October 23, 2010
Cortland’s moving on
Prior interceptions, TD run help blank Blue Devils, 22-0
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Jonathon Prior of Cortland High outruns Camden’s Ward Snyder on his way to a 68-yard touchdown run in the first quarter of Friday’s Section 3 Class A quartefinal round playoff game at SUNY Cortland. CHS won 22-0.
Jonathan Prior didn’t get a chance to show his stuff that much when the Cortland High football team lost 35-25 at Camden in the second game of this season back on Sept. 10.
Coming off a missed 2009 campaign due to an injury, the junior tailback did carry the ball nine times for 55 yards and a late touchdown in that contest. Now, however, it’s a safe bet that now his name will be remembered by the Blue Devils for a long time to come.
Prior made a huge impression, and then some, on the eighth-seeded visitors Friday night with four interceptions as a cornerback on defense, including a highlight-reel one-handed grab on what would be their final offensive play of the game. He also scored the first and only points the top-seeded Purple Tigers would need in a 22-0 win in the first round of the Section 3 Class A playoffs at the SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex.
It was the program’s first playoff win since 2003, when CHS beat visiting Whitesboro 33-27 in the first round before falling to eventual champion Camden 24-12 in the semifinals at Central Square. Ironically, beating Camden this season earned the Class A American Division champions a semifinal date with Whitesboro at a neutral site, the game most likely to be played this coming Friday.
The defending sectional A champion Warriors (7-1), the fourth seed this fall and the A National co-champs, whipped visiting No. 5 Jamesville-DeWitt 62-7 in another first-rounder Friday night.
The last Cortland shutout was a 20-0 win over visiting Oswego on Oct. 3, 2008.
“Jonathan was our X-Factor,” CHS coach Dave Darrow said in the wake of Friday’s triumph. “The first game against Camden he was shaking the rust off. After being hurt last year he wasn’t there that first game. Now he’s there. Four interceptions is amazing. He’s a hard worker and is getting better.”
“This team worked hard all week, was very prepared and is getting better all the time. We did a great job defensively against the run, and should have had two more touchdowns in the first half.”
“The last game I was able to see what their receivers did,” Prior said in between being congratulated by teammates after the game. “I knew none of them were as fast as me, so I could play closer on coverage. The line also did a good job of rushing the quarterback and making him hurry his throws.”
AS IT WAS, CHS — now 6-2 after its sixth straight victory — was up only 6-0 at the half on the strength of a 68-yard touchdown run by Prior on the second play of the game. He hit a hole, cut left and sprinted untouched to the end zone. The conversion run unsuccessful.
To start the second half, the hosts’ Justin Hogan lofted the kickoff with a spin that caused the Blue Devil receiver to muff it, junior lineman Zeke McGinn recovering at the Camden 38. Seven plays later junior quarterback Devon Darrow found classmate and wide receiver Qwuhail Barlow in the end zone with a 13-yard scoring strike, and then hooked up with senior tight end Justin Tabel on the conversion as Cortland was up 14-0 just 3:05 into the second half.
As it turned out, Camden (3-5) would run only nine plays from scrimmage, including a punt, in the second half, limited to six yards of total offense — minus-two yards rushing on four carries and completing just one pass in four attempts for eight yards.
For the game, Cortland had 416 yards of total offense — including 131 yards on 11 carries and the TD by Prior, 119 yards on 20 carries by senior tailback Alex Stacy and an 11-for-20 passing night for 94 yards with one TD by Devon Darrow — to 165 for Camden. Prior had two interceptions in each half, and for the game was on the receiving end of more passes than any of the Blue Devil receivers. Senior wide receiver Jack Keil led the visitors with three catches for 72 yards.
“We really broke down their previous games,” Purple Tigers defensive coordinator Paul Thomas said in explaining his unit’s overpowering performance. “We knew exactly what their tendencies were based on their formations and knew where they were going to go with the ball. They were very predictable. The kids watched tape, and we quizzed them on what Camden would do in certain formations.
“There were no surprises,” he added. “They executed their plays just like we’d repped them in practice all week. It was a great effort by everyone, a great team effort, and I couldn’t be more proud of them. Jonathan came up big when we needed it.”
CAMDEN MOUNTED THREE scoring threats in the first half, losing the ball on downs at the Cortland 26 on the series after Prior’s TD. Prior then came up with interceptions at the CHS 15-yard line late in the first quarter and at the hosts’ five-yard line just over four minutes into the second quarter.
Cortland also had some first-half offensive problems, losing a fumble at the Blue Devil 14-yard line in addition to punting four times.
After the early second-half touchdown, Cortland ‘s defense forced the visitors to punt and then advanced to the Camden 34 before bogging down. Prior picked up his third interception on Camden’s first play after that, returning it 61 yards from the Purple Tiger 32 down to the Blue Devils’ seven. A scoring strike from Darrow to Barlow was negated by an ineligible receiver penalty two plays later, and Barlow left the game with a leg injury two plays after that and was done for the night, his status for the next game uncertain. Darrow was ultimately stopped at the two on fourth down.
The visitors promptly mishandled the ball on the next play and it bounced backwards and out of the end zone for a safety to make it 16-0 for Cortland. The Purple Tigers started from the 50 after the ensuing free kick, chewed up the clock and eventually closed out the scoring on a four-yard keeper by Darrow with 8:11 left in the game, three plays after the drive was sustained by a roughing the passer call against Camden on a fourth-down incompletion.
Prior made his fourth and most spectacular interception three plays later, reaching over a Camden receiver and pulling the ball in one-handed at the Cortland 25. The hosts then picked up four first downs and held the ball for the final 7:25. Cortland had possession for all but 2:55 of the second half.
“It was anybody’s game, but starting the second half the way we did didn’t help,” Blue Devils coach Aaron Fiorini said after his team’s fourth consecutive loss. “We didn’t play well offensively, and haven’t for the last three weeks. We had some momentum but weren’t executing on offense; they did the little things, we didn’t and that was the difference in the game.”
“WE KNEW OUR power and iso running would work all day,” Devon Darrow said. “We stepped up big. The defense probably showed its biggest improvement, and got the shutout; that gave the offense a little boost, too. When our defense plays like that, we can play with anybody.
“We had to show them that we’re not the team we were at the beginning of the year; we’re way better now.”
“We can’t go into the next game over-rating our talent,” Prior said. “We just beat a team that’s not as good as us. Now we have to do the same thing we did this week, practice hard.”
There were no individual awards given out by the CHS coaching staff for the game, Dave Darrow noting that in the post-season the team will be emphasized over the individual.
In Friday night’s other contest, sixth-seeded Watertown (4-4) swamped host No.3 East Syracuse-Minoa 56-18. The Cyclones will go against the winner of today’s 7 p.m. game in Watertown between No. 2 Indian River (6-1) and No. 7 Mexico (2-5) in the other semifinal. The championship game will be played at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 5 at the Carrier Dome.
The Purple Tigers could well be the only A American team in the semifinals with three A National squads, but Dave Darrow said that “This game gave us some redemption. All they talk about in the A National is how much better they are than our league. We’ll play whoever we have to play. We need to win two more games.”
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