September 06, 2008
Purple Tigers prevail in OT classic
CHS outlasts Homer in 32-26 battle
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Kevin Reese (33) of Homer Central is tackled by Jake Bryson of Cortland High during Friday’s season opening football fun at Moiseichik Field. Bryson recovered an overtime fumble to finish off a 32-26 Purple Tigers victory.
The Cortland High and Homer Central football teams gave the fans in Moiseichik Field’s packed stands one for the ages Friday night, and that was just for starters.
Suitable encores won’t come easy for either team after the Purple Tigers’ 32-26 overtime victory in a thrilling non-league season opener. That doesn’t mean, however, that both teams won’t be trying to deliver just that.
There was Cortland senior back Corby Reynolds rushing for 168 yards on 27 carries and scoring four touchdowns, as well as coming up with an interception that looked for awhile to be a back-breaker for the Trojans. Classmate Brandon Fitzgerald, a tailback, broke tackles nearly every time he touched the ball, picking up 130 yards on 15 carries.
Homer senior quarterback Joey Rivers completed 9-of-17 passes for 181 yards and two TDs, both scored by classmate Kane Hartnett. Split end Hartnett wound up with seven receptions for 163 yards on the night. The pair also hooked up on a crucial two-point conversion late in the fourth quarter that sent the game past regulation time.
Then there was Purple Tiger linebacker Jake Bryson, who first caused and then dove on a Homer fumble to end the contest on the Trojans’ first overtime possession after Reynolds had scored his final TD of the night as the hosts got the ball first in the extra session.
There were five lead changes in the game, four on consecutive touchdowns in the second half, before all was said and done. After a first half in which each team scored on its last possession before halftime, the two arch-rivals scored three times each in the second half, each turning the ball over once and the Trojans also punting once.
And then there was the overtime, where each side got a shot at scoring from the opponent’s 20-yard line. It all made for what many called one of the best high school football games seen in Cortland in quite some time — and the first overtime battle in this storied rivalry.
“It’s always tough against those guys,”Cortland coach Dave Darrow said. “I was scared to death of losing this game. Gary (Podsiedlik) always has his teams well prepared, and they’re good players. It’s a well-coached team with a lot of class, and it’s a pleasure to play them.”
Purple Tigers defensive coordinator Tom Murphy, who is in charge of instituting a new defensive system this season that the staff learned during a July visit from Delaware defensive coordinator Nick Rapone, gave a tired, wan smile when it was suggested that CHS’s pass defense needed some shoring up.
“We threw five different coverages at them; those kids are excellent,” he said. “We have a lot of respect for coach Podsiedlik’s program. Their kids executed well. We’ll work to do better, and can do better.”
“It was a good game with a lousy finish,” Podsiedlik said with the same type of smile as Murphy. “We’ll just have to do a better job of securing our tackles, but Cortland did a great job. I think they felt they could push us around a little, but I think that we did some pushing. We didn’t get as much from our run game as we would have liked. But Kane did a great job of getting the ball when Joey threw to him.
“I kept thinking of last year’s 27-18 game,” he added, Cortland wining that season finale at Homer 26-18 and thus has now beaten its rivals in the last two games it’s played. “But we did a great job coming back. It wasn’t meant to be, I guess.”
AS NOTED, NEITHER team scored until late in the first half.
Homer drew first blood as Rivers hooked up with Hartnett on a 19-yard scoring pass to cap a nine-play, 65-yard drive to make it 6-0 after a failed conversion kick. The key play in the drive was a 29-yard hookup between the two on third-and-16 that saw Hartnett emerge from some jostling with the reception.
Cortland answered right back, Porter getting three of his four pass completions on the night during the nine-play, 68-yard drive. The TD came when junior slot-back Dyquann Barlow went up with two Homer defenders on the last timed play of the half and came away with the ball after it caromed around a bit for a 26-yard scoring reception. Fitzgerald ran in the conversion to make it 8-6 CHS, and the fun was just beginning.
Homer seized the momentum right back after receiving the second-half kickoff, as Rivers and Hartnett connected three times for a total of 68 yards, including 13 yards for a TD to go up 12-8 after the run failed, on what ended up an eight-play, 77-yard drive.
In talking about his impressive passing night after it was all over, a subdued Rivers noted: “The credit goes to the line, and the receivers for catching the ball. I thought we stepped it up in the second half, but Cortland came out on top tonight.”
CHS grabbed the lead right back at 14-12 after the kick failed, Reynolds going in from a yard out after picking up 14 yards on four previous carries on the possession. The big play was Fitzgerald’s 28-yard run that took the ball to the Homer 33 on the second of 10 plays in the 67-yard drive.
Cortland held that lead at the end of the third quarter, but Homer was on the hosts’ three-yard line to start the fourth and two plays into the final quarter regained the advantage at 18-14 on Kevin Reese’s one-yard bash into the end zone preceding a conversion run that fell short.
Sophomore Alex Stacy took the ensuing kickoff 31 yards to the Cortland 46, and two plays after Reynolds kept the drive alive on a third-and-one from the Homer 45 by scampering 26 yards to the 19, he made it 20-18 Purple Tigers with a 10-yard jaunt to pay-dirt, the conversion pass incomplete.
REYNOLDS THEN came up big on defense, picking off a Rivers pass at the Cortland 11 on the next series, and he capped Cortland’s next possession with a three-yard TD run. Porter ran in the conversion but the Purple Tigers were called for holding, and a subsequent pass fell incomplete.
Homer went 55 yards in four plays after a short kickoff, Rivers hitting Hartnett with a 38-yard aerial on the second play of the drive before Reese went in from 15 yards out two plays later to make it 26-24 CHS with 2:31 left. Rivers and Hartnett, to the surprise of no one, were up to the pressure-packed task, hooking up on a conversion pass to tie the game.
Homer junior lineman Carter O’Gorman came up big two plays later, recovering a Reynolds fumble on the Cortland 49, but the hosts’ defense stiffened, forcing a late punt, though CHS couldn’t capitalize on the last two plays of regulation.
The Purple Tigers got the ball first in overtime, in which each team starts on what amounts to its opponent’s 20-yard line. Five plays later, Reynolds went in from seven yards out to make it 32-26, the conversion run stuffed by Homer.
The Trojans got to the Cortland nine-yard line in three plays to start their possession, and after Purple Tiger safety Will Fickenscher batted down a Rivers pass Bryson knocked the ball loose from Reese and dove on it to end the game.
“I saw he had the ball on his side and pushed my hands up, like we do in practice,” Bryson said. “I saw the ball come loose, and dove on it. I knew we’d won, then about 10 other guys jumped on me. This is going to psych us up for the rest of the year. We came together well, and the crowd helped too, giving us lots of support. Everyone out there was playing their hearts out.”
REYNOLDS AND Fitzgerald were named Cortland’s Offensive Players of the Game, and Bryson won the oversized chew bone that goes to the Defensive Player of the Game. Zach Huenink was awarded a small purple lunch pail as Offensive Lineman of the Game.
“We did a lot of hard work this summer as a team,” Reynolds said. “We have a lot of heart and pride, and adjusted to adversity; Coach Murphy told us that’s what helps you know yourself. We did a great job of working together; we like to say ‘Keep your fort,’ and we did.”
“We got back on the camel so many times, and made diamonds out of stones,” Fitzgerald said in using a couple more Cortland team slogans. “I think we can go as far as we want.”
“This was high school football at its best,” Podsiedlik said. “It was a good game, and all our kids have character. All of theirs do, too. I was proud of this team because it was tough and worked hard all week.”
Cortland has won three of the last four games with Homer, but the Trojans still lead the overall series 16-14-1.
Cortland opens Section 3 Class A American play when it visits Mexico at 7 p.m. this Friday. The Purple Tigers will be without Morehouse, who was ejected from the Homer contest after drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty late in the third quarter.
Homer, meanwhile, will host Chittenango, which moved down to Class B from Class A this season, at 7 p.m. this Friday at Butts Field.
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