By Matthew Wakefield
PORTVILLE Randolph and Portville the preseason favorites in Class D East appeared to be on a collision course throughout the regular season, posting identical 6-0 records heading into their showdown for the division title Friday night.
The showdown, as it turned out, was over before the first quarter ended.
Taking advantage of the short-handed Panthers who were without five starters who were suspended for disciplinary reasons the Cardinals rolled to a 37-0 lead in the first quarter and coasted to a 52-0 victory and the Class D East title.
''I think what you saw there was a little bit of the difference between a football team that's doing pretty good and having a real good season and a team that this is about halfway through their season,'' Portville coach Gary Swetland said.
Among the missing starters for Portville were two linemen and a tight end and their absence showed as Randolph piled up 19 sacks. With their depleted line, the Panthers tried a shotgun offense with an empty backfield and five wide receivers, but quarterback Colt Lowe rarely had time to throw the football as Randolph linemen repeatedly got into the offensive backfield.
Andrew Grover led the relentless attack for the Cardinals, tallying eight tackles and six sacks, while Thomas Cornell had nine tackles and four sacks and Ben Fluent had six tackles, 3 sacks and an interception.
''One day you're unbeaten and you're playing well and the next day just about everything that can go wrong does,'' Swetland said. ''I can't say that anybody wasn't competing hard but the reality is we're very, very youthful up front and there were matchups there that we couldn't fix fast enough.''
The Cardinals intercepted four Portville passes in all and turned them into quick scores, particularly in a first period in which they scored every time they had the ball.
In those opening 12 minutes, the Panthers could do almost nothing right while the Cardinals could do almost nothing wrong.
''I felt bad that they were short-handed and you could see right off it was really hurting them,'' Randolph coach Pat Slater said.
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The Panthers' first possession ended with a fumble, which the Cardinals quickly turned into a Brent Robbins touchdown run less than two minutes into the game. Nick Milliman tacked on the extra point he went 6-for-6 for the game and Randolph went on top, 7-0.
Portville's second possession ended with a blocked punt and Robbins scored from the 2-yard line three plays later for a 14-0 lead.
The Panthers allowed a safety on their next possession and then gave up a 43-yard touchdown run by Mason Burch to trail, 23-0, halfway through the first quarter.
Robbins, who finished with 10 carries for 164 yards and four touchdowns, tacked on a 17-yard touchdown run a few minutes later and Burch, who had 11 carries for 103 yards and two touchdowns, added a 5-yard score with 12 seconds remaining in the opening period.
The Panthers had only allowed 30 points all season before giving up 37 in the first quarter against Randolph.
The Portville offense, meanwhile, failed to get anything going in the first or any quarter, finishing with just 24 total yards, including minus-27 on the ground.
''We hoped it wouldn't be that rough but the reality of it is it was that rough,'' Swetland said. ''There was nothing else we could do. (The offensive formation) was a shot to try to get people spread out and make them play in space as much as possible but you still have to keep the sharks off the chum and were just weren't able to keep the sharks off the chum.''
Along with Fluent, who made a nice one-handed interception and nearly returned it for a touchdown, Chris Wadsworth, George Pitchford and Brady Morrison also had interceptions for the Cardinals.
The only negative for Randolph on the night was losing four fumbles.
''We've got to hope we can get better,'' Slater said. ''We're still making a few mental mistakes and we had a few turnovers with a lack of concentration a couple times. But the intensity will pick up as you move on.''
Both teams will move on to the playoffs, which begin next weekend. Randolph hasn't had any close games during the regular season, which is a bit of a concern for Slater.
''That's going to be something that we've got to work on,'' Slater said. ''We have to realize now that those games might be over. You're going to be in tough games and you're going to be playing the full 48 minutes and you've got to be prepared to play and not lose your mind when difficult things happen.''