Oct 09, 2006 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
When it languished at 0-3, the Fayetteville-Manlius football team still harbored the belief that its season could be a great one, even if no one else outside the program thought that way.
Well, the secret is out.
By handing Rome Free Academy its first defeat of the season in a tough 14-3 battle on Homecoming last Friday night, the Hornets clawed into a share of first place in the Class AA-2 league, a complete turnaround from its early struggles.
“It’s an extraordinary victory for us,” said head coach Paul Muench. “Any time you beat RFA, it’s big. People started to write us off a little bit, but this team is up to something special.”
Mostly, this win featured the tough, focused effort of the Hornets’ defense. It kept the Black Knights from getting away in the early going, then clamped down in the second half with a ferocious pass rush at its core.
RFA came in sporting a five-game win streak, but it took the field without its top quarterback, Aaron Gregory, who was injured the week before against Henninger.
With Ryan Harris working under center, the Black Knights twice drove inside the Hornets’ 10-yard line in the first half. Yet all it could produce was Justin Manning’s 24-yard field goal, as F-M’s defense offered its biggest resistance near the goal line.
For its part, the Hornets’ offense displayed lots of early patience, as quarterback Buddy Leathley often threw to the sidelines to stretch out RFA’s secondary and open up the middle. Good punts by the Knights kept F-M in poor field position.
Midway through the second quarter, the Hornets’ patience paid off. From his own 48-yard line, Leathley looked to the sideline again, throwing RFA’s defense off. He then threw a perfect strike down the middle to Scott Kleinlaus, who took it the rest of the way, 52 yards to the end zone. F-M had a 7-3 lead.
Gregory entered the game on the last series of the first half, but his lack of mobility was something F-M would exploit the rest of the way. Ethan Gilbert, Meril Tili and Joe Blasting all recorded key sacks by blitzing, or simply overpowering RFA’s front line.
“Over the course of the game, the defense adjusted well, and we got our (verbal) keys down,” said Gilbert.
F-M kept teeing off on Gregory, but the Black Knights displayed its own tough defense, and it remained 7-3 through much of the second half.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Hornets patiently moved it to the Black Knights’ two-yard line, where it faced fourth down. Going for it, tailback Anthony Krizman swept for the goal line, but was stopped one yard short.
RFA took over on downs, but the fierce Hornet defense forced a punt. Working with a short field, the Hornets turned to running backs Will Porter and Mike Rosenbaum, who chewed up yards and time.
To cap it off, with 4:03 to go, Blasting took a handoff at the four-yard line. At first, he seemed to be stopped at the line of scrimmage, but he used his sheer power and will to move the pile until he had fallen over the goal line for the most important touchdown of his career.
Leathley was 12-for-22 for 174 yards, spreading it nicely to a quartet of receivers — Kleinklaus, Bailey, Shane Bush and Pat Lee.
“Buddy played such a smart game,” said Muench.
More importantly, F-M did not commit a single turnover, a sharp contrast to the mistake-plagued efforts that haunted the team throughout its 0-3 start.
Now the math is simple for the Hornets. If it can beat Henninger Saturday at 1 p.m. at Sunnycrest Park, it will gain the top seed from the AA-2 league for the Section III playoffs. A defeat could mean a tumble by F-M down to fourth place. Needless to say, a lot is at stake.
“We don’t mind being forgotten,” said Gilbert. “We had a young team (early on), and it showed. Now, we’re starting to get things rolling.”
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