for 75 carries. Each has crossed the goal line four times.

Sopic is ranked No. 14 in the district in passing with 31 completions in 68 attempts for 612 yards and five TDs. He\’s thrown only three interceptions. Sophomore split end Jesse Hoover is the leading receiver with 13 receptions for 238 yards and two scores.

Coudersport boasts a tremendous three-man front on defense, Kody Frederick (51 tackles with nine sacks) and Kirk Duffee (57) having been switched from inside linebackers to join standout Isaac Carey (59, five sacks), and a very solid linebacking corps with Drew Levavasseur (69 with two interceptions) and newcomer Carin Knight (13 tackles last week) on the inside and Cavallari (37 with seven sacks) and Decker on the outside.

\”We\’ve got some pretty good athletes there,\” Simcoe said. \”They can run and do a good job of getting to the ball.\”

He noted that surgery was not necessary after Decker sustained a level two tear of his MCL at Curwensville.

\”He rehabbed that and was cleared to play against Port (in Week Five),\” Simcoe said. \”He got his leg caught and twisted, but it actually didn\’t do any more damage to the MCL, just the scar tissue. He rehabbed it again and, he played the whole game on defense last week.\”

Evanko also cited the Falcons\’ defensive front line and linebackers. He said, \”They\’re very strong, and they\’ve just shut people down. You certainly don\’t go through a season undefeated without having a great defense and a great offense.

\”Cavallari is a heck of a back, and Coach Simcoe does a great job of mixing his playcalling. That team is so well disciplined. They block well, run well and don\’t make mistakes. Our defense will have to read their keys and do their job every play. They can\’t relax out there.\”

Curwensville\’s defense has gotten tougher by the week, led by inside linebackers Sipes (61 tackles) and Nathan Russell (47 with five sacks). The secondary came together after safety Philip Michaels (29 tackles, four interceptions) came out in September, with Sopic (32 tackles, five interceptions) moving to corner. Sophomore David Kalgren (48 tackles, three interceptions is the other corner.

\”Coach (Chris) Folmar does a great job with those guys, and they\’ve stepped up and played very well,\” Evanko said of his defensive unit.

He added, \”We\’re a much different football team than when we played the first game. Fundamentally, we\’re better. We block better. We execute better. We have more offensive and defensive packages in there. You evolve as the season goes on, and that happens to any football team.

\”I\’m sure that\’s the same for Coudersport.\”

The Falcons enjoy 7-2 advantage of the Golden Tide, but they\’ve split the last two AML championship games. However, Coudersport has won the last three games, including 41-13 in the AML title game and 28-26 in the 9-A semifinals last year.

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