The stench of last week’s lopsided loss to Binghamton was long forgotten by Friday night, as Vestal earned what it so eagerly wanted.
A rematch with Union-Endicott with the Section 4 Class A title at stake.
Luke Wright rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown and the Golden Bears’ defense stifled Horseheads in a 24-6 semifinal victory at Dick Hoover Stadium.
Nick Wegmann passed for 133 yards and a touchdown for Vestal (5-4), which will meet U-E next Friday at Binghamton Alumni Stadium, the title game kicking off at 7. The teams met in Week 5 with U-E prevailing 35-16 in a contest that was knotted at 14 after two quarters before the Tigers eased away in the second half.
Last week, Vestal was overwhelmed by Binghamton, 43-0, in a game it did little right.
It was a different story Friday against Horseheads, a squad it had beaten 44-0 in Week 2.
Mike Chewens got Vestal on the scoreboard late in the first quarter with a 36-yard field goal that would have been good from 46 yards, the kick putting Vestal ahead 3-0 with 2:58 remaining.
Horseheads drove to the Vestal 22 on its ensuing drive. But after a run for no gain on first down, quarterback Trevor Dickinson was sacked for a 7-yard loss and two incompletions followed, halting the drive.
Vestal then went 71 yards in six plays, with Wright scoring on a 33-yard touchdown run to make it 10-0 with 5:57 remaining in the second quarter.
The Golden Bears then dealt a significant blow to Horseheads’ hopes when Chewens took a short pass from Nick Wegmann and sped down the Vestal sideline for a 49-yard touchdown reception just 1:18 into the second half, putting Vestal comfortably ahead 17-0.
Pat Carlin’s 3-yard touchdown run three minutes into the fourth quarter made it 24-0.
“We didn’t play very well last week against a very good Binghamton team,” Vestal coach Tank Anderson said. “We needed to come out and set the stage early and let Horseheads know that we’re ready to play and take the next step.”
Wright’s 111-yard outing highlighted a Vestal rushing attack that garnered 222 yards. The Golden Bears gained 366 yards to Horseheads’ 136.
Horseheads interim coach Kevin Hillman felt the Chewens touchdown to open the second half ultimately turned things Vestal’s way.
“That killed us,” Horseheads interim coach Kevin Hillman said of the Chewens touchdown. “We talked at the half that we’re in this game, playing great defense. Biggest thing was stopping them on defense and getting some momentum offensively to start the second half.
“That play was a punch in the gut right there.”
Dickinson completed five of 14 passes for 57 yards and an interception. He was plagued by several drops that would have sustained some Horseheads drives.
The Blue Raiders finish 2-7. Vestal, meanwhile, now gets the chance to win its first Section 4 title since 2002.
“(It was a) big day for the offensive line, the way we moved the ball was awesome,” Wegmann said. “We’re real excited to get another shot at U-E, I can’t wait.”