Ithaca lost standout junior starting quarterback Travis Smith on its second offensive play. The Yellowjackets were also without one of their best receivers — senior Caden Kipp — during a stretch in the first half.
The excuses were there for Ithaca’s 41-game winning streak and reign atop Division 6 to come to and end.
Yet the Yellowjackets wouldn’t let it happen.
Ithaca (14-0) rallied from three first-half deficits to put away Constantine 37-27 on Friday at Ford Field to run the winning streak to 42 and the state titles streak to 3.
“It might be the toughest game we’ve ever been a part of,” Ithaca coach Terry Hessbrook said.
“We knew we were going to get Constantine’s best effort and of course we didn’t know we were going to lose our starting quarterback and one of our starting receivers early in the game, so it was certainly quite a challenge.”
A challenge that was passed again.
After allowing a touchdown to Constantine on the Falcons’ first drive, things quickly got much worse for the Yellowjackets.
That’s when Smith ran up the middle and took a hard helmet hit to his right shoulder at the end of a four yard gain.
Smith quickly grabbed the shoulder as he fell to the ground and stayed on the turf until he was helped to the bench .
Off came Smith’s jersey and pads, his day done shortly after it began as he watched the second half in a sling from the sideline.
In came junior Logan Hessbrook — the coach’s nephew — who was Smith’s back-up during the season and played wide receiver. Hessbrook barely had any work in practice during Ithaca’s four previous playoff games, but had finished out some games at quarterback as the Yellowjackets won eight of their nine regular-season contests by more than 40 points.
“I went over to Travis a lot during the game and he was just saying, ‘You can get it done,’ ” Logan Hessbrook said. “That gave me some confidence coming from our starting quarterback. He’s an All-stater and he’s a great player and it just means a lot coming from Travis.”
Hessbrook accounted for all three of Ithaca’s touchdowns in the first half, getting the Yellowjackets’ high-powered offense on the scoreboard with a 48-yard scoring run to tie the game 7-7 in the first quarter.
Hessbrook then found senior Markes Gadlen for a 30-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 14 and hooked up with Jared Evers for a 22-yard score right before halftime to tie the game at 20.
“I was a little worried, but we knew Logan could do what he needed to do,” Evers said. “We told him, ‘You don’t need to look spectacular, just make the plays and we’ll be alright.’ “
The Ithaca defense, which allowed 287 yards rushing to Constantine in the first half, was a different unit after the break, surrendering just seven more points.
On the Falcons’ first possession of the second half, Ithaca held on a fourth-and-short to get the ball at midfield.
That allowed Logan Hessbrook to get the offense in a rhythm, and he capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to give Ithaca its first lead.
A blocked punt in the fourth quarter set up a Sage DeMull field goal to put the Yellowjackets up 30-20.
Evers, who averaged almost eight yards per carry, had a 31-yard touchdown run on a fourth-and-short to give Ithaca a 17-point lead and some breathing room .
Logan Hessbrook finished with 113 yards rushing on 23 carries and threw for 104 yards while accounting for four touchdowns.
“You don’t have a quality program like coach Hessbrook’s without having kids that are capable of coming in,” Constantine coach Shawn Griffith said. “That’s a great football team. You don’t win 42 straight football games because you’ve got one good player.”