October 13, 2012
CHS give Bears a big scare
An outstanding performance that came up a little short left the Cortland High football team’s players and coaches with a near-empty feeling Friday night. A wave of pride kept the needle from going all the way over to “E.”
The Purple Tigers gave visiting Chittenango — the third-ranked Class B team in the state — all it could handle on Senior Night at Moiseichik Field in a 14-13 loss that saw CHS bolt to a 13-0 lead before the unbeaten Bears rallied to take the lead at intermission, prior to what would be a scoreless second half.
The hosts squandered some golden opportunities over those final two quarters while Chittenango hung tough, doing what it needed to in wrapping up its second straight Class B West championship with a 5-0 record and staying perfect through seven games overall.
“The kids did a great job,” said Cortland coach Dave Darrow, his team having finished the regular season 3-2 in the league and 4-3 overall, as he stood in the hall outside a hushed coaches’ office. “A couple mistakes were the difference between beating the third-ranked team in the state, sharing the league championship (with the Bears and Homer Central) and a one-point loss. It was a huge opportunity.”
The biggest and most costly of the mistakes Darrow mentioned came in the third quarter. The Purple Tigers had taken the opening kickoff and driven to the Chittenango one-yard line, where they faced a fourth-and-one. Senior tailback Andrew Potter had accounted for 49 of the 85 yards they needed to get there on 10 carries, while junior quarterback Caden Giroux and classmate Teddy Phillips, a running back, had combined on a 30-yard pass-and-run play on third down to keep things rolling.
Giroux went into the end zone on a quarterback sneak, but a teammate’s false start on the play nullified the score and pushed the ball back to the six. From there, Giroux’s pass to closely-covered Phillips in the right rear corner of the end zone went incomplete and the Bears took over on downs.
The CHS defense, which limited its guests to just 168 yards of total offense on the night, yielded only four yards on three plays and, after a Chittenango punt, the hosts were back in business at the Chittenango 47. Potter was again the workhorse on the ensuing drive, toting the ball seven times for 18 yards, while Giroux and Phillips connected on another third-down play, this time for 10 yards.
It all led to the Purple Tigers facing a fourth-and-goal from the Bears’ four as the third quarter ended with hosts having held the ball for all but 1:02 of that 12-minute span. Cortland lined up for an apparent 21-yard field goal attempt by junior Mike Southwick, but after getting the snap holder Giroux stood up, rolled left and threw a pass that fell incomplete.
THE CHITTENANGO OFFENSE was able to get some breathing room the next time around, senior running back Kyle Zimmer going around the right side for 34 yards on the first play after the change of possession. The visitors ended up punting again, pinning CHS back at its own seven and starting a change of three straight possessions with turnovers.
Bears senior cornerback Devin Phelps intercepted Giroux for the third time on the night and brought the ball back to the CHS 37, but three plays later Phelps, also the quarterback, was on the other side of a pickoff as Cortland cornerback Isaiah Prior snagged a pass at the Purple Tiger 18 and brought it back to the 36. Chittenango linebacker Joe Gilona recovered a fumble at the hosts’ 37 on the ensuing possession.
The Purple Tigers had one last shot, getting the ball back at their own five with 28 seconds left after another Bear punt. They got out to the 17 on a 12-yard pass from Giroux to senior wideout Pat McMahon, but on the final play of the game Zimmer intercepted a Giroux heave on the CHS 40.
“Cortland played super tough,” a relieved Chittenango coach Jack Hayes said. “Their defense was all over, and Potter is a good runner. That’s a good team. We shot ourselves in the foot some on offense, but I guess it’s good that we were able to play sloppily and still pull out the win.
“At halftime we said that we needed some seniors to step up and for everyone to look inside themselves — did they want to share the league championship, or own it?”
Zimmer was won who voted for the latter option, leading the winners’ ground game with 85 yards on 23 carries with a touchdown in addition to the interception. “We did what we needed to to win the championship. We decided to try something new on offense (on his long fourth-quarter run) and it worked; I was able to get around the right side. This game was an eye-opener for us; we’ve been beating most teams by 40 points, but this brought us down to earth. It will be good for us.”
IT DIDN’T LOOK like that would be the case early on, as Cortland rolled to a 13-0 lead in the first 4:42 of the game.
Cortland senior safety Brian Hughes intercepted a Phelps pass on the second play of the game and returned it 28 yards for a touchdown that made it 6-0 after the conversion kick went awry. It was the sixth interception of the season for Hughes and the second he’d returned for a TD.
Linebacker Potter recovered a Chittenango fumble at the Cortland 48 on the next possession and, aided in part by a pass interference call on the Bears, the hosts drove to the Chittenango seven before Giroux connected with senior tight end Josh Gutchess in the middle of the end zone and Southwick added the kick to make it 13-0.
Chittenango came alive on the ensuing possession, which started with a kickoff return to the CHS 48 by junior Cory Benn. Phelps capped a nine-play drive with a 17-yard scoring strike to senior back Joe Gilona prior to senior Steve Billington’s kick.
Billington missed a 38 yard field goal on the bear’s next possession, which was set up by Phelps’ first interception of the night (the second coming to end the first half). Another Cortland mistake — a fumble on a punt return — enabled Chittenango to keep possession of the ball after its first drive of the second quarter and, ultimately, to take the lead and close out the scoring. Zimmer took the ball 12 yards to the CHS two on the first play after the fumble and then went in from two yards out, the all-important boot by Billington making it 14-13 with 7:13 left in the half.
Potter’s second fumble recovery set the Purple Tigers up for their final possession of the half with 2:38 left, and it ended with the second pickoff by Phelps, this time at the Bears’ 20.
That set the stage for a scoreless but eventful second half.
“I COULDN’T BE prouder of this group,” CHS defensive coordinator Paul Thomas said. “They believed in themselves, that they could beat Chittenango against all odds, and we beat them everywhere but on the scoreboard..”
“The offensive line did a tremendous job of blocking, especially (senior) Eric Richardson and (junior) Devon Lane, and the defense was strong,” Potter said. “But we made a couple of mistakes, and lost. We may see these guys again in a couple of weeks, and if we do we’ll give them a run for their money.”
“It’s disappointing, but we’re on the right track,” said Darrow, whose team had 204 yards of offense in the game. “The kids are playing hard and playing better each week; hopefully we’re at our best heading into the playoffs.”
Cortland, which finished third in the B West, will visit Oneida, the B East’s second-place squad, this Friday. The winner will most likely go against Chittenango (which opens by hosting the B East’s fourth-place team, Vernon Verona-Sherrill) in the semifinals the next weekend.
“We scrimmaged Oneida,” Hayes said. “I think Cortland’s game with them will be a lot like tonight’s, because both teams have good defenses. And I think that we’ll see Cortland again.”
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