Oct 22, 2011 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Everything about the Fayetteville-Manlius football team’s pulsating 40-35 victory over Liverpool in the opening round of the Section III Class AA playoffs was outsized.
From a massive start by the Hornets to a massive comeback by the Warriors, to several momentum shifts in a back-and-forth second half, everything was rated larger. So it only figured that a big play in the game’s final minute decided matters.
F-M trailed, 35-34, and was only alive because quarterback Wolfgang Shafer, who had struggled throwing the ball much of the night, had found Sawyer Dew for a nine-yard completion on fourth-down-and-five near midfield, Liverpool protesting that a holding penalty was missed.
With the clock running, Shafer, from his own 45-yard line, saw that F-M’s top receiver, Austin Perez, was isolated in single coverage. So Shafer threw deep to him – and Perez got it, not stopping until he was tackled at the Warriors’ five-yard line, a 50-yard completion.
Sean Bright took a handoff down to the one-yard line. Then, with 15 seconds left, Bright plunged the final yard into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown. Perez intercepted Zavon Watkins’ last-minute deep pass, and F-M had survived.
That the Hornets needed to survive was a tribute to Liverpool’s resilience in the face of a brutal start where it fell behind 26-0 in the game’s first 10 minutes.
In fact, it was 12-0 before the Warriors even got the ball. F-M took the opening kickoff and marched straight to the end zone, Bright scoring on a 13-yard run. Then Jimmy Krizman executed an onside kick that Langston Lightcap recovered, which led to another quick march and Ryan Greer scoring on a one-yard plunge.
Liverpool went three-and-out. F-M marched 74 yards to yet another seven points from Bright’s 20-yard TD run and Krizman’s extra point. Ryan Simmons intercepted Watkins’ deep pass, and it led to yet another Hornets drive that Bright finished off with a seven-yard scoring run.
Despite all this, the Warriors began to climb back when Watkins, going deep again, found Matt Isbell for a 75-yard TD pass before the first quarter ended. And Liverpool’s defense began to settle down, staying at home against the run and shutting down any F-M attempt to throw the ball.
Watkins used a 30-yard run and a 17-yard pass to Elijah Johnson to set up a chance to score in the waning moments of the half. Just as the clock hit zero, Watkins fought his way in for a one-yard TD, and suddenly it was 26-14 at the break.
Liverpool carried that momentum into the third quarter. Jeff Edwards, who was extraordinary on both sides of the ball, used a third-down conversion on a screen pass, dragging several F-M defenders, to set up Johnson’s six-yard TD run. Four minutes later, Edwards converted on a 15-yard run, and the once-buried Warriors now had a 28-26 lead.
That didn’t last long, either. Greer took a counter handoff and outran the Liverpool defenders 57 yards to the other end zone, putting F-M back up 34-28 after Bright scored on a two-point run.
Edwards, though, was shredding a Hornets defense missing Connor Chen (out for the season with a torn ACL), plus Simmons and Josh Pulver, who went out with injuries during the game. With 9:46 left, Edwards broke two tackles and went 61 yards for a TD. Trevor Monk’s fifth straight extra point put the Warriors back in front 35-34.
A tense exchange of possessions followed, both sides unable to convert on fourth downs in the opponents’ territory. This left Liverpool with the ball at F-M’s 30-yard line, needing just one yard on two plays to run out the clock.
Despite its missing personnel, though, the Hornets stuffed Watkins on third down. Then, with 1:42 left, Edwards sought the clinching first down, but he got stopped, too. F-M had one more chance, and thanks to Shafer’s pair of timely throws, would capitalize.
Emotions on this night were heightened for F-M. The night before, 2010 graduate Matt Murphy, the older brother of current Hornets player Chris Murphy, passed away after a long battle with cancer. Chris did not play, but he led his team onto the field and watched the game from the sidelines. In Matt’s honor, fans wore yellow ribbons.
Also, a moment of silence was given for Phoenix football player Ridge Barden, who died last week just hours after suffering a brain injury in a game against Homer. Both teams wore “RB” patches on their helmets.
F-M now will face Christian Brothers Academy in the Class AA semifinal Saturday at 4 p.m. – ironically, at Liverpool. The Brothers beat Corcoran 34-6 in its opening-round game at Alibrandi Stadium. The winner of this contest will get West Genesee or Utica Proctor in the AA final Nov. 5 in the Carrier Dome.