NEWARK VALLEY _ Picturesque first-half execution provided Chenango Forks ample cushion on the way to a 34-21 Division IV football victory Saturday over an admirably bullheaded bunch from Newark Valley.
The Blue Devils held 27-0 command midway through, at which juncture they’d neither punted nor been assessed a penalty, and had rung up 252 yards of offense. The third and fourth touchdowns came on possession-opening plays of 74 and 58 yards.
Thereafter, the big play became the Cardinals’ ally.
In an unheard-of statistical twist, Newark Valley outscored Forks by 21-7 after halftime despite snapping the football four times. The Cards’ scoring plays covered 48, 64 and 65 yards, respectively.
The hosts’ final TD, a 65-yard catch-and-run by Brett Stewart — along with Conner Coleman’s third PAT kick — made it 34-21 with a bit under nine minutes remaining.
Cody Lamond’s retreating retrieval and scrounge-what-he-could return of the kickoff gave the Blue Devils possession at their 14-yard line. Eight minutes, 47 seconds remained. The Cardinals’ faithful were in full throat and the defense sensed some vulnerability in New York’s top-ranked Class C squad.
Ah, but Forks went back to being Forks.
In fact, Newark Valley did not run another offensive play.
The Division IV-champion Devils (5-1, 4-0) nickel-and-dimed their way on a 17-play drive that reached Newark Valley’s 4-yard line, leaving reserve quarterback Tony Silvanic to drop to a knee a couple times to conclude an odd contest.
Forks got three-digit rushing totals from three players, led by quarterback L.J. Watson’s 115.
Watson, however, carried for the final time about 3 1-2 minutes into the third quarter before exiting for keeps with a hip ailment. And, yes, his value to this Forks team was confirmed in his absence.
Forks was in full-grind mode early, taking its first possession 58 yards on eight rushes. The last brought Tim McDonald a 1-yard cruise untouched over the right side for points.
The Devils regained the football following a 13-yard punt at their 46-yard line, and opened with a 23-yard rush by Dylan Studer. An 18-yard pass play from Watson to Silvanic advanced Forks to the 5, from which point Lamond went over the left side for a TD on the opening play of the second quarter. Silvanic’s second PAT made it 14-0.
Another Cardinals punt set up Forks at its 26, and Watson figured, why not go ahead and get this thing over with. On first down, he faked a handoff, darted right toward the guests’ sideline and won a sprint to the goal line 7:35 before halftime.
Newark Valley (5-1, 1-1) then drove 34 yards to Forks’ 42 before failing on a fourth-and-2 pass.
And so, Watson started on a dash to his right, attracted much-warranted defensive harassment, and pitched wisely and with exquisite timing to Studer, who obligingly zipped the rest of the way and it was 27-0 with 3:38 left in the half.
“The first half, we were just so happy, everything we did just worked out for us,” Devils coach David Hogan said. “Second half, we were challenged. There’s no quit in that team, we saw them come back from 21 points down to Tioga.”
Forks took the second-half kickoff, dropped 5 yards on three plays, and Silvanic’s punt was downed at the Devils’ 48-yard line.
On first down, Jacob Payne rushed through the heart of Forks’ front and into space in the middle before drifiting right to finish a scoring run. Coleman’s PAT had the Cards within 27-7.
Watson left the game two plays into the Devils’ next possession, which covered 14 plays but fizzled at Newark Valley’s 36-yard line. In the interim came the visitors’ first three penalties.
Newark Valley took the football and, on second down, quarterback Nick Schermerhorn began a rush inside but cleverly got into space near the left sideline, cut right well into the run and scored on the fourth quarter’s first play. Coleman drew the hosts within 27-14.
Next came the hidden gem of the afternoon, recovery of a bobble and subsequent return of the kickoff 40 yards by Studer to Newark Valley’s 45. Five plays later, Lamond was provided a spacious gap over the left side and he did the rest for a 23-yard score. Silvanic’s kick made it 34-14.
“Huge. I could think of a lot of plays in the game, but that might have been the one,” Hogan said. “Fifty yards to go instead of 90, like the following one. Yeah, that was a big play.”
The Cards once again responded with points on their next snap, with Schermerhorn sending a mid-range throw up the middle to Stewart, who won a race across the goal line for the closing TD.
Then, it was Forks’ offensive front doing the moving and their lighter teammates prioritizing ball security.
Of the table-turner of a second half, Cardinals coach Brian Sherwood said, “We did some different stuff, switched some stuff around. They had our game plan at the beginning there, and it took us a while to come up with another one. And of course with L.J. out, that makes it so we can call a more high-risk defense than when he was in there.”
Newark Valley remains a likely Class C playoff team, and no one could rule out these teams being brought together twice for a second consecutive season.
Studer closed with 113 rushing yards and Tim McDonald 101 for the Devils, while Schermerhorn went for 110 and Payne 83 for the hosts.