September 08 , 2007
Purple Tigers rally to first victory
Late Fitzgerald TDs top Mexico, 20-8
Cortland High’s Dan Foster avoids a tackle by Mexico’s Mitch LaBouef (33) for a big gain that set up the first touchdown in the Purple Tigers’ 20-8 victory Friday.
The first play in the end zone that Brandon Fitzgerald was involved in Friday night didn’t go so well for the Cortland High football team.
The junior tailback more than made up for it, however.
Fitzgerald scored a pair of late touchdowns in the span of 27 seconds on a pass reception and fumble recovery, respectively, as the host Purple Tigers stunned Mexico 20-8 at Moiseichik Field.
It was the second strong performance in a row for Coach Dave Darrow’s CHS squad against a highly-regarded Section 3 Class A American Division opponent, on the heels of a 15-8 loss at Chittenango seven days before. While that season-opener could only be counted as a moral victory, Friday’s game was a solid, put-one-under-the-W-column triumph.
“Our kids are tough, and they want to play,” Darrow said post-game, with what was left of his voice. “Everyone has to do their job. They work hard as a group, and they’re getting a little edge, a little attitude. That’s good to see.”
The Purple Tigers got a lift when, despite 10 players (including four starting linemen) sitting out the first half for missed practices — “We had some disciplining to do, just like any family,” Darrow said — they led 7-2 at halftime. The winners’ points came on a one-yard TD plunge by junior fullback Josh Morehouse four plays into the second quarter and Levi Walrath’s conversion kick.
Cortland dodged a major bullet in the waning moments of the half. Four plays after Mexico recovered a CHS fumble at the Cortland 28, Tiger senior quarterback James Williamson mishandled a snap at the hosts’ one-yard line and Purple Tigers senior lineman Brad Rogers recovered. While that set up the Mexico safety with 24 seconds left in the half when Fitzgerald was tackled in the end zone after taking a pitch from senior quarterback A.J. Meldrim, it also assured that the hosts would take a lead into intermission.
Through the opening two quarters, Cortland held the vaunted Mexico offense to just 24 total yards, all on the ground.
“WE WANTED TO shut down 44 and limit the others,” Purple Tigers defensive coordinator Tom Murphy said, referring to Mexico senior fullback Tyler Peter who had picked up 144 yards in a 42-14 win over Fowler last week.
Mission accomplished, as Peter was held to minus-one yard on four carries in the first half and, for the game, managed just 15 yards while lugging the ball eight times. Senior tailback Ron Majerus led Mexico with 61 yards on 13 carries, a week after rolling up 129 yards and scoring two TDs against Fowler.
Still, the visitors came out strong in the second half.
Junior defensive back Mitch LeBouef intercepted Meldrim at the Mexico 46 to end the first series of the third quarter, and seven plays later the Tigers had the lead as sophomore tailback Jacob Burke went around left end for 23 yards and a touchdown to make it 8-7 Mexico after the conversion pass failed.
The lead seemed to pump up the visitors’ defense, though a key play happened during the next series when Meldrim and Morehouse hooked up on a 23-yard screen pass on third-and-16 from the CHS 14 that helped Cortland get some breathing room with better field position. Another key play in that regard was senior punter Levi Walrath’s 53-yard bomb early in the fourth that pinned the visitors back on their own 12, shortly after the drive had been kept alive with a roughing the kicker penalty (as Walrath was knocked down) that gave the hosts an automatic first down.
It all led to a shanked six-yard punt by Mexico senior David Kinney that set Cortland up on the Tiger 46 with 5:50 left in the game.
A PASS INTERFERENCE call on Mexico on a third-and-12 incompletion gave Cortland the ball on the Tiger 21, and two plays later Meldrim hit Fitzgerald, flashing across from the right side on a post pattern, in stride on the two-yard line and he went untouched into the end zone, making it 14-8 Cortland with 2:16 left after Walrath’s conversion kick.
“I saw that the primary receiver on the play was covered and got worried,” Meldrim said. “But Fitzgerald had said in the huddle that his guy couldn’t stay with him. I saw him come over the middle, threw him the ball and we had a TD, just like that.”
“I told A.J. that they weren’t paying attention to me, he threw it to me and I ran it in,” Fitzgerald said. “The guy would run 10 yards with me, then not go any farther.”
Mexico started the ensuing drive on its own 12 after a strong kickoff by senior Matt Pitcher and promptly lost five yards to illegal procedure. After two incomplete passes (Williams was 0-for-4 on the night), Fitzgerald, a linebacker on defense, came roaring in from the left side. When the Mexico signal-caller bobbled the snap out of the shotgun, he dove on the loose ball in the end zone for another TD with 1:49 left to create the final margin of victory.
“Coach Murphy made a great call,” Fitzgerald said. “I came in from the weak side and just went for it. I was able to tip the quarterback’s arm as he tried to catch the snap. It was crazy, man!”
“Cortland came to play, and wanted it more than we did,” Mexico coach Tee Murabito said in hushed tones on his team’s sideline as his players filed quietly past, headed for the bus and the long ride home. “I wasn’t surprised, because Cortland played hard last week, but I think our guys might have overlooked them a little. Their quickness took some adjusting to, and when that happens, a good team is going to beat you.
“We tried to shorten the gaps and go with power off-tackle, but we shot ourselves in the foot more times than not. We had the ball on their one-yard line and messed that up. We didn’t execute and get it done, while Cortland did. They also have a pressure defense that comes at you. They took us out of our offensive game and we couldn’t adjust.”
For the game, CHS had 136 yards of total offense (including 52 rushing on 30 carries), with Meldrim going 10-for-17 passing for 84 yards, the touchdown and the interception. Mexico rolled up all 95 of its yards on the ground, in 36 carries.
“We have some weakness, but we make up for them with a lot of guts,” Darrow said. “We missed four or five big (offensive) plays because guys weren’t in the right place, but the kids have heart and want to play, and the coaching staff did a great job. The defense was awesome again. We hope to just get better and better on offense all the time.”
Meldrim and Fitzgerald shared the Purple Tigers’ Offensive Player of the Game award (a CHS mini-helmet, representative of a larger helmet that each winner will sign during the season and which the season’s overall winner will keep). Defensive end Dan Foster won the huge rawhide chew bone that goes to the Defensive Player of the Game (aka “Big Dog”), and Walrath earned the inscribed camouflage T-Shirt given to the Special Teams Player of the Game.
“This was a huge win,” Murphy said. “We have an awful lot of respect for Mexico. Everyone worked hard for this, and knew how good we were.”
“We hoped coming in to win one of the first four games,” said Darrow, whose team visits 2006 league runner-up Fulton this Friday and then hosts defending champion East Syracuse-Minoa on Sept. 21. “I think it gets easier after that. We’ll get to work on Monday. We just want to hang around and have a chance to win every game.”
In other league games Friday night, ES-M edged visiting Fulton 34-33 while host Fowler rebounded from the loss to Mexico by beating Chittenango 18-13.
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Trojans can’t turn turnovers into win
SOLVAY — There was good news and there was bad news for the Homer Central football squad Friday night.
The good news was the Trojans could still play smash-mouth football, forcing eight Solvay turnovers. The bad news was the Trojans could not move the ball on offense.
The net result from all this at Earl Hadley Stadium was a typical game between these two Section 3 Class B West Division rivals, with the host Bearcats eking out a 12-6 win on a Ben Przepiora two-yard run with 4:07 left in the fourth quarter. Solvay improves to 2-0 in division and overall play while Homer falls to 0-2.
It is the first 0-2 start for the Trojans since the 2004 season when they finished 6-3 after opening season losses to Cortland and Solvay.
“It was a huge improvement for everyone in effort,” said Homer head coach Gary Podsiedlik. “It was a huge improvement in everyone working together. If we did the things that we could control a little better, we would have won. All the coaches know we took steps in the right direction tonight. We still control our destiny. We are still in the hunt for a playoff spot
“We held a team that scored 50 points in the first week to just 12 points,” Podsiedlik continued. “We still need to bust our tails in the practice sessions this week so that we are even better next Friday night.”
“It has been an interesting two weeks,” said Solvay head coach Phil Merrill. “When you give up 31 points (in last week’s win over Skaneateles), you don’t expect to win. When you turn the ball over eight times like we did tonight, you don’t expect to win. Give our guys a lot of credit. They really hung in there tonight.
“We have some guys finally believing that it is a team effort,” Merrill added. “Ben Przepiora played with so much heart. Jesse Dinneen and Jordan Cavaliere got some carries as well as really helped us out and did some good things.”
HOMER TURNED the ball over on its opening possession when Taylor Delperuto intercepted a Will Connery third-down pass at the Trojan 32-yard line and returned the ball eight yards before fumbling the ball right back to the Trojans. Franco Giordano fell on the loose ball for Homer giving the Trojans a fresh set of downs.
The Trojans netted three yards on six plays, because of two holding penalties, but, when Talon Sprouse’s punt hit Solvay return man Jesse Dinneen and caromed away at midfield, Jake Smith bounced on the ball for the Trojans for another series of offensive plays. Homer drove to the Solvay 28, but Connery was sacked for a 15 yard loss on fourth down by Addison Irons and Solvay took over at their own 43 with 3:41 left in the first quarter.
The Bearcats moved 12 yards on four plays before Ben Carl (19 carries-147 yards) broke loose on a 34-yard run before being knocked out-of-bounds at the Trojan 11 by Mike Carboine. Carl capped the 4:01 drive four plays later with a one-yard out as Solvay took a 6-0 lead with 11:40 left in the second quarter. The point-after kick failed.
That would be the only scoring in the first half.
The best Homer scoring chance came after Solvay took possession on a touchback of a Sprouse punt at their own 20-yard line. Anthony Liquori fumbled the ball at the 21 and Kyle Griffin recovered for the Trojans. Homer fumbled the ball right back on the very first play from scrimmage with Carl pouncing on the ball at his own 15-yard line.
Even though the ball got close to midfield, the last three Solvay possessions ended with a fumble, an interception and a punt, which Homer fumbled on the Solvay 48 with 14 seconds left in the half. The only two Homer possessions ended with punts and the mishandled Solvay punt.
Solvay began the third quarter by fumbling on third down. Connery scooped up the ball at the Bearcat 23 and returned it six yards to the 17-yard line. Five plays later, K.J. Reese powered in from two yards out to even the score at 6-6 with 9:30 left in the third quarter. After a Homer off-sides penalty on the extra-point try. The snap was high to holder Sprouse, who grabbed the ball and tried to run for the two-point conversion, but was stopped just short of the goal-line.
Solvay moved inside the Homer 20 the next two possessions, but were denied twice in the third quarter by two more fumbles. Carl did recover the second fumble to keep the Solvay drive alive, but quarterback Jonathon Orioli had his pass picked off in the end zone by Joey Rivers for a touchback with 11:25 left in the game.
AFTER HOLDING Homer to six plays, Michael Acchione gave Solvay great field position with a 25-yard punt return to the Trojan 39-yard line. The Bearcats took nine plays to move those 39 yards with Przepiora capping the four-minute drive with his touchdown run. Orioli pass for the two-point conversion failed.
Homr would get one last chance, but Solvay held firm and forced Homer to punt with 2:20 left in the game.
Solvay ran six plays and got two crucial first downs to kill the remaining time.
Both Carl and Liquori missed a chunk of time with injuries. Liquori did not return, but Carl did. Przepiora (9-55), Orioli (9-53) and Dinneen (5-22) shared the running duties and took up the rushing slack.
Aleks Glover led the Homer rushing attack with 55 yards on 17 carries, with Simonetta netting 54 yards on 14 carries. In all, the Trojans could only muster 97 yards rushing and 32 yards passing.
Homer will return to action Friday, traveling to Marcellus for a 7 p.m. Class B West clash on the Mustangs’ new turf field.
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