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.