Panthers race past Hornell for crown
SYRACUSE, N.Y. - Three-time defending state champion Hornell had beaten a lot of teams a lot of different ways during its 51-game winning streak, the second longest such run in the history of New York high school football.
Then the Red Raiders met Hoosick Falls.
Roaring back after a Hornell touchdown on the second play from scrimmage, the Panthers used their up-tempo, no-huddle offense to tire out the Red Raiders and score 27 unanswered points in the first half en route to a 34-21 win in the Class C championship at the Carrier Dome.
The title is the first for any male sports team at Hoosick Falls.
"The seniors finally got to go out with that state championship," senior running back Brad Burns said. "We're just trying to take it in right now."
The read-option package, giving the quarterback the chance to read the defense and make a decision to give the ball to the runner or keep it himself, was key for the Panthers. Quarterback Billy Pine rushed for a season-high 169 yards and Burns for 144.
"We've had so many [reps] over the years, running the [option] was pretty easy because you can see what they are doing," said Pine, who also went 6-of-15 passing for 85 yards.
On a couple of occasions, Pine, the championship game MVP, used the option to perfection, knifing his way through the Hornell defense for several big gains and handing off to Burns, who scored on runs of 35 and 60 yards.
"We stressed tempo all week long," said Pine, who threw two touchdowns and ran for another. "They were huge guys and in the second quarter, Brad [Burns] and I had some big runs. We wore them down and that was huge in the game."
The 34 points scored were the most allowed by the Red Raiders (12-1) in more than two years.
"We made a couple mistakes on the edge. We knew what we did wrong; we kind of fixed it," said Hornell coach Erik Werner. "It kind of got us out of the defenses we wanted to run and then we made some real late adjustments that I should've seen earlier."
Leading 14-7 with 9:31 left in the half, Hoosick Falls gained more momentum with a heads-up defensive play. Starting at his 8-yard line, Hornell running back Zach Bacon scampered 14 yards before Randy Tutunjian stripped the ball and the Panthers took over at the Hornell 22.
On the first play after the turnover, Pine found open Josh Brogue on the right side. Brogue broke for the end zone, diving to the right pylon to extend the advantage to 21-7. "After the touchdown, you could see it took the life out of them," Pine said. "They started strong, but then we grabbed them by the throat. We said, 'We're here to play too.'"
Then Burns ran up the middle for a 35-yard touchdown run with five minutes left in the first half to bury the Red Raiders even deeper. Burns ended up with 2,128 yards and 37 rushing touchdowns on the season - one of the best statistical seasons in Section II history.
Hornell cut into the lead in the third quarter when quarterback Richie Harkenrider found receiver Brendan Buisch for a 45-yard touchdown strike behind the Panthers defense.
But Hoosick Falls came back immediately with Brad Burns going on a 60-yard jaunt to make the lead 20 again at 34-14.
"Before the game, Coach Jones said we're the underdogs, we need to be aggressive this entire game," Pine said. "The pace wore them down and the big plays added up. Randy and [Josh] Brogue made big plays at receiver and I have the privilege of playing next to 35 [Burns], too."
In the fourth quarter, with Hornell down 13 and 2:46 left, Panthers safety Levi Brewster picked off Hornell quarterback Richie Harkenrider, his second interception of the game, to seal the title for the Panthers.
Hoosick Falls finished with no turnovers, while the Red Raiders had four.
"I only felt comfortable when they were down two scores and we got the ball back so we could take [three kneeldowns]," Jones said, who won his first New York championship in 14 seasons leading the Panthers.
Hoosick Falls becomes only the second Section II team to go 13-0 in a season, matching the 1996 Watervliet championship squad.
The Panthers held Hornell to 233 yards on the ground, a third of which came on Luke Morgan's 74-yard scoring run on the opening drive. Morgan finished with 132 yards while Bacon amassed 51 yards on 13 carries.
"Hoosick Falls, I give them all the credit in the world. They were a tremendous football team," Werner said. "They earned this victory today."
The state crown was the second this season for Hoosick Falls, which also claimed the Class C girls soccer championship.
It was also the realization of a long-awaited goal.
"Coach Jones said you can get overwhelmed by the atmosphere, the stadium and the win streak, or go out and take them out. They are in your way, you've had this goal since sixth grade," Pine said. "It means the world to Hoosick Falls. It's a football town that was missing one thing - a state championship.
"We'll talk about this for the rest of our lives and to have it come true is unbelievable."
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.