Maine-Endwell seniors Colin LaSalle and Ben Hodack picked a wonderful occasion to play what may have been the game of their respective lives in Saturday’s 35-13 Class B state semifinal victory against Depew.
LaSalle rushed for 95 yards and two touchdowns, and Hodack was credited with five tackles — his team’s second-best total — with 3.5 of those dropping Depew for negative yardage in cold and windy conditions at Sahlen’s Stadium.
Their combined efforts helped the top-ranked Spartans to a 37th consecutive win and a berth opposite second-ranked Schalmont (Schenectady) in the title game, 3 p.m. Sunday in the Carrier Dome.
LaSalle gained the majority of his yardage on virtually the same play, one headed to his left and against the grain. Five of his 17 carries went for 9 or more yards. As for the root of his success on that oft-called play, coach Matt Gallagher said: “Because our line did a great job.
“Sometimes we ran it with motion, sometimes we didn’t so it’s not super-easy to see what we’re going to do and we get good angles on people. Our guys get to where they need to get to and Colin does a great job of reading his blocks and he’s got great speed. He did that against Binghamton, had a great game against Binghamton, too.”
Hodack’s efforts were most noticeable during a brilliant third-quarter showing, when he either created alone or had a hand in Depew losses for 2, 1, 7 and 3 yards. He had a similar stretch of dominant play in last week’s quarterfinal.
“He did a great job last week, he took advantage of his opportunity and look where it got him,” Gallagher said. “He started again today and he’s going to start (this) week. It’s great to see stuff like that. He’s been with us, been at practice every day, he’s battled, worked hard — and look what’s happened. It’s paying off for him, and us.”
Leading M-E tackler on the day, according to official statisticians’ count, was Alex Wisniewski with seven to go with an interception. A couple of especially ferocious hits drew a good bit of reaction when replayed on the stadium’s huge video screen. “Wiz” clearly had recovered from the week before, when he cramped up and was unable to stand in the waning moments.
“It hurt the day after (the quarterfinal), I’ll tell you what,” he said. “But you know, I drank so much water during the week it was unbelievable. Coach G helped me out during the week. He said he was going to take me out on offense more frequently because there were some plays I was running where it wasn’t necessary for me to run down the field and block. So, focus more on defense because that’s what I’m better at.”
As for the brutal conditions — chunky snow underfoot, biting cold wind — Wisniewski said: “Can’t let it affect you. Weather’s a mental thing, that’s all it is.”
Zimmer carries the load
He may not be a mailman, but whatever the conditions, Chenango Forks’ senior Isaiah Zimmer continues to deliver.
On a frigid, snowy and windy day Saturday that made for a most-difficult playing experience, Zimmer had another big game, carrying the ball 30 times for 130 yards in a 22-0 victory over Cleveland Hill in the state Class C semifinal at Sahlen’s Stadum in Rochester.
It was another heavy workload for Zimmer this postseason. After averaging 18.3 carries in eight games during the regular season, Zimmer has averaged 31 carries over his past four games — consisting of two Section 4 playoff and two state playoff contests — tallying 787 yards and 10 touchdowns during that stretch.
In the first half alone against Cleveland Hill, Zimmer lugged the ball 20 times for 98 yards and two touchdowns, staking the Blue Devils (11-1) to a 13-0 lead.
“The hardest thing was holding onto the ball,” he said of the weather conditions. “Your hands are cold, facemasks to the hands can hurt. But that’s what football’s all about, you just have to go and fight in the trenches.”
Zimmer has proven his toughness countless times over his varsity career, but he also showed a bit of nimbleness on his first touchdown against Cleveland Hill.
On third-and-goal at the Eagles’ 5-yard line, he took a handoff and appeared he might get stopped near the line of scrimmage as a Cleveland Hill defender surged through the line. Instead, Zimmer made a quick spin move to elude him and easily get into the end zone for the score.
“He had a full head of steam coming,” Zimmer said with a smile. “But I knew the only way I would get (by) would be with a spin move.”
The victory moved Forks into its first state title game since 2007, as the Blue Devils managed to get past a semifinal round that had been a bit of a stumbling block in recent years. After reaching five consecutive state Class B finals from 2001-05 — winning back-to-back state titles in 2003-04 — Forks had gone 1-3 in state semifinal games prior to Saturday.
Probably the most surprising aspect of Union-Endicott’s 27-14 loss to Williamsville North in Friday’s Class A semifinal was the Tigers’ inability to get their running game going.
While a howling wind certainly factored in slowing U-E’s passing game to a certain extent, its ground game never really got on track.
U-E rushed for 89 yards, 59 of those coming on its final drive of the game with the outcome in hand. Sammy Davis, who had rushed for 1,575 yards coming into Friday’s game, managed just 39 yards on 12 carries.
“They’re a good physical team, we had a hard time moving the ball on the ground on them,” U-E coach Tom Baleno said. “Toward the end of the game we buttoned some things up and began to move the ball, but it was a little too late. We ran out of time but not out of effort.” …
After opting to play on U-E’s golf team last fall, C.J. Krowiak’s return to the gridiron this season was a huge success.
The senior established a Section 4 single-season record for receiving yards with 1,124. He caught seven passes for 73 yards in the loss to Williamsville North. Though disappointed in the way the season ended, Krowiak found this season to be satisfying overall.
“It felt great. I had a lot of coaches that wanted me to play, and I came out and played,” said Krowiak, a fine multi-sport athlete who will play baseball next year at Binghamton University. “I’m so glad. It was a great team and I love every single one of them.”
Tioga absorbs shocker
Upon conclusion of a 35-6 rout of Tioga in Friday’s Class D semifinal, Randolph coach Brent Brown was asked how his squad held a prolific Tioga offense without a first down in the first half.
“I wish I had an answer– we’d be here every year,” said Brown, head of a program that will look to add this year’s state championship to those captured in 2005, 2009 and last year.
Randolph dominated Tioga to the tune of a 364-156 advantage in yards, and the Tigers were forced to punt seven times. It was a three-TD advantage eight seconds into the second quarter.
“We feel that it’s not that they’re that much better than us, we didn’t execute and that’s a killer,” said Tioga senior Jake Howland. “We can’t come into a game like this and do that.”
“That’s just a really good team, really well-coached and you could tell that tonight,” Tigers coach Nick Aiello said. “They showed why they’re No. 1.”
Elmira’s success story
Despite a 19-6 loss Saturday night to Rochester Aquinas in the Class AA state semifinals, this year’s Elmira football team put the program on the state landscape for the first time.
The Express finished with a 10-1 record, its first Section 4 championship and a state quarterfinal victory over a Syracuse Christian Brothers Academy team that came in ranked second in Class AA by the New York State Sportswriters Association. Elmira did not crack the state rankings until after Week 7 and came into the semifinals holding the No. 10 spot.
“(CBA) was a great squad and we came out and the kids played great,” said second-year Elmira head coach Jimmy McCauley. “We’re playing the best of the best. We made it to the final four of the AAs. Losing is not fun in any way, but we’re trying to keep our heads up.”
Top-ranked Aquinas (12-0) will play Section 9 champion Monroe-Woodbury in the championship game at 6 p.m. Sunday at the Carrier Dome. Aquinas will be seeking its sixth state title.
Elmira’s loss means Section 4 remains without an appearance in the state final in the highest classification since the state tournament began — Class A from 1993 to 1995 and Class AA ever since after the state expanded to a five-class system. Elmira became the fifth Section 4 team to lose in the semifinals in the top class.
The Express will have to replace several seniors who were key cogs on a team that averaged 40 points per game before the loss to Aquinas on a snowy, icy turf at Sahlen’s Stadium in Rochester.
“It was a successful year. We made it into the (state) playoffs,” said McCauley, who will soon turn 29. “I’ve got a great group of seniors. They bust their butts and do everything you want them to do. It kind of stinks losing, but I hope we hold our heads high because I thought we had a great season.”