Oct 23, 2007 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
If the point of football is to make it as exciting and nerve-jangling as humanly possible, the Fayetteville-Manlius Hornets are fulfilling its duty.
For the second week in the row, the Hornets looked into the abyss of possible elimination and did not blink, instead rescuing itself and beating Corcoran 22-15 in last Friday’s opening round of the Section III Class AA playoffs.
And just like F-M’s 29-28 win over Liverpool a week earlier, where a bold decision to go for two points moved the Hornets into the playoffs, a single play call would keep the team’s title dreams alive.
F-M had seen a 15-3 lead disappear, the last blow coming when Billy Donlon’s punt was blocked late in the fourth quarter, leading to Henry Bradley’s five-yard touchdown run with 54 seconds left that tied the game 15-15.
Fortunately for the Hornets, James Cathers’ possible go-ahead extra point hooked wide left, and on the sidelines, F-M quarterback Buddy Leathley was preparing for the next step.
“We knew we still had a good chance,” he said.
Given the benefit of a short kickoff, the Hornets took over at its own 45-yard line. Two short runs followed, and on third down, Leathley found Shane Bush for an 11-yard gain, Bush picking the ball up just before it hit the turf.
After spiking the ball to stop the clock, F-M still had one time-out left, and plenty of time to pick up more yards for a possible game-winning field goal.
But Leathley and head coach Paul Muench had something else in mind. Figuring Corcoran would defend another short pass to Bush over the middle, they elected to go deep.
Leathley went back, looked short, then threw long. Mike Rosenbaum sneaked behind the secondary and, by the time the Cougars defenders picked him up, Rosenbaum had the ball in the end zone, a 39-yard touchdown play with 22.4 seconds left.
Corcoran could not answer in the brief time that was remaining, and F-M had itself a date with Cicero-North Syracuse in this Friday’s AA semifinal at Henninger High School’s Sunnycrest Field.
The frantic finish at Corcoran was a stark contrast to what had taken place for much of the game — namely, a tense standoff where both defenses excelled on a turf made wet by heavy pre-game rains.
Neither team scored in the first quarter. Though F-M three times went into Corcoran territory, it could not gain a point, as Billy Donlon missed a pair of long field-goal attempts wide right.When Anthony Krizman tackled Darin Hickson on a fake punt attempt late in the period, though, it set up the Hornets again. And on the first play of the second quarter, Austin Straub fought his way into the end zone from eight yards out, giving the Hornets a 7-0 edge.
Late in the period, Hickson picked up an F-M fumble and returned it to the Hornets’ 11-yard line, but the defense held, forcing Cathers to hit a 30-yard field goal. They would go to halftime with F-M in front, 7-3.
All game long, Hornet defenders like Mike Riccione and Matt Fallico would cause disruptions in the passing game, and the defense as a whole did a good job containing Bradley, the Cougars’ 1,000-yard rusher, who had just 82 yards in this game on 33 carries.
Meanwhile, Leathley began to air it out after a cautious first half. After another Corcoran fake punt went awry, Leathley threw a beautiful deep ball down the left sideline and found Rosenbaum in stride, producing a 53-yard TD play that made it 15-3 after Straub ran in for two points.
Corcoran had a quick answer, moving within 15-9 late in the period as Bradley scored from five yards out. It also had a drive to tie or pull in front, but Bush’s fourth-down interception in the end zone on the first play of the fourth quarter staved off that chance.
They would exchange possessions until Donlin saw his punt blocked, leading to Corcoran’s tying TD- and to Leathley’s big throw.
F-M is now in the same place where it was in 2006 before Auburn knocked them off on its way to an unlikely state title. Leathley said that experience will play a big role in shaping how his team approaches Friday’s semifinal against CNS.
Of course, the Hornets were the last team to beat the Northstars, doing so 28-14 in a game on Sept. 22. Since then, CNS has claimed four in a row, rallying from 14 points down to beat both Liverpool and West Genesee to earn the AA-1 division regular-season title before romping past Rome Free Academy 40-21 in the opening round.
Also, CNS has the extra incentive that it could play on its home turf of Bragman Stadium in next Saturday’s Class AA title team if it got payback against F-M. Whoever wins will meet Liverpool or West Genesee for the AA championship.
Only F-M, among the Class AA final four, has players that have gone through football games of this importance. That could prove to be important — and after the high drama of Liverpool and Corcoran, it appears that it has a bit of magic, too.