Nov 11, 2008 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
With one big play after another, the Henninger football team ended its long quest to return to the top of the Section III Class AA ranks — and also ended the reign of the defending state champions.
In a wild and entertaining Class AA final last Saturday in the Carrier Dome, the Black Knights toppled West Genesee from its throne in a 44-27 decision and, by doing so, avenged a first-round playoff loss to those same Wildcats in 2007. Henninger also won its ninth game in a row.
“They ended our season last year,” said senior quarterback Kihary Blue. “But we came up with the big plays (this time). It’s a really good feeling.”
Henninger’s last sectional title had come in 2000 under then-coach Bob Campese. Since then, the Black Knights had made the playoffs every year and twice had gone to the finals (in 2001 and ’03), but had fallen short each time.
“It’s just incredible,” said head coach Dave Kline. “Hard work can pay off.”
By “hard work”, Kline meant the extensive off-season conditioning all the Henninger players had done. Perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence that, by being in better shape, the Black Knights could be strong in the fourth quarter — something it has displayed several times this fall.
That proved again to be true against West Genesee. Resilient all season in the defense of its state title, the Wildcats had needed to thwart a possible winning two-point conversion by Corcoran in the opening round of the AA playoffs, then had come from 20 points down to stun Liverpool in double overtime in the semifinals.
So, while Henninger led through much of the sectional final, going up by as much as 17 (24-7) at one point), it knew WG would keep fighting.
With the score 30-20 early in the fourth quarter, Henninger tried a third-down screen pass, only to see WG defensive end Christos Dimkos intercept Blue’s short pass and return it 53 yards for a touchdown, cutting it to 30-27 with 9:16 left.
Kline said that play did not rattle his team. Instead, he reminded them of how many times they had been in adverse situations during the season and that this was another chance to show how tough it was.
Sure enough, less than two minutes after Dimkos scored, Blue, on third-down-and-12, threw deep — and found Chris Gainey in mid-stride, a 67-yard TD strike that, combined with Shaquille Leggett’s two-point run, made it 38-27.
But Leggett applied the real clincher on defense with an individual tour de force less than 90 seconds lader.
WG quarterback Jim Marks threw a pass over the middle to tight end Kevin Petrick. Catching up to Petrick, Leggett stripped him of the ball at Henninger’s 40 and grabbed it, then ran to the sideline, picked up blocks, turned back to the middle and didn’t stop until he was in the end zone for a touchdown.
“In my mind (as the play was unfolding), I had a vision of stripping the ball and making a play for the team,” said Leggett.
That was one of just seven turnovers Henninger forced on the day, something that proved the most decisive factor in the Black Knights’ eventual victory.
Leggett made his initial impact in the first quarter, with the Wildcats down 7-0 after Marks opened up the scoring with a 33-yard TD pass to John Glesener.
Facing a third-and-five, Blue saw a blitz coming and threw a screen pass to Leggett. Picking up great downfield blocks, Leggett tore down the left sideline and didn’t get caught, a 75-yard scoring play. A two-point pass to Greg Spears put Henninger ahead for good.
Leggett also scored in the second quarter on a three-yard run, and when Antonio Geremia caught a Blue pass in heavy traffic for a 14-yard TD reception, the Black Knights stretched the lead to 24-7.
Still ahead 24-14 at halftime, Henninger took full advantage of a huge break when Blue’s second-half kickoff glanced off one of the Wildcats’ up men and went back into his hands. On the very next play, Blue threw deep and found Gainey for a 52-yard TD pass, making it 30-14.
Though WG would fight to the end, it would not catch up. Blue finished 10-for-19 for 297 yards through the air, an average of nearly 30 yards per completion.
Henninger will get challenged when it faces Section IV champion Binghamton in the Class AA regional finals at Cicero-North Syracuse’s Bragman Stadium Saturday at 3 p.m.
The Patriots are 10-0 and feature a no-huddle offense where Jamar Smith has run for 2,242 yards, a single-season Section IV record. Binghamton had averaged more than 50 points per game before surviving a narrow 21-20 decision over Union-Endicott in the sectional finals.
Whoever survives this big-time clash will got to Rochester’s PAETEC Park on Nov. 22 to face Gates-Chili or Orchard Park in the state AA semifinals.