Saturday was the culmination of a full year’s worth of work as Homer Central won its fifth Section 3 Class B football championship.
The Trojans built a 28-0 lead in the first half and withstood a Cazenovia comeback against the Homer back-up players in the final five minutes for a 28-20 victory inside the Carrier Dome. Homer (10-0) will now face Section 4 champion Chenango Forks (10-0), a 49-21 winner over Norwich, for the regional crown Saturday at Union-Endicott’s Ty Cobb Stadium. The kickoff is set for 3 p.m.
“It feels great,” Trojan senior captain and game MVP Zachary Barber said. “This was 364 days in the making since last year’s title game,which was not the result we wanted.”
“It’s always great to beat Caz,” senior Dante Yacavone added. “We really wanted this game bad, especially after last year’s loss. Our seniors knew what needed to be done and we all had a great experience today.”
“The kids never quit,” Cazenovia coach Jay Steinhorst said. “They kept plugging away. We dug ourselves a little too deep a hole in the first half. That took us out of our game. A lot of teams may have folded their tents, but these kids didn’t and I give them a lot of credit for it.”
Homer set the tone right from the opening kickoff by marching 59 yards on the first possession and putting seven points on the scoreboard. Krillin drake took the inside handoff on a counter play and raced 33 yards for the touchdown with 8:27 left in the quarter. Tucker O’Donnell made his first of four extra point kicks.
After holding Cazenovia (9-1) to three-and-out, the Trojans next offensive series seemed to stall at midfield, but a fake punt kept the drive alive. O’Donnell took the direct snap as the punt protector and gained five yards for the first down. The drive continued until Barber found the end zone from six yards out for a 14-0 lead with 35 seconds left in the first quarter.
Homer used a pooch kick by O’Donnell on the ensuing kickoff and John Denkenberger recovered for the Trojans at the Cazenovia 40-yard line. Seven plays later, Dominick Natale barreled into the end zone from three yards out and Homer led 21-0 with 9:54 left in the first half.
The Lakers appeared to have a little momentum after James Pavelchak returned the kickoff 43 yards to midfield, but the Trojan defense was ready. As predeicted earlier in the week by Homer JV assistant coach Geoff Sorenson, Dante Yacavone picked off Matt Regan’s fourth down pass at the Homer 44-yard line and returned it 56 yards for a touchdown and a 28-0 advantage with 8:09 to go in the first half.
“Coach P (Gary Podsiedlik) says I need to bring Coach Sorenson to lunch for showing us to look at the quarterback’s eyes,” Yacavone said. “Once I saw his eyes I knew where the ball was going. After catching the ball, I had a ton of blockers to get the ball downfield.”
“I have a great staff and at our Sunday night meeting, Geoff said that we are so confident in our defense that Dante is going to pick one and run it back for six,” Podsiedlik said. “We been so close a few times before, but this was the week it’s going to happen. It was nice for our kids to get the early momentum.”
The rest of the first half included O’Donnell throwing an interception, but the Homer defense still holding Cazenovia at bay. The Lakers had 26 rushing yards and 32 passing yards with one first down in the first half.
“Homer’s line was more physical than I anticipated,” Steinhorst said.
The second half saw Cazenovia move the ball better, but Homer kept the Lakers out of the end zone. The Trojans did not put together many long sustained drives either as time wound down until the final five minutes.
With the back-ups in the game, the Trojans committed just their second turnover when a fumble was recovered by Dan Kent of Cazenovia at the Lakers’ 45. After two plays went nowhere, Jake Macheda took a hand-off and raced down the sideline in front of the Cazenovia bench for a 55-yard touchdown. Regan kicked the extra point and Cazenovia trailed 28-7.
The Lakers went for the onside kick and recovered it at the Homer 44-yard line. A five-yard touchdown pass from Matt McLaughlin to Regan made it 28-14 with 1:43 left.
Another successful onside kick by Cazenovia gave the Lakers possession at the Homer 45. The five-play drive ended with a one-yard Regan quarterback sneak and the score was 28-20 with 44 seconds left.
Cazenovia tried one more onside kick, but this one went out of bounds and Homer took possession. O’Donnell took a knee twice and the Trojan celebration began.
“They (Cazenovia) played to the end and we knew they would,” O’Donnell said. “We pride our selves on going out there and executing. All of us didn’t do that very well today. We came out flat in the second half, but we still figured out a way to get the job done.
“It’s nice having the next man up mentality. Zach Barber stepped up and ran the ball great. Charles Lines stepped up when we needed him and Krillin Drake got out of the gate quick. Our offensive line opened up holes. When we play together, we’re scary.”
“A lot of teams do key on John Horner,” Barber added. “We just feel like guys like Krillin and myself try to capitalize on the opportunities when we get them.
“Coach put together a great game plan. We just go out there and execute to the best of our abilities. I don’t know if we thought we had the game wrapped up late. We held on and that’s all that matters.”
“They out-executed us,” Podsiedlik said of the onside kicks. “They made a couple of breaks, but our punt game saw Lars (Roos) go down and Tucker stepped in and did an amazing job. These are mature kids who want to win and understand that they have to be ready to adjust and play full speed at the same time. We just have to improve on the full 48 minutes. Our second and third-team kids will learn from that, even if they are facing the other team’s starters. We will work on that at practice this week.”
Macheda led all rushers with 112 yards on 10 carries. He was named the Cazenovia MVP of the game. The Lakers finished with 145 rushing yards and 135 passing yards.
Homer rushed for 215 yards with a balanced effort. Horner finished with 55 yards on 16 carries, but sat out the fourth quarter and the last three minutes of the third quarter with a minor injury. Lines had 40 yards on seven carries, Drake 39 yards on three carries, O’Donnell 36 yards and Barber 29 yards. O’Donnell completed three of nine passing attempts for 26 yards. Barber had two receptions for 17 yards.
O’Donnell looked ahead to Chenango Forks. noting that “They are another great team. We can’t play a 24-minute game against them. We need to play 48 minutes. If we do that, we should walk away with another victory.”