SYRACUSE — The Homer football team did what it does best, run the football and force turnovers, to capture their first sectional title since 2017 with a 34-20 win over No. 1 New Hartford Saturday in the Carrier Dome.
Homer moves on to a regional matchup against Section IV champion Maine- Endwell at 3 p.m. Saturday at Vestal High School.
The Trojans’ defense forced three firsthalf turnovers. Junior Hunter Riehlman strip-sacked Spartans’ quarterback Dominic Ambrose on the first drive of the game. Senior Tavyn Malchak recovered that fumble and another that happened early in the second quarter. New Hartford’s final turnover of the half was an interception by Homer senior Jake Calabro.
“The turnovers were huge,” Homer head coach Gary Podsiedlik said. “I am a different coach. I don’t believe in stripping the ball on contact. I believe two men minimum in high school secure a tackle. Three, four and five and we can worry about yanking the ball out of their hands. We worked on that all season long and it really helped us today (Saturday).”
Malchak’s big defensive game came after a rough performance in the semifinals, so he knew he needed to step up Saturday. “I just came out here and played,” Malchak said. “I didn’t play very good last game, so I knew I had to come out here and earn my starting job and make those plays for my team and make sure we won.”
The teams were tied at 14 at the half because Homer was only able to convert those a turnovers into points once. After the early fumble recovery by Malchak, the Trojans marched down the field and junior Sam Sorenson punched in a 1-yard touchdown run.
The two-point try was unsuccessful,. New Hartford came back with a similar drive that ended in an Alex Collver touchdown run, but the Spartans’ extra-point attempt was blocked by Riehlman, leaving the score tied at 6.
On Homer’s next offensive play, Calabro hit senior Will Dady in stride for a 67-yard touchdown pass. That play was one of Calabro’s two completions on the day and made up most of his 73 passing yards. Senior Logan Peck made his return from a September ACL tear to complete the twopoint conversion.
The Trojans were given a positive jolt by Peck’s return to the field, according to Podsiedlik.
“I think it was a huge lift for the team emotionally, and it was risky,” the 31-year coach said. “His family, the doctors, the trainers were all on board. He’s worked hard to rehab that injured knee and as a result he got in the game and put some points on the board.”
Again, though, New Hartford answered quickly and Ambrose powered in a 1-yard score. Cole Raux’s successful two-point attempt was the final points of the half before the turnovers and stops happened. The final three scores of the half all came within a 2-minute, 23-second window in the first quarter.
Homer’s second big play of the game was the first play of the second half. Sorenson took a handoff and ran it 64 yards to the house. The Spartans again had an answer when Luke Strassberger ripped off a 22-yard run for a score. Neither team converted after their touchdowns, so the score was again tied at 20.
After each team was stopped once, Homer took control of the game. A failed fake punt by the Spartans set up the Trojans on New Hartford’s 38 yard line. Peck punctuated that short drive with a 2-yard touchdown run and Calabro hit Dady again to get the two-point conversion.
On the Spartans’ next possession, the ball popped out in a crowd of people and Sorenson came out with it with just 7:08 left in the game. Homer took its time driving back down the field and senior David Morse scored a 2-yard touchdown with 1:20 left in the game to seal the deal.
For Malchak, a three-year starter, the feeling of winning the Section III Class B title was surreal.
“This means the world to me,” Malchak said. “I wouldn’t trade this for the world. I wouldn’t want to play with anyone else but this team.”