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Union advances to first state football championship

Tagged under: District 7, District 9, Gameday Hub, News, Playoffs

| December 3, 2022


Clarion – The Union Scotties are heading to the state football championship for the first time.

Union continues its incredible postseason run with a 46-36 victory over District 9 Champion Port Allegany to advance to the school’s first football state championship.

“It’s about the kids, the school, and the community,” said Union head coach Kim Niedbala. “To be able to advance to a state championship game here at Clarion, where I played college football, means a lot, but this isn’t about me. I’m proud of my guys for their accomplishments this season thus far.”

The Scotties rallied from an early deficit and took advantage of five turnovers by the Gators to punch their ticket to Cumberland Valley next Thursday at 1 PM against Steelton Highspire.

“I haven’t watched one ounce of film on Steelton, but I’m sure they’re the real deal, Niedbala. “They’ve been number one all season, so we’ll be looking forward to the challenge.”

Union’s 20-0 run through the second quarter gave the Scotties a 20-6 halftime lead punctuated by Dayne Johnke’s 32-yard touchdown pass from Kaden Fisher on the first half’s final play.


Midway through the second quarter, with the game tied at six, Union starting quarterback Braylon Thomas went down with an injury that forced Matt Stanley to run out of the wildcat formation.

Two plays following Thomas’s injury and Stanley broke free for a 32-yard touchdown giving Union their first lead at 12-6 with 6:04 to play in the first half. Stanley rushed for 92 yards on 12 carries, including 91 yards on ten rushes in the first half.

“We’ve used Matt Stanley and Mike Gunn in the wildcat a lot this season,” Niedbala said. “We have used all three of them. It’s just that Braylon throws the ball a lot more and has the stats. We work on that every week, so we were still comfortable even after the injury because we knew what we would do.”

After forcing a turnover on downs at the Scotties’ 37-yard line, Union drove at the Port Allegany 32-yard line with seven seconds to play in the first half when Kaden Fisher stepped in at quarterback and heaved the ball to the end zone, where Johnke made a toe-tap catch as the first half clock expired.

“That was a situation where we were just going to throw it up, and credit to Dayne he made an outstanding catch,” said Niedbala. “That’s huge to be able to go into the locker room like that.”

Both teams went on lengthy drives that ate up the entire first quarter.

Port Allegany took the football and drove 61 yards in 11 plays, with Blaine Mose opening the scoring on a 3-yard run.

Likewise, Union’s initial drive went 60 yards in 12 plays as Braylon Thomas connected with Dayne Johnke on a 5-yard touchdown pass on fourth down early in the second stanza.

Braylon Thomas returned at quarterback for the second half and helped Union extend their lead when he tossed a 21-yard touchdown pass to Maddox Thompson to begin the second half.


Union held a 28-6 lead after three quarters and scored on their first four possessions of the game.

“We knew their athleticism, and we knew how dynamic they were and well-coach,” said Port Allegany head coach Justin Benkowski. “Any time you have coach Palko over there walking your sidelines, that shows a lot about your program. Our guys had every reason to roll over and die in the fourth quarter, and they didn’t – but we tried to minimalize splash plays, but we couldn’t.”

Port Allegany would respond with a touchdown to begin the fourth quarter when Payton Stiles scored from three yards out.

Things got interesting when Noah Archer intercepted a Thomas pass at the Gators’ 38-yard on Union’s next drive.

The Gators drove to the Scotties’ 26-yard line, where on 2nd-and-10, Kaden Fisher stripped the ball from Gators quarterback Drew Evens and raced 63 yards for a touchdown.

“That was probably the game’s biggest play,” said Niedbala. “They did have the momentum following a touchdown and a defensive stop. We were up 14, and they were driving, and when Kaden made that play, it put us up by 20 and was the biggest play as far as I’m concerned.”

Things then went from bad to worse for Port Allegany as they fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and one play later, Mike Gunn scored on a 38-yard run.

The Gators had five turnovers in the game.

“I always talk about how forcing turnovers is the key,” Niedbala said. “You have to be able to get turnovers, and you can’t turn the ball over, and that is what this game came down to tonight.”

The Gators would respond with a touchdown pass from Evens to Archer from 13 yards. Drew Evens completed 18-of-25 passes for 205 yards and a touchdown, while Archer caught 13 passes for 135 yards, including 12 for 132 in the second half.


After forcing a punt, Evens was intercepted by Johnke, and again Union needed only a single play to capitalize as Gunn ripped off a 42-yard touchdown. Mike Gunn rushed for 95 yards on ten carries, with 92 coming in the second half.

“We were able to move the ball well tonight and break a couple of long runs,” Niedbala said. “We were able to execute well and take advantage of many of those turnovers tonight.”

The Gators scored 30 points in the fourth quarter but couldn’t overcome the turnovers.

“We run our tempo offense in practice, and when we went to that in the fourth quarter, we were able to have some success,” Benkowski said. “We talked about the turnovers all week and that you can’t afford to do that. We shot ourselves in the foot at the most inopportune times tonight.”

Port Allegany would close the scoring with two touchdowns in the final two minutes as Blaine Moses scored on a 7-yard run, then added a 1-yard following a successful onside kick recovery.

The Gators never punted in the game but couldn’t overcome five turnovers.

Port Allegany closes its season at 12-2.

“These kids have given me their all this entire season and my seniors for their entire career,” Benkowski concluded. “I couldn’t be more proud of guys and what this group accomplished this season.”

Game Highlights:


Union 46 Port Allegany 36

Score by Quarters

Union – 0 20 8 18 – 46

Port Allegany – 6 0 0 30 – 36

Scoring Summary

First Quarter

PA – Blaine Moses 3 yd run, (kick failed), 6:04

Second Quarter

U – Dayne Johnke 5 yd pass from Braylon Thomas, (rush failed), 10:35

U – Matt Stanley 32 yd run, (rush failed), 6:04

U – Johnke 32 yd pass from Kaden Fisher, (Stanley rush), 0:00

Third Quarter

U – Maddox Thompson 21 yd pass from Thomas, (Gunn from Thomas), 6:27

Fourth Quarter

PA – Payton Stiles 3 yd run, (Moses rush), 11:54

U – Fisher 63 yd fumble return, (pass failed), 8:37

U – Mike Gunn 38 yd run, (rush failed), 7:46

PA – Noah Archer 13 yd pass from Drew Evens, (Moses rush), 6:34

U – Gunn 42 yd run, (rush failed), 5:08

PA – Moses 7 yd run, (Archer rush), 1:54

PA – Moses 1 yd run, (rush failed), 1:26

Individual Stats

Rushing: U – Thomas 13-62, Stanley 12-92, Gunn 10-95, Thompson 1-0, Andrew Cartwright 1-(-6), Team 1-0. Totals: 38-243. PA – Moses 14-82, Noah Archer 8-26, Drew Evens 14-20, Stiles 1-3, Team 1-(-9). Totals: 38-122

Receiving: U – Gunn 3-28, Johnke 3-53,  Thompson 2-28. PA – Peyton Stiles 2-29, Archer 13-135, Aiden Bliss 1-32, Nick Wilfong 1-9, Moses 1-3.

Passing: U – Thomas 7-for-9, 70 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, Fisher 1-for-1, 32 yards, 1 TD. PA – Evens 18-for-25, 205 yards. 1 TD, 1 INT.

Interceptions: U – Johnke. PA – Archer.

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