CURWENSVILLE — It\’s not a surprise to most District 9 Class A football fans that the 2006 championship game has boiled down to a rematch of a rematch between undefeated and No. 1 seed Coudersport and No. 3 seed Curwensville, the first time in 60 years two Pennsylvania schoolboy teams have played three times in a season, according to a www.D9Sports.com preview that credited state football historian Don Black\’s research.
It\’s also not a surprise that most consider the 12-0 Falcons a solid favorite for the 5 p.m. game Saturday at Clarion University\’s Memorial Stadium.
After all, the defending champions are responsible for both of the 10-2 Golden Tide\’s losses, 20-12 in the season opener at Curwensville and 14-6 three weeks ago in the Allegheny Mountain League championship at Coudersport. And just last year, the Falcons defeated the Golden Tide 41-13 in the AML title game and then eliminated coach Andy Evanko\’s team from the playoffs 28-26 an exciting 9-A semifinal.
Curwensville, which won the AML South Division crown, is making its fourth appearance in the 9-A title game by virtue of wins over sixth seed Ridgway 35-12 and second seed Redbank Valley 32-7. The Golden Tide trailed 7-6 at halftime last week, but the combination of a game-ending injury to Bulldog standout quarterback Jake Smith late in the second quarter and long touchdown runs by Nick Sipes and Shawn Sopic in the third period made the final outcome one-sided. Redbank Valley, the Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference runner-up to Class AA Karns City, rated the second seed because each league is guaranteed one of the top two spots for the 9-A playoffs.
Coudersport, which has become a dynasty in the AML North Division, needed a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns to pull away from eighth seed Clarion 32-14 and then erased an early 7-0 deficit to turn back fourth seed Johnsonburg 34-14.
Keys to the Golden Tide ending the Falcons\’ hex will be solving one of the stingiest defenses in the state and keeping the game close through intermission. Both games this year have resulted in Coudy scoring all of its points while keeping Curwensville off the board in the first 24 minutes.
In the opener, the Falcons cashed their first two possessions on TD runs by Chris Cavallari for a 12-0 lead and then, after a goal line interception by Colton Corey, stung the Golden Tide defense with a 99-yard touchdown pass from Boomer Wetzel to Logan Hathaway for a 20-0 cushion early in the second period. Curwensville spent most of the second half in Coudy territory but was held to a pair of TDs by Sipes.
After a scoreless first period in the AML championship showdown, the Falcons drove 69 yards in 14 plays for a TD, stuffed Sipes at the Golden Tide 39 on a fourth-down gamble by Evanko and quickly struck again for a 14-0 lead. Cavallari accounted for both scores. Curwensville didn\’t reach the red zone until the fourth quarter when Sipes carried on 10 of the 11 plays in the 64-yard drive he capped with a TD in the only game this year he hasn\’t scored at least two times.
Coudersport boasts the state\’s No. 7 defense in points allowed (71) at 5.9 a game. That\’s third best in Class A.
The Falcons\’ front seven is rock solid, especially since Kirk Duffee and Kody Frederick were moved from linebacker to join Isaac Cary on the line. The linebacker corps is tough inside with Drew Levavasseur and Carin Knight and speedy on the outside with Cavallari and Sam Decker, who was injured in the first game and really didn\’t return to the mix until the end of the regular season.
Leading tacklers for the Falcons are Levavasseur with 95, Duffee with 78, Cary with 68 and Frederick with 61. Cavallari, Knight, safety Cory and cornerback Dirk Cowburn each have more than 40. Frederick and Cavallari top the sacks list with 12 apiece, while Cary has nine. Cory, Cowburn and Derek Burdick, the other cornerback, share the interceptions lead with four each.
On offense, Coudersport has ramped up the passing attack in the post-season after relying almost exclusively on Cavallari\’s running during the regular season.
D9Sports.com statistics show Cavallari, second only to Sipes in the district, with 255 carries for 1,626 and 18 touchdowns. A wideout who became the workhorse back after Decker was injured, he rushed for 298 yards in the two Curwensville games. A distant second in rushing for the Falcons is fullback Adam Foust with 47 carries for 255 yards and four TDs. Knight also had developed into a late-season threat with 225 yards and two TDs for 31 totes.
After passing for only 593 yards through the AML championship game, including 194 against Curwensville, Coudy\’s alternating junior quarterbacks jolted Clarion and Johnsonburg for 393 yards the last two weeks. All five touchdowns last week came via the airlanes as Justen Kinder hit eight off 11 passes for 144 yards and three scores and Wetzel connected on six of 10 for 97 yards and two scores. For the season, Wetzel is 35-for-76 for 566 yards and eight TDs, while Kinder is 27-for-67 for 373 yards and five TDs.
Hathaway is the receiver the Golden Tide must neutralize, for he\’s turned his 20 receptions into 364 yards and seven TDs. Cavallari has 15 catches for 180 yards and three TDs and Decker is becoming more involved with seven catches for 148 yards and one TD.
Curwensville counters with an offense predicated on the running of Sipes and the running and passing of Sopic. The pair of four-year lettermen has accounted for 3,563 of the Golden Tide\’s 4,182 yards.
Sipes has soared to the top of the District 9 all-time rushing (5,881), touchdown (83) and scoring lists with his senior season of 1,905 yards and 30 TDs for 312 carries. He has 35 consecutive 100-yard games and is one more big game away from becoming only the 17th Pennsylvania schoolboy to rush for 6,000 yards.
Sopic, though not receiving nearly as much fanfare as Sipes, has turned into the finest all-around quarterback in Curwensville history, as the Golden Tide\’s 33-8 record since he became the starter midway through his freshman season. His career totals are 250 carries for 1,527 yards and 20 TDs and 130 completions for 311 passes for 2,310 yards and 27 TDs. This year, he\’s rushed for 877 yards and seven TDs on 115 tries and passed for 781 yards and seven TDs, with 37 completions in 94 attempts.
However, Coudersport has been able to keep the two Curwensville stars in check. Sipes has found the running lanes jammed up on the majority of his carries and has had to work hard for his 274 yards in 56 plays. Sopic has been held to 24 net yards for 26 plays while completing six of 17 passes for 72 yards.
The Golden Tide\’s other options include fullback Brandon Hess, 86 caries for 413 yards and four TDs and six receptions for 123 yards and one TD, and wideout Jesse Hoover, 16 receptions for 350 yards and three TD.
Curwensville\’s defense doesn\’t have the numbers to match Coudy\’s, but it is very solid, many of the 130 points it has allowed coming after the first unit went to the sidelines.
Inside linebackers Sipes (90 in 11 games) and Nathan Russell (69) are the leading tacklers, while cornerback David Kalgren is next with 59 to go with four interceptions. Cornerback Sopic, among the district\’s interception leaders with seven, and outside linebacker Matt Holland are approaching the 50-tackle total. Safety Philip Michaels, who has six interceptions, and outside linebacker Hess have reached the 40-tackle mark.
EXTRA POINTS — Curwensville is 2-1 in 9-A title games, beating Clarion 23-0 in 2000 and Clarion-Limestone 41-8 in 2004 and losing to Coudersport 18-13 in 2001… Coudy lost in 9-AA championship games in 1988 and 1990 before dropping to Class A and claiming titles with victories over Smethport 21-20 in 1994, Curwensville in 2001 and Clarion 31-7 last year… Since losing 26-14 to Curwensville in the 2004 AML championship game, Coudersport has won 24 consecutive games against District 9 opponents and is 25-1 overall… For the record, the last time two teams met three times in one season was 1946, Susquehannock against the West York junior varsity. If you go back 93 seasons, Coudersport beat Port Allegany 6-2, 1-0 and 24-6.