Assistant Sports Editor
SYRACUSE, N.Y. - Manning the trenches at a wiry 5-foot-6, 160 pounds, Hoosick Falls Central School senior Bryan Sherman was, like most of his teammates, undersized compared to the Hornell Red Raiders he would line up against in Saturday's Class C state final.
But if one answer came from the Panthers' championship performance it was this:
"We knew we had to outmatch them with our pace and speed," said Sherman. "That was the theme all game, just attack and make them work and wear them out."
For Hornell's size, Hoosick Falls countered with speed, technique and smarts. For Hornell's historic 51-game winning streak, the second longest ever in New York, Hoosick Falls answered with hunger for its first state crown.
For Hornell's 21 points, Hoosick Falls fired back with 34.
Point taken, championship trophy secured.
"Without a doubt, they were the best team we've seen [this year]," Hornell coach Erik Werner said. "They ran a great system.
"We'd seen team speed, we'd played some very athletic teams these guys, you know, I don't really have an answer as far as X's and O's. I just know they played a tremendous game and they earned their championship," Werner said.
Yet X's and O's only tell part of the story.
Man-on-man, Hornell, with linemen outweighing their Panther counterparts by 50 pounds or more, was the favorite before kickoff. Sherman, for instance, stood some nine inches shorter and 115 pounds lighter than the Raiders' biggest player, Zach Kellogg.
Rather, it was with the immeasurables that Hoosick Falls shined.
"We can't line up against guys like that and just run them over," Hoosick coach Ron Jones said. "We have to do certain things."
The Panthers' spread attack maximized space available for their athletes. The read-option package with quarterback Billy Pine and tailback Brad Burns played into years of chemistry and preyed on Hornell mistakes.
And the undersized offensive line, as it had all season, provided the protection.
"I will never judge any of those guys' toughness because I'm bigger than three or four of them but those guys have hearts the size of lions," said Pine, who earned championship MVP honors with 169 yards rushing, 85 yards passing and three total touchdowns.
"They attacked all game," Pine said. "Their motors just do not quit and I can't thank them enough for that."
When the halftime horn sounded with Hoosick Falls leading, 27-7, the Panthers raced off the field toward their locker room while the Red Raiders, shell-shocked, unclasped their chinstraps and left the field slowly.
The Panthers, playing to their strengths, had left their mark.
Hornell's bruising back Zach Bacon - at 6-feet, 230 pounds - mustered just 51 yards on 13 carries behind his imposing line.
With their option attack and smaller front, Pine and Burns rolled up 313.
"Coach [Ron Jones] always says to be the most physical team and own the tempo," Pine said. "Coach watches a lot of Oregon Ducks film and they push the tempo and just wear teams down. We knew our pace would just wear them down and we would get those big runs."
Late in the contest, the Panthers took the tempo in the opposite direction. After three quarters of unrelenting action, they squeezed time off the clock with a deliberate, six-minute drive.
"We worked on it all week and it came out like we planned," Burns said.
The Panthers are quite OK with their formula.
"It proves that we're tough, that we won't quit even when we face adversity and we're the underdog," Sherman said.