It wasn’t for lack of effort, but missed early opportunities and a big dose of Chenango Forks fullback Jeremiah Allen spelled defeat for Homer Central football in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s Class B Central Region Championship game Saturday.
The Trojans (10-1 overall) only got three points after two early fumble recoveries and the junior fullback battered the Homer defense with 231 yards and two touchdowns on 35 carries as the Blue Devils (11-0) posted a 28-9 victory on Union-Endicott’s Ty Cobb Field. Chenango Forks was ranked second in the state heading into the game and Homer was ranked third.
“He’s the total package,” Chenango Forks coach Dave Hogan said of Allen. “He’s fast, strong and elusive. He ran hard, but he’ll be the first to tell you those big boys up front do a heck of a job for him.”
“We hit him hard in the first half, but the reality is, he regrouped like all good players do,” Homer coach Gary Podsiedlik said. “If you don’t get to the right level with him he will break tackles.”
Things started out well for Homer, which forced two fumbles in three plays and recovered both of them. Stephen Walter recovered the first fumble by Forks quarterback Kris Borelli at the Blue Devils’ 47-yard line, but the Trojan drive stalled when Charles Lines was stopped on fourth down at the 19-yard line.
Two plays later, Vincent Basile recovered his first of two fumbles at the Blue Devils’ 20-yard line. Homer got some points that time as Tucker O’Donnell connected on a 40-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead with 5:53 left in the first quarter.
“The kids were looking at us and happy that we only gave up three points after all that,” Hogan said. “That said a lot about our defense. Some of the stuff we did was forced on us by that other team. Homer is a heck of a team. We hung in there early and finished strong.”
Borelli put the ball on the ground a third time to start the next Blue Devil drive, but he recovered at his own 43. Allen followed with runs of 39 and three yards before breaking loose on a 15-yard scoring run to give Chenango Forks a 7-3 lead with 4:04 left in the quarter.
Unfazed, Homer responded with its best drive of the day. Krillin Drake returned the kickoff 28 yards to the Trojan 44. Six plays later, O’Donnell tossed a 25-yard pass into the end zone. The ball was deflected by Walter into the arms of Dominick Natale for the touchdown. The extra-point kick was missed, but the Trojans led 9-7 with 1:11 left in the opening quarter.
Homer suffered a blow on defense in the next series. With John Horner and John Denkenberger inactive for the game because of injuries, Drake suffered a shoulder injury on the next Chenango Forks offensive play and left the game, not returning the rest of the day.
Both defenses were in control until Chenango Forks scored on the final play of the first half. The Blue Devils set up the touchdown with a 33-yard pass on third down from Borelli to Sean Wiser, who was well covered but made a great leaping catch at the Trojan seven-yard line. On the next play, Dan Crowningshield tossed a halfback option pass to Borelli as time expired. Allen added the two-point conversion run asChenango Forks went ahead for good, taking a 15-9 lead into halftime.
“They executed that play to take the lead,” Podsiedlik said. “It was a very well-thrown ball. It was just a matter of two feet. If we were two feet closer, we knock that pass down. Our defensive end and linebacker recognized the play and it was just a matter of inches. Our guy would have tackled him (Borelli) for an interference penalty and not given up the points if he was closer. We shouldn’t have allowed the completed pass the play before, but the kid went up and made a great catch. It came down to them making a good drive.”
“That was huge,” Hogan said. “The big pass play to get us in position to punch it in really helped out a lot. That was a big lift for us going into the locker room. If we didn’t have that, maybe things would have been different.”
The second half started out strangely. O’Donnell saw his second-down pass intercepted by Crowningshield, but he fumbled the ball after an 18-yard return and the Trojans still had the ball at the Chenango Forks 41. They drove to the Blue Devils’ 27-yard line, where O’Donnell’s fourth-down pass to Jacob Morenus was deflected by Jakob Topa and incomplete.
“We came out with the ball in the second half with our two-point package,” Podsiedlik said. “We hoped to get some points out of that and retake the lead, but they made the big stop. It was a grind. We are who we are.”
Chenango Forks went on a five-minute, 73-yard scoring drive capped by Borelli’s 16-yard touchdown run and a 21-9 advantage with 3:39 left in the third quarter.
The Trojans appeared to be on a scoring march of their own until Topa picked off O’Donnell’s pass in the end zone at the beginning of the fourth quarter. The Blue Devils then marched 80 yards in 10 running plays, with eight carries by Allen. The fullback ended the drive with a 33-yard scoring run, Crowningsheield’s kick making the score 28-9 with 6:41 remaining.
The final Homer drive ended on fourth down at the Chenango Forks 46- yard line and the Blue Devils ran out the remaining time.
“They have a lot of weapons,” Hogan said. “They have a lot of good football players on that team. We were fortunate enough to keep it going. We finally figured things out in the second half and really played well.”
Chenango Forks held Homer to just 62 rushing yards and 91 passing yards for the game. Lars Roos led the Trojans with 14 carries for 39 yards. O’Donnell completed 5-of-16 passing attempts for 91 yards. Natale had three catches for 54 yards on the one touchdown. Dante Yacavone had two catches for 32 yards.
Allen had 231 of the 280 rushing yards for Chenango Forks. Borelli completed 3-of-7 passing attempts for 48 yards.
“We didn’t have our best 11 athletes on the field, but I thought the defense did a great job,” Podsiedlik said of having three players out of the game. “It was next man up and no excuses.
“We are one of the eight teams that were left in the state. You’re not playing anyone who is bad. We just played a team that the sportswriters think is number two. They are one of the best teams in the state and we certainly are there too. We didn’t want it to end this way, but they ended up just making fewer mistakes that hurt them. Our mistakes were mistakes of effort and I’ll live with that.”