First off, it was not a great game, as those not present may hear from those who confuse tremendous atmosphere with terrific football.
Anticipation, attendance, tone, setting, decibel level — check! Not since Sept. 29 and Nov. 2, 2007, when Forks and CV clashed and re-clashed, have these eyes and ears been privileged to do sideline detail for a football rivalry that had an old-school, “this really matters” feel of community investment.
“Go with 4,750,” was M-E athletic director Dave Cook’s estimate of those on hand, given ticket-takers’ input. Pre-game, he shared that 2,750 was the high-water mark since M-E refurbished its stadium, and that was for the first contest on the synthetic turf field.
Saturday brought Maine-Endwell 28, Union-Endicott 7 — by rights with an asterisk, as the shutout spoiler came via a three-play, 69-yard cash-in with mild resistance provided by a full compliment of M-E reserves.
Oh, and that melee that prompted officials to prudently cut play short with 22 or so seconds on the clock? How ’bout let the eye in the sky reveal the facts, and encourage the respective sides to deal accordingly. The camera lens neither fibs, fabricates, turns a blind eye nor takes sides.
Interesting? Intense? Emotional? Compelling? The contest was all of the above.
Great? Nope — with the exception of 46 or so minutes worth of big-play Maine-Endwell defense against an opponent that had generated 41 points per game the previous seven weekends.
A quarter in, it was 14-0, and 2:41 into the fourth it was 21-0 after M-E turned the latest U-E turnover into a 68-yard drive for its third touchdown.
The Spartans emerged with the program’s 20th consecutive win and
No. 1 Class B state ranking unquestioned, but with too many rolls of tape expended to do their state-playoff ambitions a bit of good.
Especially hurtful, potentially, was the sight of offensive, defensive and special-teams ace Luis Uceta walking gingerly off the field, left shoe removed, under eight minutes into play. The ankle injury was evidently incurred as he battled for additional yardage after an 8-yard rush. Do know, coaches are likely to advise their 161-pound playmaker supreme on future Saturdays to go to the deck and rise for another play.
Uceta was re-inserted for one defensive play, on which he made the solo tackle but hobbled from snap to whistle. He was supported by a pair of crutches after
de-padding at halftime.
And the player who hopped into the offensive backfield for Uceta, Darnell Woolfolk, dinged his ankle but taped up and played through. Oh, what a fright he threw into the home sideline when he went down and required medical assistance on the opening play of the final quarter. Cramps, it turned out.
The outcome turned, in large part, on M-E’s ability to absorb an offensive haymaker or three from U-E, yet deny the Tigers passage across the goal line.
The Spartans were tagged with a 41-yard how-do-ya-do pass from Joey Orlando to Nahjee Miller on the second play from scrimmage, but took possession of the ball after holding U-E to zero yardage on three plays from their 14.
Another Orlando-to-Miller 41-yarder advanced the ball to M-E’s 16 late in the second quarter. But four plays later, linebacker Nick Sorrenti intercepted a fourth-and-4 pass from the 10 after two teammates had tipped the football airborne.
A 42-yard delivery from Orlando — possibly one of the most improved players around from sophomore to junior year — came with a bit over two minutes to play in the third quarter and left U-E to set up at the Spartans’ 38.
That drive ended when Adam Gallagher darted in front of the intended receiver to intercept and give the hosts possession at their 32-yard line for the final play of the quarter.
The final U-E drive of any consequence ended, after a couple of dropped passes, with Woolfolk swatting away a fourth-down pass with 7:57 remaining.
“Just very proud of the way we reacted when they hit quick and took us down on the 20 or wherever it was, we got our sea legs under us and played — both times,” said assistant coach Gary Crooks, overseer of
“That’s this group’s character. We haven’t had a real push, and then we get pushed, Luis goes out, Darnell gets banged up, we lose the other corner so we’re playing with two makeshift corners, Kyle (Gallagher) jumps in at safety … “
Kyle Gallagher was inserted in M-E’s dime package as a second safety to go with Alec Wisniewski, who was one more significant contribution waiting to happen most of the afternoon.
“I think the best part of our team is our defense, we’re just tough,” Wisniewski said. “We preach that every game, how tough we are. Even when we get big plays on us, our toughness — as you saw on those goal-line stops — we can be tougher than the other team and we can stop them.”
Said linebacker Sorrenti: “They were an undefeated team for a reason. We knew that they had big-play capability, we do as well. Our defense knows how to live up to expectations.”
This was a U-E squad that had dumped 35, 43 and 33 points, respectively, on Vestal, Binghamton and Corning the previous three weekends. So, what amounted to a shutout was meaningful.
The unfortunate, unsightly and wholly unnecessary ugliness that brought premature stoppage of play came after David Zielewicz and Jake Haddock combined for a sack of Orlando on a second-down play from M-E’s 47.
That followed U-E’s touchdown and subsequently successful onside kick.
Players both upright and prone scrapped in a messy scrum before being separated, and the respective head coaches voiced their displeasure with one another from a dozen or so yards apart.
That a pointless stain was attached to the most anticipated game in Section 4 this season is regrettable. Hats off to the officials who pulled the plug on what might have grown nastier.