Nov 17, 2013 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
No one on the Christian Brothers Academy football team thought that it would end here.
For the Brothers, anything less than a season that ended on the first day of December at the Carrier Dome, with a state Class AA championship in sight, would leave a trace of disappointment, since all the pieces appeared to be in place for a run to the top.
Yet that was what CBA had to confront Saturday evening at Union-Endicott’s Ty Cobb Stadium as it left the field on the wrong end of a 24-18 defeat to Section IV champion Elmira in the AA regional finals.
Short-handed, the Brothers saw the Express wear them down with a relentless ground attack, especially on a long go-ahead scoring drive in the fourth quarter. And when CBA had two chances to answer in the waning minutes, it could not.
In many ways, what happened here was set up by what transpired seven days earlier in the Section III final at the Carrier Dome. True, CBA won that game 19-14 to repeat its sectional title, but paid a dear price for it.
The game left two defensive stars, Aaron Donalson and Sidney Vallery, with injuries that would keep them out of the regional game. Also, the Brothers’ star duo of quarterback J.R. Zazzara and Deshawn Salter were hurting, too, but would try to play through the pain.
Now they were facing the Elmira Express. In 2011, the two high schools in that city, Elmira Free Academy and Southside, combined on the gridiron and took the nickname Express to honor the late Ernie Davis, who starred in three sports at EFA before his legendary career at Syracuse University.
Given the origin of the team name, it was only fitting that Elmira built its success on a dominant ground attack, as the Express had a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in Eli Thomas and Jerry McPeak and fully intended to impose its physical will on CBA.
Salter, after a few plays, went to the sidelines and would not return. Initially, CBA shook this off, grabbing a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter when, on fourth down from the Elmira four-yard line, Zazzara found Johnathan Stackhouse in the end zone and Nolan Bower added the extra point.
The Express countered early in the second quarter with a 54-yard march that Thomas capped off with an eight-yard TD run, but a missed conversion kept CBA in front 7-6.
That didn’t last long, though, as Elmira went to the air late in the half, Rasean Brooks going deep to find a wide-open Thomas for a 47-yard scoring pass with 1:25 left in the second quarter.
Trailing 12-7, CBA took just two plays to answer, as Zazzara, again going through the air, found Andre Dowdell for a 24-yard TD pass and ran it in for two points, giving the Brothers a 15-12 edge that held up until halftime as Elmira missed a field goal in the waning seconds before the break.
Shaking this off, the Express took the second-half kickoff and went 69 yards, again mostly through its ground game, until Thomas scored from one yard out. Another missed conversion left CBA with an 18-15 deficit.
Twice, the Brothers tried to move in front, and were frustrated on both occasions. Stackhouse, seeing far more carries in Salter’s absence, fumbled near the Elmira goal line late in the third quarter, and the Express recovered.
CBA drove again inside Elmira’s 10-yard line early in the final period, and again were stopped, but this time held on to the ball long enough for Bower to shake off a high snap and drill a 24-yard field goal, tying it at 18-18 with nine minutes left.
What followed was all the Express had been building up to for three-plus quarters. Elmira held the ball for more than six minutes, patiently picking up first downs and eating up more than six minutes of clock.
Fittingly, Thomas put in the go-ahead TD, his fourth of the night, with 2:28 left. Down by six, CBA had plenty of time to try to win it, but on the second play, a Zazzara pass got tipped, and Brooks picked it off at the Brothers’ 27.
Even though CBA made a defensive stop to keep itself alive, it could not get a first down on the ensuing possession. Elmira ran out the clock and earned a berth in next Saturday’s state semifinal against Rochester Aquinas.
And it left the Brothers to wonder how things may have turned out if all of its stars were on the field and at 100 percent, rather than hobbling or watching from the sidelines.