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PART II: Redbank and Port Allegany Meet Again, This Time With D9 Class A Championship on the Line

BROCKWAY, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Before the engines on the Port Allegany buses had even cooled, the Gators were down to Redbank Valley 22-0 in the first quarter in their Week 8 meeting.

“They whooped our butt,” said Port Allegany coach Justin Bienkowski of that 57-13 Bulldog mauling on Oct. 13. “They out-coached us. They out-played us. Any other phrase you want to use. But fortunately, Week 8 is no longer and we get another shot.”

(Pictured above, Redbank Valley sophomore quarterback Braylon Wagner should be back on the field after missing last week’s playoff game against Coudersport due to injury/photo by Ripple Photography)

Both Bienkowski and Redbank Valley coach Blane Gold put little stock on what happened a month ago.

The football season is a fluid one; things change from quarter to quarter, let alone week to week.

These two teams are not the same as the ones that squared off on that night.

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Redbank Valley, Keystone, and Union/A-C Valley sports coverage on Explore and is brought to you by Heeter Lumber.

“I would say that was our most complete game of the season,” Gold said. “We scored a touchdown on defense. We scored a touchdown on special teams. And obviously, our offense played very well. And, you know, when things like that happen, you can’t count on all of that happening again.

“It’s going to be a dogfight.”

Port Allegany (10-2) is the defending District 9 Class A champs. Last year, the Gators marched all the way to the PIAA semifinals before finally having that run end.

Even with all the question marks to start the season, Port Allegany is right back in the title game, albeit with new faces at many of the skill position spots.

And now some new wrinkles in its physical attack as a result of what happened in that last meeting with Redbank (10-1).

“We ate some humble pie,” Bienkowski said. “It forced us to take a look in the mirror, where we were at defensively, where we were at offensively, and what our objective was. I mean everyone knows we’re trying to run the football, but it kind of forced us to spice up our offense a little bit more.”

Aiden Bliss has been a beneficiary of that extra seasoning.

Bliss has been on a tear. Even in that Redbank Valley loss, he gained big yardage, rumbling for 179 yards and a pair of scores.

Last week in the semifinal win over Brockway, he rushed for 288 yards on 35 carries and four TDs. On the season, he has 1,558 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns.

“He’s playing his best football right now,” Gold said of Bliss. “When you look at the games down the stretch, (Bliss) is without a doubt taking over games. We saw the same thing against us. People may look at that score and think they didn’t get anything against us, but he had three runs over 23 yards. We have to be better because those things can multiply quickly.”

Port Allegany also has another 1,000-yard rusher in Peyton Styles, who has 1,137 yards and 18 touchdowns.

While Redbank will have its hands full with Port Allegany’s running game, the Gators are preparing for the unenviable task of trying to slow down the Bulldogs’ passing attack.

An attack that should be at full strength again.

Last week, senior wide receiver Mason Clouse stepped in on the fly at the quarterback position with Braylon Wagner and his backups, Jaxon Huffman and Owen Clouse, sidelined.

It worked in a 46-13 win over Coudersport.

Wagner is back this week, Gold said.

“He’s been a full participant in practice,” the coach said. “You’ll see an actual quarterback for us this week.”

When that Bulldog offense has been healthy, it’s been potent.

Wagner has thrown for 2,541 yards and 39 touchdowns in 10 games. Mason Clouse has 51 receptions for 907 yards and 16 TDs, even with a week taking snaps at QB. And Ashton Kahle is inching closer to his own 1,000-yard receiving season with 46 catches for 876 yards and 11 scores.

Redbank has also shown the ability to run the ball when it wants. Drew Byers has 821 yards and 11 TDs.

Once again, Redbank Valley will look to get off to a fast start.

The goal, especially against a physical, run-heavy team like Port, has always been to get up by two scores for Gold and the Bulldogs.

“It was 22-0 before I tied my shoes,” Bienkowski said. “That’s exactly what their game plan is. And they executed that well, to their credit.

“I can’t stress enough this is two physical teams with ton of respect for each other,” Bienkowski said. “We’re trying to impose our concept of running the football and they want to sling it all over. But at the end of the day, they can run the ball, too. They’ll play the game of numbers depending on who is in the box and Byers is no slouch.”

Bienkowski said whoever wins this game — and the D9 title that goes with it — will have earned it.

“For three hours or whatever, we’re gonna try to knock each other out,” Bienkowski said. “But, you know, these are high school kids playing the game the right way. I give them credit for that and their program and there will be a lot of respect going back and forth between the black and orange and the red and white on Friday night.”

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Redbank Valley, Keystone, and Union/A-C Valley sports coverage on Explore and is brought to you by Heeter Lumber.