NORWICH – After starting its season 0-3, Norwich is one victory from a Section 4 football title.
Tristan Rifanburg rushed for 158 yards and two touchdowns and Michael Oralls added 135 yards on the ground and two touchdowns as the Purple Tornado rallied for a 27-14 victory against Johnson City in a Section 4 Class B semifinal game Friday.
It was the sixth consecutive victory for Norwich (6-3), who will play either Maine-Endwell or Susquehanna Valley in the Class B final next Saturday at Union-Endicott’s Ty Cobb Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 6.
Norwich won despite three turnovers. That included one by Rifanburg on a muffed punt early in the fourth quarter gave Johnson City (5-4) the ball on the Purple Tornado 29-yard line, the Wildcats eventually cashed in when Dominic Nadz scored on a 16-yard run to put Johnson City ahead 14-7 with 10:03 to go.
But Norwich struck back quickly, needing less than a minute to tie the score as Oralls rumbled through a huge hole and past several Johnson City defenders for a 54-yard touchdown run with 9:13 left.
After a Johnson City drive stalled, Norwich had great field position when Wildcats punter Brandon Holliday couldn’t handle a snap, giving Norwich the ball at the Johnson City 34.
Rifanburg then ripped off runs of 19, 10 and 5 yards, the last of those giving Norwich the lead for good, 20-14, with 4:27 to go.
“I made a mistake, dropped a punt,” Rifanburg said. “They told me to shake it off, and keep pushing, the game’s not over.”
It was over for Johnson City not too long after Rifanburg’s score, the Wildcats’ last-gasp drive ending when quarterback Jake Thompson threw incomplete on fourth-and-19 from the Johnson City 25. Oralls would add a 4-yard touchdown run with 7.1 seconds remaining.
After failing to score in the first half, Norwich scored on four of its five second-half drives to turn things around.
“We knew we had some plays in the first half, one phase of it wasn’t clicking,” Norwich coach Mike Chrystie said. “Once they started to overpursue on our strong side, we made an adjustment up front and the kids executed well.”
Johnson City took a 7-0 lead when Nadz scored on a 15-yard run with 6:34 remaining in the second quarter.
It looked like Norwich might knot the score before halftime when an 8-yard run by Oralls gave it a first-and-goal at the Johnson City 9. But after a 6-yard run by Oralls on first down, Norwich failed to gain a yard on its next two carries and Oralls was stuffed one yard shy of the end zone on fourth down as Johnson City managed to take a 7-0 lead into halftime.
Norwich eventually got its first points late in the third quarter when Rifanburg scored on a 14-yard run with 3:55 remaining, tying the score at 7.
Nadz rushed for 145 yards and two touchdowns for JC.