Unatego’s fourth interception of the day sealed a 20-12 victory against Elmira Notre Dame on Saturday in a Section 4 Class D football semifinal at Alumni Stadium.
After a 1-yard touchdown run by Tanner Winchester gave the Spartans an eight-point lead with 2 minutes, 28 seconds to go, the Crusaders drove to Unatego’s 4-yard line. A 2-yard loss was followed by an interception in the end zone by Corbin Henry.
“Our defense won that game,” Unatego coach Frank Microni said. “They did an awesome job. Joel (VanAlstine) had an interception and was running all over the field. Corbin had the big interception there at the end.”
VanAlstine ran back his interception 72 yards to set up a 6-yard touchdown run by Henry that increased the Spartans’ lead to 14-6 with 8:02 left in the third quarter.
Unatego sophomore quarterback Josh Feyerabend completed 15 of 29 passes for 222 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown toss to Kellen Komenda on fourth-and-16 on the game’s opening drive.
The Spartans (8-1) advance to meet Tioga (9-0) in the Class D final at noon Nov. 9 at Alumni Stadium. The two-time defending champion Tigers are ranked second in the state in Class D and dominated Spencer-Van Etten, 54-0, in Saturday’s first semifinal.
“No. We want to win,” Microni replied when asked if he was satisfied simply getting to the title game with a young team. “(Our players) think they can win next week. I think we can win next week. We wouldn’t come if we didn’t think we could win.”
Notre Dame had five turnovers and finished with a 7-2 record, losing for the first time on the field. The Crusaders, who lost to Unatego last year in the quarterfinals, started the season with a forfeit loss to Tioga because of a lack of eligible players.
“We uncharacterstically made more mistakes this game than we’ve been doing all season and it cost us. But it doesn’t take away anything from what these players accomplished this year,” Notre Dame coach Mike D’Aloisio said.
Notre Dame was down to 16 players by the end of Saturday’s game after star running back Tom Agan was forced to miss the second half with an oblique injury. He ran eight times for 99 yards, with his 60-yard run on the Crusaders’ first offensive play bringing Notre Dame within 7-6.
Freshman Chris Whitson took over for Agan and carried 12 times for 128 yards.
Whitson’s 35-yard run early in the fourth quarter was the big play on an eight-play, 80-yard drive that ended with an 8-yard touchdown run by Derrick Stark. However, for the second time the Crusaders were stopped on a running play on the 2-point attempt and Unatego maintained a 14-12 lead.
The Spartans drove 62 yards on their next drive, culminating with Winchester’s touchdown run on fourth-and-goal at the 1. An 8-yard completion from Feyerabend to Jared Jones on fourth-and-2 at the Crusaders’ 18-yard line preserved the drive. However, the extra-point kick was blocked and Notre Dame still had a shot.
Joe Prunier returned the kickoff 30 yards to the Unatego 44 and Whitson ran 27 yards on the next play. He added an 8-yard run to the 4 with about a minute left. Stark was stopped for a 2-yard loss on the next play before a lofted throw from Hunter Thomas was intercepted in the corner of the end zone by Henry.
“Maybe it was a fitting end how it ended, that we were fighting right to the end, right to the last 30 seconds, moving the ball and looking to score and tie the game up,” D’Aloisio said. “It says a lot about the character, the heart and the pride these kids have in playing in this program.”