Xander Brown protects ball while fighting for extra yards.jpg

Coudersport running back Xander Brown (34) protects the ball while emerging from a group of Otto-Eldred defenders during a District 9 Small School North matchup on Friday in Coudersport, Pa.

COUDERSPORT, Pa. — Two games into the season, the Coudersport football team’s opponents had out-scored the Falcons by a combined two points.

After two losses by margins that couldn’t have been more narrow, however, Coudy sat at 0-2.

The Falcons have now won three of their last four games. And, after a Week 7 comeback victory that was decided by two points, Coudersport’s path to a 3-3 record has been filled with late-game drama.

A season-opening loss to Cameron County preceded a Week 2 setback to Elk County Catholic. Coudy had second-half leads in each contest, a sharp contrast from the 22-point fourth-quarter deficit the Falcons erased Friday against Otto-Eldred.

With a young quarterback, first-year coaching staff and several essential contributors lost to graduation in the offseason, perhaps this Coudy team just needed a couple weeks to get rolling.

“It’s like any new program — it takes awhile for the system to get installed, and we can only integrate our system as quickly as the players can absorb it,” first-year coach Frank Brown said. “They’ve been doing a really great job and they’re playing a lot faster in the system now. It will let them play fast all the time, where they won’t have to think as much as they did earlier on.”

The spring and summer were useful for teaching. However, in implementing new offensive and defensive systems, no substitute could mimic in-game action.

“Once you put the pads on, that’s really when you hit the time clock,” Brown said. “The concepts that we’re trying to teach with contact, it’s important that the kids know we want them to play to the best of their ability, and quickly. When you play faster, you do better, you execute better.”

A mix of veterans and up-and-comers populate Coudy’s starting lineup. Brown called his Falcons a “young” team, but cited that leadership transcends grade levels.

“We have leaders at every grade level,” Brown said. “We talk about, even if you don’t have a captainship, be a captain. The guys all rally around that type of saying.”

Sophomore Gavyn Ayers has fulfilled quarterbacking duties after bursting onto the scene last year as a running back. He hasn’t matched his 7.9 yards per carry from 2020, when he shared the backfield with QB Hayden Keck, but has rushed for 467 yards on 86 attempts this year (5.4-yard average), leading a backfield-by-committee that features a handful of ball carriers.

“He’s not playing like a sophomore,” Brown said. “Everybody needs to understand that, academically, he is a 10th grader. But he carries himself very well and he has already mastered our offensive calls.

“We evolve each week, depending on what happened the previous week and looking at opponents and what we’d like to run, and (Ayers) picks the stuff up like he’s been in the system for a couple of years.”

Dylan Kelly (72 carries for 334 yards), Xander Brown (36 for 163) and Ethan Ott (46 for 236) have each contributed to Coudy’s run-first attack, as have six other players that have recorded at least one carry.

“To be successful at the varsity level, you need to be able to run the football and stop the run,” Brown said. “However, you need to be able to sprinkle in the pass. We have to make sure that not only is (Ayers) comfortable, but the weapons he needs to throw to are comfortable.”

Perhaps on-field comfort and systemic familiarity provided a boost the Falcons needed to finish their three-score comeback against O-E. Two defensive touchdowns, plus a 55-yard touchdown pass from Ayers to James Culvey, fueled the comeback.

“O-E did a great job coaching and executing against us for three quarters,” Brown said. “In the fourth quarter, not one of (our) players held their head. That was a big momentum turner for our season. Every season, you have something you can build off of, and it’s nice to get a couple of wins, but that particular win there… is setting us up for the next week.”

Things don’t get easier for the Falcons from here — they’ll play three of District 9’s best small school teams to finish the regular season (Redbank Valley, Smethport, Union/A-C Valley). But as the D9 playoff picture unfolds, Coudy has put itself in a position to contend after its surprising 1-3 start.

“We want to take the rest of our games and play them like playoff games,” Brown said. “That’s the sense of urgency. Every snap is important for all 11 guys. We need to be able to put together what we did in that fourth quarter against Otto-Eldred, for four quarters. If we can do that, we can be successful.”

Coudy will travel to RBV Friday for a 7 p.m. kick-off.

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