Nov 13, 2007 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Cazenovia football head coach Tom Neidl made it very clear that the difference between his squad and Chenango Forks in last Saturday night’s Class B regional final was quite thin.
“We needed one more big play,” he said. “And we didn’t get it.”
Since that didn’t take place, the Lakers’ season again ended at the Blue Devils’ hands, a 12-7 defeat at Binghamton’s Alumni Stadium that marked the seventh year in a row where Forks prevailed in this round against the Section III representative.
Unlike the rain-soaked 3-0 loss sustained in the 2006 regional final, Cazenovia did not have to worry about precipitation on a cold, clear night where temperatures plunged into the 20s.
Instead, the primary concern was going up against Forks’ well-regarded defense, which had blanked the Lakers the year before (aided in no small part by the rain), and possesses a potent combination of speed and physical play that most teams cannot handle.
Immediately, Forks allowed that defense to play with the lead, taking the opening kickoff and going 64 yards against Cazenovia’s own vaunted defense. The big play, a 36-yard pass from Jake Reynolds to Garret Cade, set up Nick Stephens’ five-yard touchdown run.
Starting out in its conventional set, the Lakers could get nothing going in either of its first two series. Significantly, the option to tailback Chris Nourse that worked so well in the sectional Class B final against Westhill was shut down as Forks defenders quickly clogged up any possible lanes.
Mixing up power runs with play-action passes, Reynolds again moved the Blue Devils down the field on its third possession, a 69-yard march that stretched into the second quarter. From the Lakers’ 26, Reynolds found Clint Cade over the middle at the 13, and Cade ran over a tackle and drove down the sideline to the end zone.
Now down 12-0, the Lakers switched to the spread no-huddle offense, just as it had done when it fell behind Solvay in the sectional Class B semifinals. In theory, it would give Koesterer more time to throw and more passing options, too.
But Forks had a ready answer. It allowed Koesterer to throw to the wing for short gains as Nick Dougherty and Chad Dorrance caught most of those passes — but it blanketed the downfield receivers, as Ben Dewan and Aaron Race never seemed to get open.
Thus, for the rest of the game, Koesterer would stand in the pocket for long periods of time, then be forced to scramble when pass protection broke down. Forks’ ability to neutralize this downfield threat would keep the game 12-0 until halftime.
Cazenovia’s frustration continued to build in a third quarter it would mostly dominate. Twice, it drove deep into Forks territory, only to have a fourth-down sack at the 20-yard line end one drive and a holding penalty halt the other.
While all this was going on, the Lakers’ defense had settled down — and clamped down, negating the Blue Devils’ trademark power running attack and even earning an interception when Reynolds tried one deep throw — and watched Nourse pick it off.
That turnover set up the Lakers to get on the board. Twice on that 67-yard march, Koesterer made fourth-down conversions by running the ball, and it culminated when the senior quarterback scored on a one-yard plunge with 10:28 to play.
Again, the Lakers’ defense stepped up, earning two more stops in the fourth quarter to keep Forks from any chance at gobbling up the clock.
Still, at TD was needed, and the Lakers twice had great chances to win. On the first try, it moved to the Blue Devils’ 35 midway through the period, only to be stopped, and got one more chance when it took the ball at Forks’ 47-yard line with 1:55 to play.
With everyone in the stands standing and screaming amid the chill, Koesterer drove Cazenovia to the Blue Devils’ 33 and still had two time-outs left.
Then came a play that symbolized the night. Again, Koesterer went back to throw and had all kinds of time, but no one was even close to open. Before he could take off, Koesterer got caught, as Forks linebacker Jed DuBois sacked him.
Forced to spike the ball and stop the clock, the Lakers also got little on third down. And on fourth-and-14, with the season on the line, Nolan Haycook got to Koesterer and sacked him one more time, punching Forks’ ticket to this weekend’s state semifinal against defending champion Geneva.
When it was done, Neidl told all his players to keep their heads high, that their effort had been exemplary against the state’s best Class B program of the new millennium.
Plus, it’s hard to find fault with a 10-1 season that included another sectional title and high accolades from all that saw the Lakers in action.
Now comes the departure of an extraordinary senior class. Koesterer, Nourse, Dewan, Race, Artie Bigsby, Connor Ryan, Lee Namy, Marcus Schokker, A.J. Berry, Patrick Roszel and Nick Rogers all helped Cazenovia win back-to-back sectional titles and dominate all local opposition. Doing so again in 2008 might prove far more challenging.