Football: Panthers ride comeback to the Dome
KINGSTON, N.Y. -- There was a moment on Saturday morning, in between the first and second quarters, when Ron Jones took a moment to say something to his football team.
The Panthers coach knew his players were tired. They were upset. They had allowed 21 points in just 12 minutes. But Jones also knew something else. He knew they could turn this around.
So he stepped into the huddle, told his guys to take a deep breath, to relax and play the way they had all season long.
They listened. And for the first time since 2003, the Hoosick Falls football team heads to Syracuse for the New York State Class C Championship after topping James I. O'Neill 43-21 in the semi-finals at Dietz Stadium.
"We told them, look, when they're blocking you, you can't just accept that," Jones said. "You have to push back on them. You've got to attack; if you don't push them back you won't be able to compete."
For the first five minutes of Saturday's matchup, the Panthers couldn't seem to get anything right, unable to contain O'Neill's star running back Jerry Nasi, who rushed for 131 yards and three touchdowns in the first quarter.
Nasi's first play from scrimmage went for a 63-yard touchdown, breaking through the usually strong Hoosick Falls front line and catching the Panthers by surprise for the first time all season.
"We weren't used to that," said senior Brad Burns. "We really just had to buckle down in that second quarter, because the first was a disaster for us."
Down 21-14 midway through the second quarter, the Panthers finally got the edge they were looking for, forcing and recovering an O'Neill fumble deep in its own territory.
Just over a minute later, Burns and fellow senior Billy Pine combined for four plays and 94 yards straight into the endzone. A two point conversion gave Hoosick Falls the lead, one they would never again surrender, as they took complete control of the matchup.
"Once Brad and I started running the ball, they just couldn't figure out what we were doing," Pine, who finished with more than 170 yards on the ground and another 73 yards in the air, said. "We were spreading out really well and they just didn't have any adjustments for us."
It was all Hoosick Falls from there, taking control on both sides of the ball and dictating exactly how the remainder of the game would be played.
After allowing 21 points in the first quarter, the Panthers did what they had to in order to shut down O'Neill, holding Nasi to only 48 yards in the final 36 minutes.
"It had to start at the line of scrimmage," Burns, who also finished the game with five rushing touchdowns, said. "We had to bottle up that line and shut down his holes."
The Panthers, currently ranked second among Class C teams across New York state, fell into the same rhythm that had led them to the semifinal to begin with, dominating in the trenches and taking their time on offense, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike.
At the end of it all, they turned what could have been a blow-out and another disappointing loss at Dietz Stadium into the kind of football game that other teams only dream of.
"These guys aren't going to go out by folding over," Jones said. "If you beat us, you're going to have to beat us. That's what championship teams do."
The Panthers will trek out to Syracuse next Saturday, where they'll face off against top-ranked Hornell at noon in the Class C Championship game.
Hornell, who moved down to Class C this season, is looking for their fourth straight state championship, while the Panthers are going back to the Carrier Dome for the first time in almost a decade.
Despite all of that though, Hoosick Falls is taking Saturday's victory as a sign of good things to come and, frankly, they're looking forward to the challenge.
"I've got that chip off my shoulder, the bad taste out of my mouth and now we're going to the Dome," Burns said. "It's going to be a great game."
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