Nov 13, 2007 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Between the yellow flags on the turf and the turnovers handed to the opposition, the West Genesee football team was far from a smooth-running championship unit in last Saturday’s Class AA regional final against Union-Endicott at Binghamton’s Alumni Stadium.
Yet when the final whistle sounded, the Wildcats were still quite happy with the outcome — a 21-7 victory over the Tigers that propelled the team to its first-ever state semifinal.
For that, WG can thank its defense, which never let U-E score a point, forced five turnovers and put up two touchdowns of its own to go in front early, and clinch the game in the late stages.
“We stepped up and made some plays when we had to,” said head Steve Bush.
That first big play stemmed out of possible discouragement. WG blocked a punt from U-E’s star sophomore tailback, Jordan Thomas, in the first quarter, only to have Thomas pick up the ball and run for a first down. When tackled, Thomas sustained a concussion and left the game, not to return.
On the very next play, U-E quarterback Ryan Quinlivan threw to the left — and reading it perfectly, Jake Fietkiewicz picked it off and took it back 18 yards for a touchdown.
Thus, while the Wildcats did not pick up a first down until the second quarter, it owned a 7-0 lead. Without Thomas, the Tigers’ attack sputtered, rarely able to do much more than runs up the middle against WG’s back line, which prevented big gains.
Meanwhile, Tim Moran was far from the sharp, poised quarterback that had produced the game-winning drive against Cicero-North Syracuse a week earlier. U-E’s strong defense picked off Moran in the second quarter and rushed him at will throughout the game, forcing hurried passes that often fell incomplete.
Adding to the frustration were the penalties, none worse than a questionable holding call that negated Fietkiewicz’s spectacular 73-yard punt return for a touchdown late in the second quarter. Though it went to the break still up 7-0, WG had reason to think the margin should have been greater.
The third quarter brought more cause for worry. A fine Fietkiewicz kick return led to a short Wildcat drive and a 27-yard field-goal try by Luke Cometti — which went wide left.
Worse yet, on his next possession, Moran threw over the middle — and Quinlivan, playing defensive back, read it all the way and got the interception. Quinlivan tore down the right sideline 70 yards and found the end zone, the extra point tying the game at 7-7.
And when he got the ball back, Moran tried to scramble and fumbled, with U-E recovering in Wildcat territory. The Tigers immediately drove inside WG’s 20-yard line, and were poised to go in front.
At this juncture, with all that was going wrong (penalties, a missed field goal, turnovers), many teams might have fallen apart. The Wildcats would not.
“We’ve been in so many tight situations,” said senior defensive end Dave Hildman. “We know we can count on each other.”
Sure enough, WG’s defense forced the Tigers into a throwing situation, where Jeremy Connors picked off Quinlivan. Connors’ 34-yard return, plus a 15-yard personal foul penalty, proved to be the game’s turning point.
“We stuck our feet in the ground and pushed them back,” said senior linebacker Frank Cammuso.
Now in U-E territory, Moran promptly drove his team to the 12, from where he found Joe Fazio on a short pass. Fazio battled his way past Tiger defenders past the goal, and Cometti’s extra point helped WG go back in front, 14-7, just before the third quarter ended.
All through the final period, U-E tried to put a drive together. Each time, the Wildcats shut it down, then applied the finishing touch.
With 2:17 left, Quinlivan forced a pass over the middle. Hildman, normally a pass rusher, laid back in coverage and grabbed the interception, picking up a convoy of blocks as he returned it 25 yards for the clinching touchdown. George Eunice added another interception to help WG run out the clock.
Now the Wildcats (9-2) are headed for Rochester’s Paetec Park for Saturday night’s state Class AA semifinal against Orchard Park, to be played at 6 p.m.
Orchard Park, the lone Section VI representative left in the state playoffs, is 11-0, having just knocked off Section V champion Canandaigua 49-27 in the regional round. WG must find a way to contain the Quakers’ junior running back, Jeff Tundo, who ran for 368 yards against Canandaigua.
Bush said his team must avoid the kind of mistakes it made against Union-Endicott, too.
“”We’ll need to clean that up,” he said.
Actually, WG and Orchard Park have met in many state semifinals — in lacrosse, where the Wildcats won on all but one occasion. Those Quaker lacrosse teams were coached by Jeff Tundo’s father, Gene — the same Gene Tundo that coaches Orchard Park football.
So in a roundabout way, the Wildcats must beat a familiar opponent if it wants to go to the Carrier Dome next Sunday and face New Rochelle or Monroe-Woodbury for the state title.