Oct 16, 2007 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
A full year of sweat and sacrifice — and it all came down to a single decision.
Here was the Fayetteville-Manlius football team, fighting back from a 14-point deficit against the Liverpool Warriors last Friday night and scoring a touchdown in the final 30 seconds to pull within one.
Most teams, in this situation, would settle for the extra point and play for overtime. But F-M head coach Paul Muench decided to go for two — and when the Hornets made it, it had a 29-28 victory and a ticket to the Section III Class AA playoffs.
Muench said he had no idea just how much was at stake with that call. No one had told him that CBA had beaten Utica Proctor 48-6, creating the scenario where a defeat would take the Hornets out of the playoffs.
As the night began, F-M and Liverpool were tied for third place in the Class AA-1 league. CBA was one game back, tied for fifth. If the Hornets lost and the Brothers won, CBA’s 31-21 win over F-M on Sept. 14 would serve as the tie-breaker.
Add this pressure-filled situation to the pomp and circumstance of Homecoming and the high emotions of Senior Night, and it created a boiling cauldron that, for a time, threatened to overwhelm the Hornets’ dreams.
All was fine on the opening drive, though, as the Hornets used a series of short Buddy Leathley screen passes to get down to the three-yard line, from where Austin Straub scored to put the Hornets in front 7-0.
It didn’t take long for Liverpool to respond. A long march late in the first quarter culminated with Dom Caruso going 15 yards through three F-M tackles to the end zone. Quarterback Tyler Kamide ran in for two points.
Down 8-7, F-M stalled in the second quarter in the face of Liverpool’s pass rush and ability to contain the potent Hornet running game.
Meanwhile, the Warriors’ own passing attack took off, as Kamide used passes of 24 yards (to Zach Crotty) and 37 yards (to Mike Suatoni) to set up Caruso’s second TD, a four-yard run. Liverpool kept that 14-7 lead to the break.
Twice in the third quarter, Liverpool would build the lead. Twice, F-M would answer.
Caruso’s 32-yard run got the Warriors close to the end zone midway through the period before Kamide found Suatoni for a six-yard scoring pass. F-M countered with a 70-yard march, mostly on the ground, with Straub going the last five yards to make it 21-14.
Later in the period, Billy Donlon, after catching a pass inside the Warriors’ 10-yard line, fumbled, and Liverpool pounced on it. Immediately, Liverpool decided to go deep — and Kamide, from his own end zone, hit T.J. Davis in stride, and Davis went the distance, 94 yards for a touchdown, the kind of big play that breaks lesser teams.
However, Liverpool found out that F-M was far from a lesser team. The Hornets again answered by going to the Warriors’ 15-yard line, from where Rosenbaum followed his blocks on the trademark F-M sweep to go in the end zone.
They went to the fourth quarter. Liverpool, up 28-21, went on the march again, to F-M’s 20, and were about to put it away as Mark Sperdutti caught a pass from Kamide near the Hornets’ goal line.
But just before Sperduti reached paydirt, defensive back Shane Bush stripped him of the ball, and Anthony Krizman recovered in the end zone — a game-saving play, as it turned out.
Charged up, F-M drove in side the Warriors’ 20-yard line. And while it did not lead to any points, it set up Liverpool deep in its own territory, forcing a bad punt — and giving the Hornets one more chance.
Leathley, with a short field to work with, ran down the clock and rang up yards, and the senior quarterback went the final yard for the touchdown that made it 28-27.
Now came the big decision. F-M kicker Frank Squadrito had made all three of his extra points, but any PAT in high school can be an adventure. Also, the Hornets were dominating the line of scrimmage, so another run of three yards was quite possible.
Beyond all that, though, Muench and his fellow coaches had built a deep well of trust with their players. Together, they were not going to settle for anything less than a win.
The two-point attempt was another carry to Straub. Behind bone-crushing blocks, Straub powered his way into the end zone, and when Bush intercepted a late Kamide pass, the Hornets had survived.
Straub accounted for nearly half of his team’s 320 rushing yards, gaining 137 on 29 carries as Mike Rosenbaum added 91 yards on the ground.
To gain its first sectional title since 2001, F-M will first need to handle Corcoran on the city’s south side in Friday night’s opening round-game, which starts at 6 p.m.
After starting 0-2 (plus a canceled game), the Cougars have won three of four, mainly on the strong legs of running back Henry Bradley, who had 319 yards against Rome Free Academy and got 244 yards last week in a win over Baldwinsville that put Corcoran in the playoffs.
A year ago, the Cougars were taken out of the playoffs at the last minute because it used an ineligible fifth-year senior. Auburn took Corcoran’s playoff spot and made an improbable run to the state Class AA title.
Now Corcoran wants to stay for a while, and do so at F-M’s expense. The winner of this playoff game gets Cicero-North Syracuse or Rome Free Academy in next weekend’s semifinals.