On Spectacular Sunday in the Dome, one extraordinary football classic unfolded — only to be trumped by the next.
Three hours apart, Chenango Forks and Maine-Endwell matched one-point victories on an afternoon that brought twin state championships to go with theater not even the most flamboyant imagination would dare script.
There was the two-point conversion that wasn’t. Then the one that was.
There was a thoroughly exhausted “Ironman” on the verge of losing his pre-game meal, and later a bum-winged quarterback
summoning the numbing powers of fortitude to pitch his team to a title.
There was Flyin’ Wiz, defying gravity and self-preservation to make the most astonishingly athletic play seen under the bubble that day. And there was the sheer force of Z-Man, burrowing powerfully through fellow big boys to make a play of even greater significance.
There were shocks absorbed: A kickoff-return touchdown allowed by Forks, then what coulda/shoulda been a crusher of a punt-return TD permitted by M-E.
Chants and groans, shrieks of surprise and chin-to-chest chagrin. Held-breath, hands-grasped, squinty-eyed torment as footballs popped free, tackles were broken, and tiny chain links determined first downs gained or narrowly missed.
The doubleheader lacked nothing, save for relief from exorbitant price tags hanging from the venue — i.e., $10 for a parking space an uphill climb from another $10 whack at the gate. For a high school sporting event? Please!
Forks was first to the field against Rye Neck, a Westchester County opponent that some figured to bring a happy-to-be-here acceptance of its fate, given the program’s first-time state-playoff appearance. Thing was, someone forgot to tell the Panthers that they were up against a program in search of a 20th state-playoff win and third championship.
The first half passed and it was a 21-apiece standoff. And that was with Rye Neck gift-wrapping a Forks touchdown by failing to execute a startlingly ill-advised fourth-and-5 punt fake from its own 36-yard line.
But the Blue Devils did what superior teams do: They got better at halftime, in part because the adults doing the talking during that respite know their business, inside and out, and the boys do as they’re told.
Forks went ahead for good when seemingly indefatigable fullback Isaiah Zimmer rushed
7 yards for a touchdown
3 minutes, 35 seconds into the fourth quarter.
It was one of his three scores, and came on one of his 39 carries.
“He’s Ironman. He’d run every single play if he needed to,” quarterback John Colm Sweeney said. “We do a lot of conditioning, and also he’s just tough, a tough kid, a tough runner. And he’s really competitive.”
But even Ironman has his limitations. Of one particularly demanding second-half stretch, Zimmer said, “I was tired. I was about ready to throw up. I was gone. I wasn’t expecting it to be as hot in here as it was, actually. But, I just wanted to play football, I just wanted to run.”
Rye Neck answered with a touchdown and, trailing by a point with 4:02 remaining, opted for a two-point conversion. Enter Forks’ Mike Zurenda — 6-2, 220 pounds, tough as a three-dollar steak — to crash though the offensive front and tug down the ball carrier with a grasp of his legs.
Then Forks ran, and ran some more, nickel-and-diming Rye Neck until the clock read next-to-nothing and the Blue Devils were atop the state’s pile, as they were in 2003 and 2004.
Next up, Maine-
Endwell vs. Schalmont, a fast-on-fast squad that operated its offense as
if the bus was double-parked, or the fellas were up against strict curfew back in Schenectady.
These were the Spartans of M-E, winners of 37 in a row and state champions each of the past two years. This was the Dome, where about all they do is win.
Except, then the first half happened, and they fumbled away the football thrice, had mucho trouble advancing said football, and trailed 14-0.
Jake Sinicki — more on him shortly — was asked: Who were those guys in the white jerseys in the first half? “I think that was our seventh-grade modified team,” he said — cracking himself up, by the way. “That wasn’t Maine-Endwell football, I’ll tell you that much.”
The real Spartans emerged from halftime, fought into a tie, but fell in arrears again by allowing that punt-return score for a 21-14 Schalmont lead. At the time, it appeared about all New York’s longest active football win streak had left was 88 seconds worth of game clock and tenuous life support.
Ah, but then the coolest customer in uniform did his thing, separated throwing shoulder be damned.
Quarterback Kyle Gallagher did what leaders do, what winners do. He led. He won.
Gallagher drove M-E 75 yards on nine plays in 1:19 for a touchdown pass to Sinicki streaking across the end zone. Along the way came a pass that Alec Wisniewski rose — and rose, and rose some more — to grab over two defenders along the Sabres’ sideline for a 19-yard gain. Perfectly remarkable!
Schalmont’s lead was 21-20. Four seconds remained. Conventional wisdom screamed “Kick the football!”
Matt Gallagher, M-E’s coach and Kyle’s old man, decided otherwise.
“We were going to kick it,” Coach G said. “Then I brought it up and we kind of chatted about it and I said, ‘Know what? We’re going to do it. We’re going to put the ball in the hands of the guys who got us here.'”
And so they did, and Kyle delivered a wee flip to an inexplicably open Darnell Woolfolk for the streak-preserving, title-clinching couple points.
Sinicki — through
his alter ego
@White_Mamba30 — summed it up on the Twitter: “Safe to say that the football gods wanted us to win today.”
Kyle Gallagher attributed the final drive to the art of preparation.
“We do two-minute every week, and the coaches always do a good job of getting us ready,” he said. “They always make the situation way harder than it has to be. And it paid off. When we were out there, it was easier than we had in practice, which is what you want.”
A Broome County sweep for the ages was complete.
David Hogan, Forks coach, good guy from hat to heels and an educator who gets the bigger picture, used the following to sum up the day. His words apply to both state champions.
“Just being so close to these kids makes it that much better, that much more special,” he said. “I think we do it the right way, I think the kids buy in year after year. The kids buy into what we’re doing, they do exactly what we ask. It’s always, ‘Yes sir, whatever.’
“They work hard and we do it the right way, and that just makes it that much more special. And hopefully they learn something and carry
that on in life as well because there are no shortcuts. I think our kids, this group for sure, knows that.”