Vestal-Forks football matchup? It's just a dream

From the 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 already has.  

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 this season.

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 1-2.

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 about equal."

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 defense.

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 game.

"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 well-run machine.

"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 football teams."

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 interest.

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.