Johnson City’s offensive front was the backbone of a three-touchdown first half Friday night and the Wildcats proceeded to a 29-6 victory over Vestal in a Section 4 Class A football semifinal.
The home team put up those three scores in a 13-minute span, with birthday boy Jake Thompson having a hand in the first and third. Quarterback Thompson closed with 116 yards and two TDs passing, and rushed for another 79 and a score.
Shafeeq Hosea turned in his second impactful night against the Golden Bears in a three-weekend stretch, rushing for 153 in the playoff game after hitting up Vestal for 278 in the teams’ regular-season contest.
But on this crisp night at Johnson City, particularly while that first-half lead was being constructed, the big boys were arguably the most significant difference-makers.
Tackles Arlind Malziu and Kyle Begley, center Justin Howe, and guards Cameron Talley and Gavin Dyman had the better of things during three lengthy first-half scoring drives.
“A-plus-plus,” was the grade Thompson attached to that quintet’s body of work.
The outcome advanced Johnson City (5-4) to the title game against Maine-Endwell (9-0), 5 p.m. Friday at Binghamton Alumni Stadium.
The most significant score of the night polished off a 72-yard drive set in motion after Adam Korutz shirt-sacked Vestal quarterback T.J. Wegmann for an 8-yard, third-down loss that prompted a punt. The Wildcats took possession at their 28-yard line with 3:17 to play in the first half, leading by 16-6.
A 14-yard screen pass from Thompson to Dominic Nadz on third-and-7 was key, as was an 8-yard rush by Nadz on a fourth-and-2 play. The latter brought the ball to Vestal’s 28 with 1:01 to play. The remaining yardage was covered with a pair of 14-yard completions by Thompson.
The first was a delivery to Kenny Johns near the visitors’ sideline, and the second sent to Hosea on the right hash just outside the goal line. Hosea made his way across and Brandon Holliday’s PAT kick made it 23-6 with 38.6 seconds to play in the half.
Thereafter, JC defenders did their part. Vestal’s deepest second-half penetration reached the Wildcats’ 11-yard line early in the fourth quarter. But, after a penalty backed the Bears 5 yards, Nadz intercepted a pass — with noticeable aid of his pass-rushing teammates — to squelch that drive 3:06 into the last quarter.
Nadz, held out of the regular-season finale against Elmira in the hopes of mending a groin ailment, appeared in fine form during a 68-yard rushing night.
Johnson City took a lead it’d not relinquish with 1:35 remaining in the opening quarter when Thompson had a look at the defense and reacted accordingly on an option keeper to the outside that he turned into a 24-yard touchdown. That finished an 81-yard drive that featured rushes of 11 and 14 yards by Hosea as well as a 21-yard keeper by Thompson.
“Our backs have played great all year. I knew the defense was keying on Dom, they were keying on Shafeeq,” Thompson said of the TD carry. “Definitely something they haven’t seen before, with me running the option, so I figured I’ll catch them off guard a little bit, get downhill and it ended up turning into a touchdown.”
A Thompson-to-Johns two-point pass made it 8-0.
Vestal answered with a touchdown 1:58 into the second quarter, with a 13-yard rush by Logan Wiland the biggest gainer among eight plays on a 57-yard drive. The touchdown was a 9-yard rush by Sam Bulman, on which JC defenders were clearly mindful of Wegmann on the option.
Johnson City got back to business on its next possession, which started at its 29-yard line and brought 12 consecutive rushes.
The lone two-digit gainer on the march was the work of Nadz, who muscled 19 yards to the Bears’ half-yard-line. A play later, Nadz was justly rewarded and eased across for a TD, and another Thompson-to-Johns two-pointer made it 16-6 with 5:08 to play in the half.
“Our line did a great job blocking,” Wildcats coach Fred Deinhardt said. “Vestal’s a tough team to block, they come in a lot of gaps and on a lot of stunts. They loaded up pretty well. But we have a veteran line and they did a good job.”
As did Hosea, whose scrapbook will reflect 431 rushing yards in two games his junior season against Vestal.
“He’s a great young kid, he’s got a good head on his shoulders, he plays for the team,” said Thompson, who celebrated his 18th birthday by playing a key role in earning his team a second crack against Maine-Endwell.
The Spartans won their semifinal Friday, 28-8 against Union-Endicott for the program’s 60th consecutive victory. Maine-Endwell was a 45-30 winner over JC in the teams’ Week 5 game.
Vestal closed a 4-5 season with Bulman gaining a team-high 69 yards rushing.