CLARION, Pa. (EYT/D9) — It started all the way back in August under a scorching sun.
It ended in December under a chilly, dark sky.
But the conclusion didn’t come for the Port Allegany football team without a fight.
Port made District 7 champion Union Area (New Castle) uncomfortable.
Leads of 28-6 and 40-14 didn’t see quite enough as the Gators rallied each time to threaten the Scotties.
Ultimately, though, Port just ran out of time — in the game and in its season — in a 46-36 loss in the PIAA Class A semifinal on Friday night at Clarion University.
Port Allegany (12-2) took a 6-0 lead on a 2-yard run by Blaine Moses. The drive was kept alive by three key conversions on third down, including one on a big pass play from Drew Evens to Peyton Stiles.
Union (12-3), though, answered.
The Scotties dangerous quarterback, Braylon Thomas, tossed a 5-yard touchdown pass to Dayne Johnke on fourth down to knot the score at 6-6.
On its next possession, Union struck again on a 32-yard touchdown scamper by Matt Stanley.
The backbreaker for Port came at the end of the first half when Johnke caught a 31-yard touchdown pass on a desperation heave from Kaden Fisher with no time remaining for a 20-6 lead at the half.
Fisher was filling in for Thomas, who left the game in the second quarter after slamming his head on the Memorial Stadium turf. Thomas returned at the start of the second half.
That third quarter began with another scoring drive by Union, culminated by a 21-yard TD strike from Thomas to Maddox Thompson on a fourth-and-15 play. That put the Scotties up 28-6 and it looked like Port was dead in the water.
Well, not so fast.
The Gators struck back quickly to begin a wild fourth quarter.
Stiles scored on a 3-yard run to cut the Union lead to 28-14.
Union scored the next two touchdowns less than a minute apart.
Fisher sacked Evens, forced a fumble, scooped it up and scored from 65 yards out to increase the Scotties’ lead to 34-14 with 8:37 left to play.
Port Allegany fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Union quickly made the Gators pay with a 38-yard TD run by Mike Gunn to move ahead 40-14 with 7:46 on the clock.
Evens hit Noah Archer on a 14-yard TD pass, but Gunn again scored on a long run (48 yards) to put Union up 46-22.
Again, Port would not go quietly.
The Gators scored two touchdowns less than 30 seconds apart with less than two minutes in the game.
Moses rumbled into the end zone from the 8. Then, after Port recovered the onside kick, Moses plowed in from the 1. The 2-point conversion failed and Port was still down by two scores, 46-36, with 1:26 remaining.
The Gators failed to recover the next onside kick and Union was able to run out the clock and survive.
The loss ends a storybook run for Port Allegany, which had won just nine games from 2016-2020 before a 6-5 campaign and a District 9 playoff win a season ago.
This year, Port lost in Week 2 to eventual D9 Class 3A champ Central Clarion and then ran the table to the Class A crown.
The Gators rolled last week to a 42-8 win over District 10 champ Reynolds to advance the the semifinals for the first time in a decade.
The game was also the last for Port Allegany’s “Big Three.”
Evens, Moses and Archer were the linchpins of the Gator offense. They were also standouts on defense.
Moses was also a star on defense at linebacker with 132 tackles heading into the state semifinals.
Evens and Archer combined for eight interceptions.