September 26, 2009
Bizarre play costly for Homer
Westhill alone in first after toppling Trojans
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Homer Central tailback Logan Hall (24) is redirected as teammate Carter O’Gorman (66) blocks Westhill defender Joe Snyder (20) in the first quarter of Friday’s first place football showdown. Visiting Westhill won, 28-14.
It’s hard to imagine how a great special teams play by one team can turn into a touchdown by the opposition, but that is exactly what happened Friday night at George Butts Field to the chagrin of football host Homer Central.
It was just one of the stranger-than-usual plays fans witnessed as Westhill remained undefeated with a 28-14 victory over the Trojans in this Section 3 Class B West Division battle for first place. The 10th-ranked Warriors improved to 2-0 in the division and 4-0 overall. The Trojans slip to 1-1, 2-2 overall.
Trailing 14-0 with eight minutes left in the first half, Homer held Westhill’s potent offense to force Westhill to line up for a 37-yard field goal attempt. R.J. Chester had his boot blocked at the line of scrimmage. Instead of the ball being dead, another Trojan player dove for the ball and missed. It bounced away from the pack where Westhill senior Nate Nigolian scooped the ball up just outside the 20-yard line and raced into the Trojan end zone for what proved to be a crucial touchdown.
“It is certainly nothing than I had ever seen before,” Westhill coach Gary Griffo said after watching his team dodge a big bullet, as Homer rallied to within 21-14 in the fourth quarter before coming up short. “We knew this was going to be a tough game and it was. They took advantage our our weaknesses. Gary (Podsiedlik) and his entire staff do a great job preparing their team. Those guys have been together for a while and there is a great football tradition in Homer.
“We had a couple of nice plays that got us touchdowns,” he continued. “Field position was critical and that worked in our favor most of the game.”
Westhill star senior Dan Ross made his presence known on the second play of the game when he picked off John Sciera’s pass at the Trojan 32-yard line. Four plays later, Ross was on the receiving end of a 17-yard scoring strike from quarterback Jeff Law as the Warriors took a 6-0 lead with 9:29 left in the quarter. Ross caught six passes for 77 yards while Law was an excellent 11-for-14 for 161 yards and three touchdowns.
“Dan Ross in an unbelievable athlete and we are blessed to have him on our team,” Griffo said. “Jeff played his best game, percentage wise, of the season.”
“The Law kid had a big game for Westhill,” said Podsiedlik. “He’s a scrapper and battles every play he is on the field. And Ross? What a great athlete. He had a great effort, he’s a great tackler and he really played great defense with the two picks, plus he caught two scoring passes.
“I certainly cannot question our effort,” he continued. “We were in better shape in the fourth quarter because of our conditioning. We can still get better as a team. We just have little things that still need correcting, but we can play with anybody. Our guys just have to believe that and continue to improve. We still control our own destiny. We can finish second in our division and I’d love to play these guys again for the sectional title.”
AFTER TAKING THE 7-0 lead, Westhill forced the Trojans to punt after three plays and took possession of the ball at their own 47-yard line. Five plays later, Law lofted a pass to Nigolian in the corner of the end zone. The 24-yard hook-up and two-point run by Kevin Wilson gave the Warriors a 14-0 lead with 4:56 remaining in the first quarter.
After the blocked field goal touchdown play, Homer trailed 21-0 and could have folded up the tents. Just the reverse happened. The Trojans found the spark and really held the Warriors in check until the final five minutes of the game.
Behind the running of Logan Hall (19 carries-85 yards), Homer marched 42 yards in 12 plays before the drive stalled at the Warrior 24. One play later, Wilson fumbled the ball at his own 30-yard line and Andy Parker recovered for the Trojans. Sciera (11-for-23, 141 yards) capped the four-play drive with a 19-yard pass to Zach Hatfield in the back of the end zone. Connor Ferrito kicked the extra point and the Trojans trailed 21-7 with 30 seconds left in the first half.
That set-up the next strange play as Jaydon Kiernan nearly whiffed the ensuing kickoff. The ball rolled backwards one yard and was whistled dead when Kiernan picked up the ball. No penalty was assessed and Westhill ended the half with a long pass towards Nigolian, but defensive back Cody Sandy knocked the ball down.
The second half opened with Westhill forced to punt from their own end zone on its first possession. Homer got the ball at the Warrior 37, but could not mount a scoring drive and Ross picked off Sciera for the second time in the game. Two plays later, Wilson fumbled again and the Trojans recovered the ball at the Westhill 45.
Sciera drove the Trojans to the Warrior 17 where the drive stalled. Both defenses were now in control as play moved into the fourth quarter.
Mark McAnaney pinned Homer deep in the own territory with a great punt that was downed at the 10-yard line. Jake Morris (9 carries-75 yards) got the Trojans out of the hole with a 33-yard run on second down to the Westhill 49. Homer kept the ball on the ground and marched to the Warrior 18. Facing third-and seven, Sciera threaded a pass to Hunter Osborne at the two-yard line. Great second effort by Osborne got him in the end zone. Homer trailed 21-14 with five minutes to play.
INSTEAD OF trying to run ou the clock after field a Trojans’ on-side kick attempt, Coach Griffo had his Warriors go to an aerial attack and it worked.
A 26-yard pass over the middle to 6-foot-7 tight end Tom Fisher moved the ball to the Homer 34. After a two-yard run by Wilson, Law completed three more passes to put six more points on the scoreboard. The first two completions were each 11-yard tosses; one to Ross and one to Fisher. On first-and goal from the Trojan 10, Law capped the drive with a touchdown toss to Ross with 2:13 remaining.
“That was a great decision by Westhill,” Podsiedlik said. “They didn’t do anything fancy, but passing the ball surprised us. The passes were just out the reach of our guys and going to the tight end was a great decision. They took what we gave them.”
Homer tried to mount one more scoring drive, but the effort stalled at the Westhill 36. The Warriors took over and Law took a knee twice to run out the clock.
One guy would shouldn’t be overlooked in this game was Homer punter Frank Davis. The junior only averaged 25.3 yards, but those really were key as Westhill never got a good return. The biggest punt was his second punt. The snap was low and Westhill had a heavy rush as the line of scrimmage was the Homer 19. Davis fielded the low snap, side-step one rusher and kicked the ball to the Homer 38. It wasn’t his best punt, but he avoided a blocked punt or Westhill recovery inside the 20-yard line. Ironically, that was the series that Homer would force the field goal attempt that Westhill scored on.
“Frank has done a nice job as our punter,” Podsiedlik said. “We want all of our punts to finish with a net of 25 yards or less and he helps us do that.”
Homer will now regroup and face another stiff B West test Friday. The Trojans will travel to Marcellus for a 7 p.m. kickoff in the final regular season road game.
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