Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin - Nov 21, 2002
It is one of those intriguing
"What if" questions that'll never be answered, but
will stimulate lively debate for years to come. In fact, it
If I had a buck for every time
I was asked, "Forks or Vestal, whadaya think?" I'd
have a tidy little holiday supplement to the regular paycheck.
For the second time since state
football champions have been determined on the field rather than
on the desktop of Neil Kerr, Syracuse sports writer and New York
State Sports Writers Association honcho, a pair of Broome County
squads has reached the semifinal round of playoffs in their
respective enrollment classifications in the same season.
Vestal, having strung 10
victories and climbed to a No. 5 state ranking since a
season-opening stumble, is scheduled to tee it up against
unbeaten Webster Schroeder in a Class AA semi at 4 p.m. Saturday
in the Carrier Dome.
At 11 that morning in the Dome,
the state's No. 1 Class B ranking and a perfect record will be
affixed to Chenango Forks when the referee's whistle sounds to
set in motion semifinal play against Bath.
Hundreds from Broome County
will venture north, ascend the stairs to the Dome's Gate B and
pay the perfectly exorbitant sum of $8 to cheer the Golden Bears
and Blue Devils on to what they hope will be a return trip the
following Sunday for the finals.
No later than the evening of
Dec. 1, the final chapter will have been written on the seasons
of both Forks and Vestal, each champion of its division, its
Section 4 class, and ... beyond that, who knows?
But, oh, what a treat it would
have been for football followers hereabouts to see the gold
helmets on one sideline, the red helmets on the other, one time
Over the last two seasons, the
teams have combined to win 43 of their 46 ballgames, two of the
losses coming in last year's state playoffs, the other when
Vestal played without one of its top playmakers, receiver Conor
Talbut, in the 2002 opener.
This season, the two are
indisputably atop Section 4's lot. And while some in western
quarters may choose to plug Elmira Free Academy -- which plays
Saturday in a Class A semifinal -- the case would hold little
water. EFA has two losses this year, the first to Forks, the
second to Vestal.
And so, Forks and Vestal are
Or, Vestal and Forks are 1-2.
Which is it?
"I'd said previously that
Forks was the best around," EFA coach Dick Senko said. That
statement was made prior to EFA's encounter with Vestal. Upon
further review, Senko determined, "I'd have to say they're
We'll never know otherwise.
Forks-Vestal will remain no
more than a hypothetical thriller played out in cafeterias and
offices and taverns from Port Crane to Apalachin from now until
Vestal's brothers Talbut are gray in the temples, until Forks'
statuesque Kelsey Jenks develops a paunch in the midsection.
Forks-Vestal, had it appeared
on the schedule, would have filled large sections of bleachers,
made for a beauty of a 50-50 raffle payoff. Forks-Vestal played
this season, which began with each setting out in defense of
Section 4 titles, would have been the most ballyhooed
non-league, regular-season game contested in Broome County in a
good number of years.
Forks-Vestal, on a calm, cool
and dry autumn afternoon, may have been a classic.
Think about it: Second-and-goal
from the 4-yard line, the Blue Devils going in. Fullback Jenks
starts off-tackle, bounces outside when the lane closes down,
and tries his luck against the fleet, gang-tackling Vestal
Or, Vestal ball, third-and-8
from Forks' 41. The world knows where the football's going --
off the right hand of Joe Talbut intended for the chest of
brother Conor. Can Joe elude the pressure applied by bookend
linemen Zach Tarnowski and Jake Frisch? Does Jenks blow through
the middle and swallow him up? The pass is delivered, but does
Conor Talbut run clear of Chris Spencer and Drew Batty and the
rest of Forks' secondary crew?
Blue Devils' football near
midfield. The QB, either Spencer or Matt Juriga, tugs the ball
back from Jenks' gut and darts outside on the option. Does he
make the corner? Is he flattened by Jesse Sherwood or Mike
Paolucci or one of the many flying to the ball carrier.
Vestal ball, short-yardage
situation. Mark Peretore accepts the handoff behind the lead
block of strong man Justin Bomysoad, head down and straight at
Forks' muscle up front. Who goes backward?
"I think you'd see a great
defensive battle, probably a low-scoring game and I'd say a
toss-up," said coach Doug Stento, whose Binghamton squad
opposed Vestal twice and who has twice been a spectator for
Forks games. "I tell you what, it'd be a bruising football
"It might be kind of
boring. You know, get all hyped up for this great game, and then
it turns into a pitchers' duel."
Stento added, "Vestal
controls the game on both sides of the ball. Defensively, they
make it difficult to generate much of anything. Their defense
says, 'OK, offense, you score two touchdowns and we'll limit
them to no more than one.'
"I think they did
everything you have to do to win a championship. It was a
"Forks is similar to
Vestal in that their defensive speed is very good. They're fast
and aggressive, very quick to the ball. It's very difficult to
sustain anything against either of them.
"I think any team that had
to drive the ball 70-80 yards against either would come up empty
most every time."
Forks is bigger, stronger.
Vestal appears a shade quicker.
Forks' running game is the more
effective of the two.
Vestal is far more diversified
offensively, possessing a passing game that not only keeps
defenses honest, but puts points on the board.
It could be argued that in
Jenks, Forks has had the best football player in uniform for
each and every game each of the last two seasons.
A forte of Vestal's,
particularly on the defensive side, is that -- with due respect
to acknowledged defensive leader Jared Cady -- there is no one
player who stands above the rest. They swarm, arrive and finish.
Both have a wealth of
experienced players who take losing -- on a down, for a quarter,
certainly a ballgame -- as a personal affront. A highly
knowledgeable and dedicated coaching staff oversees each squad,
continually tinkering, fine-tuning, in a quest to make very,
very good even better.
In truth, a Forks-Vestal
matchup would have been a no-win situation for the Golden Bears.
In theory, king of Class AA is supposed to defeat the Class B's
best. And then, there is the Harbin points issue. Vestal over a
Class B foe would have been virtually meaningless, but Forks
over a Class AA would have been a point-getter supreme.
"I don't know. We're
totally different classifications," Blue Devils coach
Kelsey Green said of Forks-Vestal. "I don't think either
school has anything to prove to the other. We have two nice
Forks-Vestal didn't happen,
which is unfortunate for the true football fans in this area,
the dwindling number who make it their business to attend a
quality high school contest in which they have no rooting
I've seen my fair share of each
squad over the last several seasons, have seen
wet-behind-the-ears sophomores become dependable junior
contributors, and those juniors be transformed into a
team-leading group of seniors.
From this vantage point,
precious little separates these two dominant squads, each rooted
in tremendous, consistent defensive play.
"Forks or Vestal, whadaya
think?" assuredly will come my way again.
OK, here goes.
The winner is ...
Ah, just take the under.