Nov 17, 2013 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
A few inches here, or a few inches there, and perhaps the Cazenovia football team is celebrating one of the landmark victories in a glorious program’s history.
Instead, the Lakers had to cope with a bitter 35-34 defeat to two-time reigning state champion Maine-Endwell in Saturday night’s Class B regional final at Union-Endicott’s Ty Cobb Stadium and will wonder, for a long time, how things might have turned out were it not for those precious inches near the goal line.
It all climaxed with 1:17 to play. Trailing 35-28, the Lakers, who had run wild on M-E all night, did so again on a long march that culminated with Andrew Vogl taking an option pitch 18 yards to the end zone to cut the margin to one.
Each of the previous four times Cazenovia had scored, Keaton Ackermann had blasted the extra point. Here, though, the Lakers called time-out and brought back its offensive unit in an attempt to go for two points and the victory.
Taking the snap, Kevin Hopsicker battled his way to the goal line. He said that he crossed the goal line, with the ball, before his knees touched the turf. A replay showed that Hopsicker may have fumbled before reaching the goal line, and that lineman Cody Westfall recovered the loose ball in the end zone.
But officials ruled that the play was stopped short. Furious, the Lakers argued and drew a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, pushing the onside kick attempt back to the 25-yard line. When the Spartans fell on that kick, it was able to run out the clock.
Trying to topple an M-E program that had won state titles in 2011 and 2012 and had won 34 consecutive games was daunting enough for Cazenovia, who also carried the stigma of seeing the Spartans smash them 50-14 in this same regional round a year ago.
However, the Lakers got encouraging news two days before kickoff, when six M-E players were suspended for violations of team rules. That fact, combined with Cazenovia’s determination to avenge its 2012 humiliation, would turn an already intense contest into something that no one who saw it would ever forget.
Right from its first possession, Cazenovia showed it could run right at M-E. Big gains by Vogl and Hopsicker changed field position, and when the Spartans fumbled at its own 28, the Lakers turned it into points, Hopsicker going the final yard for the score.
M-E trailed 7-0 midway through the first quarter, but didn’t trail for long. A quick Spartan drive led to Adam Gallagher’s 10-yard TD run and a 7-7 tie, and when Drew Gallagher intercepted a tipped Hopsicker pass early in the second quarter, it led to Colin LaSalle’s one-yard scoring plunge and a 14-7 Cazenovia deficit.
Now it was the Lakers’ turn to rally. Hopsicker cut loose for a 52-yard run deep into Spartan territory, and Vogl scored from eight yards out, Keaton Ackermann’s extra point tying it 14-14 – at least until the next posession, when M-E regained the lead on Kyle Gallagher’s 33-yard option run to the end zone.
Even with that, and even with a series of penalties hurting a possible scoring drive right before halftime, the Lakers, trailing 21-14 at the break, felt good about its chances.
And it felt even better after Vogl’s 50-yard run in the third quarter led to Hopsicker scoring on a five-yard quarterback draw, again pulling Cazenovia even at 21-21.
Once more, M-E seized the lead, Kyle Gallagher going to the air for a 38-yard scoring pass to Adam Gallagher. Trailing 28-21, the Lakers got three chances on fourth down inside the Spartans’ 10 due to a pair of penalties.
Here, for the first time, the Lakers would get stopped inches short, though Hopsicker thought he had stretched the ball across the goal line. It didn’t matter because, one play later, the Spartans fumbled at the two, and Cazenovia pounced on it.
Vogl’s two-yard TD run, plus Ackermann’s PAT, tied it again, 28-28, eight seconds into the fourth quarter. Ackermann would also intercept Kyle Gallagher near the goal line on M-E’s next possession, and the Lakers appeared ready to go in front when Dan Phillips broke loose for a 56-yard run – but that got called back by a holding penalty.
As they entered the homestretch, M-E would drive to a go-ahead score, overcoming a holding flag on Trevor Garbelman’s TD run to drive to the Lakers’ 12, from where Kyle Gallagher drew in the defense, and then threw over them to a wide-open Adam Gallagher in the end zone with 4:45 left.
That left lots of time for the Lakers to make one more convincing march down the field, and then make one bold decision that, in its own mind, led to the winning points – which only made the final decision that much more difficult to accept.