Nov 09, 2013 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Put under pressure never before in its undefeated quest for ultimate glory, the Christian Brothers Academy football team had a ready answer – and gained possession of a second consecutive Section III Class AA championship.
From J.R. Zazzara’s long touchdown run early in the fourth quarter to a defense that overcame injuries to key starters to make a key stop in the final minutes, the state no. 2-ranked Brothers fought past Henninger 19-14 in Saturday’s sectional final at the Carrier Dome.
For Zazzara, who played through an injured ankle and scored the game’s winning points on a 59-yard run with 8:28 to play, the special part of this win was getting more chances to play with what he calls his “family”.
“We just want to be together for another week,” said Zazzara. “Much as we want to get to the next level, this (winning back-to-back sectional titles) feels great.”
Head coach Joe Casamento said that Henninger, unlike so many of CBA’s other opponents this fall, was sure to make the Brothers work all the way to the end.
“This was like a state final, in terms of intensity,” said CBA head coach Joe Casamento. “This was about whether we could execute at the end of the game, and we managed to keep our poise.”
Henninger’s impressive 44-14 win over previously unbeaten Fayetteville-Manlius in the sectional semifinal, combined with the scare the Black Knights gave CBA on Oct. 12 at Sunnycrest Field, left little doubt as to which side was most worthy to challenge the Brothers’ throne.
But what neither side may have counted on was how the game would turn into a battle of attrition right from the start, with far more opportunities missed than gained.
Twice in the first quarter, Henninger had the ball in CBA territory, one of them set up by Romero Collier’s 60-yard return of the opening kickoff, but didn’t get any points out of either of those first two chances.
At the same time, though, the Brothers found it difficult to sustain its own drives. It had success running the ball, but time and again Henninger shut down CBA”s passing attack, forcing J.R. Zazzara into three sacks and an interception from Keisean Scott.
Despite all that, the Brothers took a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter. Kane Alletzhauser, whose three second-half interceptions proved so pivotal in the first meeting with Henninger, hit Justin McGann hard, forcing a fumble that Tim Pierret recovered on the Black Knights’ 29. Six plays later, on fourth-and-goal, Deshawn Salter found the end zone on a two-yard run.
Henninger continued getting chances, though, and finaly converted as the half wound down. Collier threw 20 yards to Tyquan Simpkins and 25 yards to Keisan Scott on the sidelines to set up McGann’s one-yard touchdown plunge with 33 seconds left in the second quarter.
A missed extra point meant that the Brothers would cling to a slim 7-6 edge at the break, its confidence in the passing game not helped by Scott intercepting Zazzara seconds after McGann’s TD.
However, Henninger suffered a much bigger blow when Collier injured his shoulder on the last play of the half.
Collier did not return, and Scott, who started the season at quarterback before Collier assumed the duties in late September, had to take over, limiting the Black Knights’ passing game the rest of the way.
It was Salter kick-starting CBA’s attack midway through the third quarter with his longest run of the game, 38 yards, to set up his team’s second scoring drive. Zazzara, back on the field, converted a key third down with an 11-yard scramble, and one player Johnathan Stackhouse found the end zone from 14 yards out, the missed extra point keeping the Brothers’ lead at 13-6.
Once again, Henninger turned it over early in the fourth quarter, as Scott fumbled on a long run and, after a long scramble, Sidney Vallery recovered near midfield.
But after the Black Knights made yet another stop, it pulled off a stunning play by blocking Nolan Bower’s punt and seeing K.J. White return it 40 yards for a touchdown with exactly nine minutes to play. When Scott fired a jump pass that Brandon Wilbur caught one-handed in the end zone for two points, Henninger took a 14-13 lead.
CBA trailed for all of 32 seconds. Zazzara, on the second play following that blocked punt, found a seam on an option run and dashed all the way to the end zone. The senior quarterback said the play was sprung by great blocks from his offensive line as the Brothers got the big play that had proved elusive most of the way.
Still with a chance, Henninger moved the ball from its own 20 against a CBA defense depleted by injuries to the likes of Vallery and Aaron Donalson. But once more, the Brothers’ defense would make a key stop, halting Justin McGann on a fourth down at the CBA 41 with 3:30 left.
From there, the Brothers ran out most of the remaining clock with Salter eating up yards on the ground, and with another sectional title secure, it could start to focus on grabbing the second state championship in the program’s history to go with the one it earned in 2004.
Next Saturday at 3 p.m., CBA faces Elmira, the Section IV champions, in the regional finals at Union-Endicott High School. A win here would send the Brothers to the Nov. 23 state semifinals at Sahlen’s Stadium in Rochester against Aquinas or Jamestown.