Turns out, it was a no-doubter that Newark Valley’s playoff fate would ride with the foot of a young man who’d not converted a field goal all season.
Facing fourth-and-goal from Lansing’s 12-yard line on Saturday’s second possession of overtime, the Cardinals initially aligned as if to run or pass. But after an unsuccessful attempt to draw the Bobcats offside, a timeout was called and the field goal unit assembled.
A Blake Novi-to-Vinnie Darpino snap was true, and Connor Coleman’s 29-yard kick was on the mark, sending Newark Valley to a 17-14 win and a berth opposite Chenango Forks in Saturday’s Section 4 Class C final.
“When we came out for the coin toss we knew that we wanted to have the ball second, so that if we had the opportunity we could just kick the ball because we have confidence in our kicker,” Darpino said. As for the fourth-down decision? “We were kicking the whole time.”
It seems during kicking practice Thursday, Coleman demonstrated a sufficient success ratio from 45 yards to suggest that the 29-yarder would be well within his range
“Being at the hash mark wasn’t really our ideal situation, either, but he nailed it,” coach Brian Sherwood said.
The winning kick wasn’t necessarily Play of the Game. That might also have gone to Nick Schermerhorn, who intercepted a second-down pass to squelch Lansing’s OT bid, or to David Crow for his indescribably agile move to leap between defenders, make the catch and retain possession on the turf. That gem came on fourth-and-4 from Lansing’s 40 and led to the tying TD and PAT with 31.7 seconds remaining.
“I was right next to him. I’ve never felt a moment in football like that,” Coleman said. “He’s got great hands. He’s a wrestler but he jumps well, too.”
He was older brother Kyle’s favorite receiver during Maine-Endwell’s three state-championship seasons, but this season Adam Gallagher has done the vast majority of his damage offensively as a ball carrier.
However, in M-E’s thrilling 13-6 victory over Susquehanna Valley on Saturday in a Section 4 Class B semifinal, it was just like old times for Gallagher.
After SV drew within 7-6 on Marquis Jackson’s touchdown with 1:41 remaining in the third quarter, M-E responded with a 13-play, 81-yard touchdown drive.
On the drive, Gallagher caught three passes from quarterback Kyle Balmer for 55 yards — all coming on third down — including a 9-yard touchdown reception with 7:02 remaining for the game’s final points.
“It’s one of those things where you put the game in the hands of guys that got you there,” coach Matt Gallagher said. “Adam’s been here for four years, he knows how to get it done. Kyle threw him a few nice balls and Adam got them. Sometimes it’s just as easy as getting the ball to the guys that can make the plays.”
SV tough defensively
Maine-Endwell had averaged over 30 points a game entering Saturday’s semifinal contest with SV, and had not failed to reach 20 points in any of its previous eight games.
But SV threw a different look defensively at the Spartans in the Class B semifinal, with formations that had defensive back David Matthews keying specifically on M-E quarterback Kyle Balmer. Though M-E did hit some big plays, the result was a season-low scoring output for M-E in a 13-6 victory.
“We watched a lot of film of the state playoffs last year from M-E’s voyage to the state championship,” SV coach Mike Ford said. “We tried to come up with some things that had given them some problems from around the state and incorporate that into our game plan.”
As successful a season as it was for SV, Ford’s squad at times during the season was prone to lulls during games, most noticeably during the second half of a 20-17 overtime loss to Norwich in Week 7 in which SV led 17-3 at halftime. That loss cost the Sabers a possible semifinal home game. But Ford had an inkling that his squad would deliver a standout performance.
“We had a great week of practice,” Ford said. “They were quiet on the bus (coming to M-E). With past groups, I don’t know what that would have meant, but with this group, I knew they were ready to play”
Tougher than expected
How’s this for a refreshingly honest take devoid of coach-speak in the wake of Chenango Forks’ surprisingly tight 13-6 escape against Waverly in Saturday’s first Section 4 Class C semifinal.
“I could lie but I’m not going to— we were surprised,” said Forks coach David Hogan. “They came to play, they played hard and hats off to them for that effort, no doubt about it.”
And from the Blue Devils’ Cody Lamond, who rushed 16 yards for the decisive TD early in the third quarter: “They just came out with intensity and we obviously didn’t. We’ve got to come out with more intensity next week and the rest of the weeks to follow.”
Just how intense and effective were those Wolverines early on?
Waverly snapped the football 21 times to Forks’ four in the opening quarter, and the Blue Devils were rationed a mere five first downs before halftime. For the game, their 201 rushing yards marked a total well below the norm.
“I don’t know if we were confused and not blocking the right people or they were just a lot tougher than we thought they were going to be up front,” Hogan said of Waverly’s defense. But, he added, “I think it’s just a matter of figuring things out. You try to prepare for teams but it’s never the same as the actual team you’re going to play. They came out and had the ball almost the whole first quarter. I think our kids figured it out after a while and our defense certainly stepped it up at the end.”
Indeed, there was a good reason Forks took a bit to get things going.
“The reality is I think we showed an entirely different front than they prepared for and that helps a lot, it’s a front that we hadn’t shown all year and had been kind of practicing for, waiting for this moment,” Waverly coach Jason Miller said of scrapping the signature look. “Last year we came out with a 3-4 and got carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey. You give these guys an opportunity to prepare for something, they’re going to prepare.”
Norwich turnaround continues
After dropping to 0-3 with a 42-7 beating at the hands of M-E in Week 3, Norwich’s season could have spiraled out of control.
Since that loss, however, the Purple Tornado have won six straight, including a 27-14 victory over Johnson City on Friday that earned Norwich another shot at M-E this Saturday in the Section 4 Class B title game.
“From day one, this group believes in what we do,” Norwich coach Mike Chrystie said. “It took us three weeks to figure it out, but since that point we’ve stuck together and executed.”
Norwich has outscored its opponents, 209-89, during the course of its six-game winning streaks. However, it wasn’t all rosy on Friday against JC as Norwich lost three fumbles, two of those leading to Wildcats touchdowns.
“We definitely have some stuff to clean up, we have to take care of the ball,” Chrystie said. “We’ll make sure we’re prepared for (M-E).”
Tigers’ wake-up call
And to think, Tioga Central didn’t lead the football game until nearly 12 minutes had expired.
The Tigers were introduced early on to an opponent from Moravia that had zero intentions of rolling over before the three-time defending Class D champions. The Blue Devils made their spirit known in the form of a 12-play opening drive that whacked 6:41 worth of game clock and brought a 7-0 lead.
Fast forward to the conclusion, however, and it was 61-23, Tigers— with those 61 points scored in succession to answer Moravia’s early how-do-ya-do.
“I kind of like it. It was a little slap in the face, a little wake-up call and after that we played good defense,” Tioga coach Nick Aiello said.
“First time in a long time a team has done that to us, get the ball and drive it down our throats. That’s not a bad thing. It wakes our guys up and tells them, we’re in a sectional semifinal and you need to get into gear and start playing _ and they did.”
Kudos to the Tigers’ kickoff team for twice executing by-the-book onside-kick recoveries. The first was incorrectly ruled a penalty on Tioga, but the second — also plucked from the air by Jake Lewis — set up the team’s fourth TD and a 27-7 advantage.
Spartans’ ‘D’ does job
Unatego never completely put the clamps on Seton Catholic Central’s offense, but the Spartans’ defense forced crucial turnovers that allowed them to maintain at least a one-TD for the majority of the game.
A Seton CC turnover on the opening drive of the game set up the Spartans’ first touchdown, and another turnover deep in Spartans territory with SCC trailing 14-7 led to a 91-yard touchdown drive that gave the Spartans a 21-7 lead.
“That’s what happened when we played Walton, we were ahead and all of a sudden the tide turned and we had the turnovers then they went ahead,” Unatego coach Frank Microni said. “It’s just huge. It’s huge if you’re trading, kind of back and forth and you can get two up on the other team. It gives you a sigh of relief a little bit and you can play a little looser. I think our defense settled in a little bit in the second half.”
Express fullback makes impact
In the double-wing offense, it’s often the two wingbacks who soar to the big statistics and touchdowns. But a quality fullback is also a pivotal part of the backfield and junior Devon Torres has provided a boost for the Elmira Express this season at that position.
The 5-foot-8, 192-pound Torres ran for 67 yards on 10 carries Saturday in a 52-16 Class AA semifinal win over Horseheads. Elmira (7-2) will try for its second straight sectional title when it meets Corning (8-1), a 58-24 winner over Binghamton in Saturday’s other semifinal.
For the season Torres has run 56 times for 494 yards and three touchdowns, in addition to his duties as a blocker. His best game as a runner came against Binghamton on Oct. 17, when he gained 188 yards in a 47-27 victory, including a 52-yard touchdown run.
“Devon just adds a third dimension,” Express coach Jimmy McCauley said. “We’ve got those guys coming on the outside and when we can slip Devon into the middle, it just gives us an added dimension where they have to defend all gaps.”
Horseheads made strides
Horseheads finished with just a 2-7 record, but this may go down as the season where the Blue Raiders turned the corner into a team that can seriously contend for a sectional championship. The big difference was the implementation of an up-tempo offense that produced more than 30 points a game during the regular season. Quarterback Ben Clark ran the pass-oriented attack and is only a junior.
“We switched a whole offense around in one offseason,” Horseheads coach Damian Saks said. “To be honest with you, we put a lot more in than we thought we’d ever get to this season. The kids responded well. Offensively, if we look at numbers it’s probably one of the best offensive seasons we’ve had in years. That’s something to look forward to.”
Saks said the challenge is to get the defense at the same level. Horseheads allowed 40 or more points in six of its nine games.
“Defensively we weren’t that good this year,” he said. “We’ve got to focus on that and bring that back down to basics so our kids can play faster and keep us in games.”