Oct 31, 2006 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
To be sure, the Fayetteville-Manlius football team was in the midst of a rough showing in last Saturday’s Section III Class AA semifinal against the Auburn Maroons at Cicero-North Syracuse’s Bragman Stadium.
Yet as the final seconds of regulation ticked down, the Hornets smartly moved inside Auburn’s red zone, one big play away from tying — or perhaps winning — this showdown to see who would oppose Rome Free Academy in the title game at the Carrier Dome.
And this was on the same CNS field where, eight days earlier, F-M had pulled off something close to a miracle in ending CBA’s two-year reign as champions in the first round. Perhaps this place had magical powers.
All of those thoughts went away, though, when Colin Parry intercepted Buddy Leathley’s pass near the goal line as time ran out.
By a 21-14 margin, the Maroons kept its Cinderella story alive, reaching its first-ever sectional final — and, in the process, kept the Hornets from advancing to the Dome for the third year in a row.
Quite unlike that 43-35 epic with CBA, the Hornets played superb defense from beginning to end, only to be done in by a few special-teams lapses and a recurrence of its early-season turnover issue.
Auburn’s presence here was, in many ways, more miraculous than F-M’s. It wasn’t even in the original field of eight, and entered only because Corcoran had to forfeit two victories for using an ineligible fifth-year senior.
Once in the show, the Maroons looked to be done in last Monday’s opening round against Henninger, trailing by 20 with less than nine minutes left — only to score 28 points in a fourth-quarter flurry based upon three fumble recoveries on kickoffs to shock the Black Knights 47-40.
A mere five days later, against F-M, Auburn still had that momentum. Matt Hoey returned the opening kickoff 57 yards, setting up a short drive culminated by Quendel Ellison’s three-yard toucnhdown run.
The Maroons then pounced upon an onside kick, an echo of the Henninger comeback, but the Hornets’ defense cracked down and, for the rest of the half, would shut Auburn down in all phases of the game.
Midway through the opening period, F-M marched 93 yards, with Austin Straub going around the end 41 yards for the tying TD on fourth down.
They would prove be the Hornets’ lone scoring drive of the night. Twice in the first half, Leathley was picked off, killing possible chances, but Auburn could not convert either turnover into points.
And F-M would go up, 14-7, when Ethan Gilbert stepped in front of Darnell Murphy’s sideline pass and returned the interception 64 yards for a go-ahead touchdown.
So it remained until the late stages of the third quarter. Neither side was moving the ball much by this point, but Auburn gradually pushed F-M deeper into its own territory, waiting for the right moment to break the stalemate.
Sure enough, Mark Leonello broke through and blocked Jeff Billharz’s punt at the one-yard line. Moments later, Ellison scored, and the game was tied, 14-14.
Auburn’s defense continued to pressure Leathley, shut down the Hornets’ run game and force punts. With 6:10 left, the Maroons took over on the F-M 39.
On third down from the 22, F-M appeared to have stalled the Maroons’ march, but got flagged for roughing Murphy after he threw. Given new life, Auburn capitalized as Hoey scored on an eight-yard run with 2:12 left to break the tie.
F-M still had time to rally. Aided by a pair of pass-interference penalties, Leathley moved the Hornets to Auburn’s nine-yard line with 33 seconds left, then burned its last time-out.
Auburn would resist one more time, though, sacking Leathley and forcing a penalty. Finally, Leathley had to go over the middle — where Parry made the interception that sent the Maroons to the Carrier Dome.
So ended a memorable 2006 season for the Hornets. It started 0-3, rallied for three wins in a row (including the only loss of RFA’s season), appeared to be done after a 25-point loss to Henninger, only to shock CBA for one of the biggest wins in the program’s history before Auburn ended the dream.
Now stars like Gilbert, Pat Lee, Meril Tili, Scott Kleinklaus and Nick Shepard depart. But head coach Paul Muench still has Leathley, Will Porter, Mike Rosenbaum, Shane Bush, Billy Donlon, Louie Pascarella, Anthony Krizman, Joe Blasting and Mike Riccione around for 2007, where another title run is quite possible.