Nov 20, 2007 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Throughout the Bishop Ludden football team’s magical 2007 season, Nate Stewart had been an unsung hero, a solid linebacker contributing to a defense that made the big stops when they were needed.
If Stewart was anonymous, though, those days ended the moment he jumped up and made the biggest deflection in the Gaelic Knights’ gridiron history.
When the 5-9, 190-pound junior got a piece of Travis Fenstermaker’s extra point in the overtime portion of last Saturday’s state Class C semifinal against LeRoy, he gave the Gaelic Knights a 34-33 victory that touched off a wild celebration for everyone wearing green at Rochester’s Paetec Park.
With the win, Ludden advanced to its first-ever state championship game, to be played Sunday at 12 noon in the Carrier Dome against defending champion Dobbs Ferry.
Regardless of what happens there, though, the Gaelic Knights have already provided its fans with enough thrills and drama to suffice — and the game with LeRoy might have been the most exciting chapter yet.
This game had it all — numerous momentum shifts, big plays from both sides, late-game gambles that backfired, a controversial end to regulation, and a tense overtime that climaxed in Stewart’s timely block.
Going in, the main story was how the Gaelic Knights, with its speed and big-play ability, would try and counter the power running game the Oatkan Knights used to go 11-0 and reach the state semifinals.
Right away, though, LeRoy changed the tone. Fenstermaker, who also is the Oatkan Knights’ quarterback, threw deep in the first quarter and found Andrew Alexander, a 66-yard touchdown play that put Ludden behind 7-0 — this after the Gaelic Knights could not punch it in on its opening drive despite marching inside LeRoy’s five-yard line.
But that didn’t last long. Just 51 seconds later, the Gaelic Knights tied it when quarterback Connor Sweeney ran 19 yards into the end zone. When Fenstermaker tried to pass again on LeRoy’s next possession, Daquan Grobsmith picked it off, leading to a go-ahead score as Sweeney hit Wendall Williams on 25-yard strike.
Up 13-7 after one quarter, Ludden exchanged touchdowns in the second period. After Brady Bonacquisti scored to put the Oatkan Knights in front, Sweeney drove the Gaelic Knights back down the field and ran for his second TD, a nine-yard run. Ludden took a 20-13 lead to the break.
Now it was LeRoy’s turn to take control. It blanked Ludden in the third quarter and put together a pair of solid scoring drives, each one ending with Fenstermaker going the last yard for the touchdown.
Trailing for the third time in this instant classic, the Gaelic Knights again rallied, moving to LeRoy’s three-yard line before Grobsmith took it in with 9:08 left in regulation, forging a 27-27 tie.
And all of this was a warm-up act for the wild, improbable ending that fans on both sides will talk about — and argue about — for years to come.
With the ball near midfield late in regulation, Ludden went for it on fourth down — and was stopped. LeRoy took over on the Gaelic Knights’ 48, prime position to go in front.
As time wound down, the Oatkan Knights steadily moved the ball, and reached Ludden’s one-yard line with just seven seconds to play.
With a time-out in hand, LeRoy decided to try a run to get in the end zone. The Gaelic Knights stuffed Bonacquisti short of the end zone, and the clock hit 0:00 as the Oatkan Knights tried to call that remaining time-out.
This was two questions rolled into one single play. Why was LeRoy trying a run play that might drain the clock instead of trying a winning field goal? And did the clock run out before that time-out was called?
Despite the bitter protests from the LeRoy side, the call stood, and the game went to overtime, where each side gets one possession from the opponents’ 20-yard line.
Going first, Ludden went to the Oatkan Knights’ 12, from where Sweeney found John Rooney, who battled his way into the end zone. Ben Searle’s extra point made it 34-27.
LeRoy answered, again, with its run game. Four runs put it on the two-yard line, from where Ian Humphrey scored.
Now, after not trying a kick at the end of regulation, the Oatkan Knights lined up for the extra point to force a second OT.
Stewart, on the defensive side, timed his jump perfectly, and got a hand on Fenstermaker’s kick before it could reach the uprights. Ludden was in the state championship game.
And the challenge it faces is immense. Dobbs Ferry is well-versed in trips to the Carrier Dome, as it makes its sixth appearance in a state final in the last seven years. The Eagles have won 23 in a row, including last week’s 47-0 romp over Cambridge in its state semifinal. It has outscored its 12 opponents by a combined margin of 463-47, and its defense has six shutouts in its last eight outings.
In other words, it’s just the kind of improbable situation Ludden has faced — and conquered — so many times in this memorable autumn journey.