Against Panthers, Hornell eyes 4th straight state title
HOOSICK, N.Y. - The Hornell Red Raiders have been the best team in the state for the past four years, winning 51 games in a row and three Class B titles before dropping to Class C this season.
But don't think Hoosick Falls Central School, in its first trip to the Carrier Dome for the state football championship since 2003, are worried about that.
Coach Ron Jones said the only things the Panthers can worry about are themselves.
"We haven't talked about it much, but it's not hero worship for our guys," Jones said. "They respect [Hornell], of course, and 51 wins in a row is impressive. But if I'm them, I'm saying, 'Who the heck is Hoosick Falls?'
"But I don't think our guys are focused on that, we need to take care of ourselves."
The first order of business for Hoosick Falls is to stop Hornell's senior running back Zach Bacon. A four-year starter, Bacon has rushed for 1,351 yards and 13 touchdowns in 12 games, including 152 in the west semifinal against Chenango Forks.
So far this season, Hoosick Falls has been successful against the run, allowing just 103.9 yards per game.
"He's big but judging speed on film is tough," Jones said. "He puts two hands on the ball; we're not going to get any easy takeaways. Then it takes a swarm to bring him down - he's a load. Once the pads turn north-south, he's a tough kid."
Luke Morgan, a 5-foot-6 junior, is the faster of the Red Raiders' two backs. Morgan has rushed for 15 touchdowns and 925 yards himself.
"They are big, patient and happy to go three to six yards at a clip," Jones said. "They say it's OK to punt the ball and play good defense and gain field position. Championship teams find a way to beat you."
If the Red Raiders have to lean on the passing game, they can do that, too. Senior quarterback Richie Harkenrider has completed 62-of-117 attempts for 1,271 yards, 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions. The team's leading receiver is Brendan Buisch, a 6-foot-4, 190-pounder who has 516 yards and eight touchdowns this season.
"They're going to run a lot, but we can't get lulled to sleep with the run," Jones said. "They are very competent in the pass game, but they don't do it a lot because they don't need to."
On defense, the Red Raiders run a basic seven-man front.
"They are very opportunistic on defense and special teams," Jones said. "They work the edges well, they are big and strong. If you go straight at them, you play into their hands."
In addition to being one of the leading running backs, Bacon is also one of the leading tacklers at linebacker.
To win, Jones said the Panthers need to emphasize their own strengths.
"We prepare for the other team, but psychologically we need to take care of our stuff first," Jones said. "This year, they are 12-0, not 51-0. And we're 12-0 too, so what the heck, let's go see.
"Over the same time period, we're 44-3. We're used to success here."
And while Hoosick Falls is happy to reach the final, the ultimate goal is only 60 minutes away.
"Nobody is considering losing," Jones said. "We just need to see how the game turns out. Momentum swings in weird ways.
"We're happy we're there, but we're not done; we want to win the thing. That's where our focus is."
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.