Nov 24, 2008 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Ever since their first days in the program, said Brandon Miles, he and his fellow Oneida football seniors have dreamed of playing for, and winning, a state championship at the Carrier Dome.
On the last day of November, the Indians will get a chance to live out that dream.
Punching a ticket to Sunday’s title game in the Carrier Dome, Oneida shut down Section V representative Bath-Haverling in last Saturday’s state Class B semifinal at PAETEC Park in Rochester, shutting out the Rams 27-0.
“We’ve been talking about this since seventh grade,” said Miles. “And it’s surreal. I can’t even explain the feeling. We just played the best we played all season.”
At least head coach Bill Carinci could articulate his sense of the moment as the triumphant Oneida players walked off the frigid turf to the cheers of hundreds of Oneida residents who made the trip west to Rochester.
“I cannot tell you a better feeling in (my years in) football,” said Carinci.
Of course, Carinci had ample reason to feel good. In temperatures that plunged into the 20s, the Indians never cooled down against Bath, especially on defense, where it held the Rams to just 69 total yards.
Miles led that charge with eight tackles, three of them sacks. Nate Mallinder had a team-best nine tackles, while Chris Janes and Jeff Barres each had five tackles. Joe McCormick and Jesse Christian got four tackles apiece.
This marked the second time in three weeks Oneida had shut out an opponent, having done the same to Westhill (by a 20-0 score) in the Section III Class B final. And it could easily be attributed to what the Indians faced the week before.
At that time, Oneida had to survive a fierce battle with Waverly, 27-21, in the regional finals, a game where the Warriors exclusively ran the ball — just as Bath, with a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in Andre McCloud and Cody Hutcheson, wanted to do.
Oneida caught a huge break, though, when McCloud went to the sidelines less than four minutes into the game with a rolled ankle. He would not be a factor again.
Able to hone in on Hutcheson, the Indians used its speed to get into the backfield often, gradually improving its field position during a scoreless first quarter. On the first series alone, Miles had two tackles for losses.
This allowed Oneida’s offense to have early struggles (including Ryan Kramer throwing an interception), as it waited for the right chance to pull in front.
That came early in the second quarter, just after McCormick missed a 25-yard field goal. Two plays later, Hutcheson fumbled, and Wade Kline fell on it at the Rams’ 24. Using a short field, Oneida punched it in when Kramer ran home on a two-yard run.
Late in the half, the Indians’ special teams struck with a blocked punt that put the ball on Bath’s 19-yard line. When Kramer found Miles wide-open in the end zone on a five-yard rollout pass 26 seconds before the break, Oneida had a 13-0 lead.
That already was enough points, but Oneida took advantage of a fumbled Bath punt snap inside its own 20 early in the third quarter to convert again. Just three plays were required, as Kramer hit Miles a second time for a TD, a four-yard connection, and also threw a two-point pass to Kline to make it 21-0.
Unable to throw the ball, Bath was unable to catch up or even move the ball deep into Oneida territory. Meanwhile, the Indians put together one more scoring drive, with Kramer scoring on a one-yard plunge with 5:44 to play.
Oneida had just 193 total yards of offense, with Kramer running for more yards (69) than he threw (42). But aside from the early interception, the Indians played mistake-free football, no mean feat in the chilly, wintry conditions.
And the reward for this first-rate effort was a chance to go back indoors, to the Carrier Dome, and get a chance at the state Class B crown Sunday at 4 p.m.
Oneida’s opponent will be Rye, a state powerhouse from Section I, Westchester County, that has won two of the last three state championships, including the 2007 title. Rye is 12-0 and romped past Hudson Falls 34-7 in last Saturday’s semifinal to get this far.
Rye comes in with the proven experience of having been on this stage before, and succeeding. Oneida arrives with just as much momentum, plus the loud and vocal support of what’s certain to be a vast community clad in blue and orange that will come to the Dome to see if the dream Miles and his mates hatched five years ago will come true.