SYRACUSE — It will not be one for the thumb as Homer Central saw its football season come to a screeching halt in the Carrier Dome Sunday afternoon.
The second-seeded Trojans turned the ball over five times as top-seed and defending state champion Cazenovia rolled to a 31-7 victory in the Section 3 Class B Championship game.
While the Trojans were denied the school’s fifth sectional title, the 12th-ranked Lakers (9-1 overall) will face the No. 1 team in the state — Section 4 champion Chenango Forks (10-0) — in the 3 p.m. Central Region Championship game at Cicero-North Syracuse this coming Saturday.
This loss snapped a seven-game winning streak for Homer, as the Trojans wrap up an 8-2 campaign.
“Special teams have been a huge positive for us all season,” Homer coach Gary Podsiedlik said. “We didn’t panic when we struggled early, but we lost our composure a bit when things were going against us. We were hoping to get them calmed down a little sooner, but they eventually recognized the bigger picture.
“Cazenovia made their breaks,” he continued. “They gave it a little more than we did today. They are a class program and a phenomenal team. They just outplayed us.”
“Ben Nichols and Danny Kent are our defensive ends and they made some big plays for us,” Cazenovia coach Jay Steinhorst said. “We are fortunate to have a good defensive line and they stepped up today along with our special team players.
“There is a big mutual admiration society between our programs,” he continued. “I know Gary is not happy with losing, but like me, we each have the team that you don’t mind losing to as much because of that admiration. That is a great group over there.”
THE GAME CHANGER was Anthony Veccharelli.
The senior back-up quarterback ran for the first Cazenovia score of the day, rushed for a game-high 119 yards on 15 carries and threw three touchdown passes in the first half to help the Lakers build the 24-0 advantage.
Veccharelli completed 6-of-11 passing attempts for 124 yards and was named the Cazenovia Player of the Game in the post-game ceremonies.
“We prepared all week,” Veccharelli said, pressed into duty when starting quarterback Matt Regan injured an ankle in a semifinal win over Chittenango. “Everyone really did their job and we took care of business. We got a lot of momentum off the early turnovers and it was like a snowball effect.
“I’ve got to give a lot of credit to my linemen,” he continued. “They opened up some holes, but the receivers and the runners had made some great plays today. Everyone got it done.”
“Anthony exceeded all expectations today,” Steinhorst said. “We are designed for injuries in the backfield. When Regan went down last week, I had very little doubt that Anthony could step up and make this happen.”
AFTER AN EXCHANGE of punts to start the game, Cazenovia found the end zone on its second possession. It began with a 28-yard Veccharelli run to the Homer 33 and a 13-yard pass to Matt McLaughlin that moved the ball to the Trojan 20. Veccharelli had another 17-yard run and capped the drive three plays later from one yard out with 5:30 left in the quarter for a 6-0 lead.
Homer muffed the ensuing kickoff and Cazenovia recovered the ball at the Trojan 24-yard line. After a illegal procedure penalty, Veccharelli lofted a 29-yard scoring strike to McLaughlin behind the Homer secondary for a 12-0 lead 13 seconds after the first score.
Homer was driving on the ensuing possesion, but a fumble at the Cazenovia 38-yard line gave the ball back to the Lakers.
Cazenovia’s Cody Thorp had a 35-yard run deep into Homer territory. Three plays later, Thorp caught a 23-yard slant pass from Veccharelli as Cazenovia led 18-0 with 32 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Trojan continued to struggle and the Cazenovia pass rush began getting to quarterback Jacob Rivers. Back-to-back sacks forced Homer to punt and it took just two plays for the Laker lead to grow to 24-0. Veccharelli had a 25-yard run and tossed a 31-yard touchdown pass to McLaughlin to get Cazenovia on the board again with 8:54 left in the first half.
A BIG TURNING point came at the end of the first half when Cazenovia was leading 24-0. The Lakers stopped Homer on fourth-and-goal at the four-yard line with five seconds left. A Trojan score there, and with Homer getting the second half kickoff, the momentum might have been huge.
Homer made that drive inside the Cazenovia 5-yard line in the final 2:41 of playing time. Rivers connected with tight end Dante Yacavone for 17 yards. The two connected again for 26 yards to get the ball to the Laker 5-yard line.
Tailback John Horner III gained two yards and a penalty on Cazenovia got the ball to the 1-yard line. Rivers was tackled for a 3-yard loss on third down. A fourth down pass attempt to Dominick Natale was off target as the Laker defense held.
Veccharelli took a knee to end the half.
Homer fumbled on its opening possession of the third quarter and the next possession ended when Rivers threw just his third interception of the season. That pick by Will Khalil came at the Cazenovia 1-yard line to deny another Trojan scoring chance. The third quarter ended with the fourth fumble recovery by Cazenovia at its own 9-yard line on second down.
“If we punch it in at the end of the half and scored that opening second half drive, we’re down just two scores,” Podsiedlik said. “We stopped them on their next possession. There were two chances deep in the red zone where we didn’t score.
“In reality, it wasn’t one thing that hurt us. The turnovers, the miscues and the hesitancy of kickoff returns which we haven’t had all year were the combination of things,” he added.
“We’ll learn from that as a program and the guys coming back will have a little more hunger in the belly.”
THE FOURTH QUARTER opened with a 89-yard scoring drive by the Lakers. Veccharelli had runs of 41-and 23-yards and Austin Enders added a 22-yard blast to move the ball to the Homer 3-yard line.
Enders would score from three yards out. Ryan Romagnoli kicked the extra pint and Cazenovia led 31-0 with 10:43 left.
Homer then put its only scoring drive together, going 61 yards in seven plays. Rivers finished the march with a 24-yard touchdown pass to Krillin Drake with 7:34 to go to trail 31-7.
Tucker O’Donnell tried a short kick that Patrick Nourse grabbed for the Lakers. Nourse fumbled the ball as he as tackled and Lars Roos recovered for Homer at the Cazenovia 38. The Trojans only gained 11 yards and the drive stalled on fourth down.
Horner finished the game with 21 carries for 78 yards to top the 1,000-yard mark. The junior had 1,013 yards for the 2016 season. Horner was named the Homer Player of the Game in the post-game ceremonies.
Rivers completed 11-of-20 passing attempts for 146 yards. Yacavone had six catches for 85 yards. Rivers was 44-for-100 on the season for 678 yards and 13 touchdowns. Yacavone ends the year with 26 receptions for 295 yards and five touchdowns.
WHILE THE SEASON is over, getting to the title game was a big accomplishment for the Trojans.
“I’ve had more talented teams that didn’t reach the Carrier Dome,” said Coach Podsiedlik, praising his team’s senior leaderhip. “The things we try to sell to these guys really makes a difference. It’s very important. If you believe in each other and you play your rear off with your best buddies, that is good enough for your coaches. It allowed us to beat people this year that maybe we shouldn’t have like Mexico.”