2004 Chenango Forks Varsity Football

Game 10 vs Norwich

Blue Devils defeat Norwich 15-6
for fourth straight Section 4 B title!!

Articles courtesy of
Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin and the Norwich Evening Sun

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Forks holds on to title

Devils repeat with victory over Norwich

By Kevin Stevens
Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin

Photo's by Rebecca Towns - Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin
Place mouse over photos for caption

ENDICOTT -- Call it an eye-opening introduction to postseason football, 2004 style, for Chenango Forks.   

Not even defending state champions riding New York's longest active football win streak, it would appear, are immune from the survive-and-advance bit that creeps into the equation with the onset of playoffs.

The Blue Devils survived, all right, by 15-6 over a defensively stupendous Norwich squad that pushed Forks to the limit in Section 4's Class B championship game Friday night at Ty Cobb Stadium. Chenango Forks' John Florance is on the receiving end of a 38-yard reception from Tim Batty as Norwich's Brett Oles defends late in the first half Friday night. Forks scored a TD three plays later

The 10-0 Blue Devils, whose narrowest winning margin in the regular season was 36 points -- on opening night, at Norwich -- didn't hold the lead for good until Tim O'Branski took an option pitch and motored 65 yards for a touchdown that made it 12-6 with 1:57 remaining in the third quarter.

In fact, take away that run and Forks' machine of a running offense was limited to 54 rushing yards. And, get this: The Devils punted seven times, one more than they had in their most recent five games combined.

All together, the statistics were a testament to the brand of defense Norwich (8-2) demonstrated from start to finish, and to the great strides the Purple Tornado has made since falling behind Forks by 37-0 at halftime on Sept. 3.

Ahead for Forks, which has won 23 straight games and is two wins shy of a fourth consecutive appearance in the Class B state final, is a quarterfinal against either Syracuse Westhill (6-3) or Oneida (8-1) at 9:30 a.m. a week from today in the Carrier Dome.

"We knew it (a tight game) was going to come all season, so we'd been preparing for it. But obviously, tonight we had to play four quarters," said O'Branski, a 175-pound senior. "It's a different situation than we'd been in, but we came up and rose to the occasion."

"We did tell them, 'Hey, we're in a dog fight,' and we've been telling them all year we're going to be in one some time, some way," Forks coach Kelsey Green said. "I like the way we came out even after we gave up the touchdown."

Norwich's score, the first points put on the board against Forks in over a month, came on a 3-yard rush by Blaine Laughlin with 5:37 remaining in the third quarter to make it 6-6. The Tornado's PAT attempt went awry, just as Forks' had following a Tim Batty-to-Zach Vredenburgh TD pass of 5 yards with 27.9 seconds to play in the first half.

Forks, facing its first tie score other than 0-0 all season, followed with its sixth three-and-out series of the night, but regained possession at its 35-yard line when Norwich punted back the football.

Two minutes and 10 seconds remained in the third quarter when Batty accepted the snap from center, started to his right and pitched to O'Branski. From there ... Chenango Forks quarterback Tim Batty is pulled down by Norwich's Blaine Laughlin as teammate Anthony Muserallo closes in during the second half of Friday's Class B football championship at Union-Endicott

"It was open, Tim gave me the pitch and I had great blocks on the outside and I just had to run as fast as I could," O'Branski said. "I just ran as fast as I could and made it to the end zone."

Batty, virtually automatic on PAT kicks during the regular season, missed left for the second time and it remained 12-6.

Norwich picked up one first down on the ensuing possession, but the drive stalled at its 32-yard line. Forks took over following a punt at its 41, ran 14 plays before Batty was stopped for no gain on a third-down rush from the 1-yard line, and then he converted a 19-yard field goal for the 15-6 advantage with 4:03 remaining in the game.

Norwich failed to make a first down thereafter.

"We're a pretty good football team, and I don't think anybody thought we had a shot at this other than our kids and us. They executed our plan," Norwich coach John Pluta said. "We knew we couldn't sit back (defensively), we knew we had to come at them a little bit. Coach (John) Martinson made some great adjustments during the week from the first game against them.

"We're just a much better team. We're one play, two big plays away from winning it."

Forks' 227 yards of offense was 121 yards shy of its previous season low. In fact, Friday night marked just the third time this season the Blue Devils fell short of the 400-yard mark.

Tornado fall short to Blue Devils in sectional finals

By William Stratton
Sports Writer
The Norwich Evening Sun

ENDICOTT - Imagine you are watching your favorite movie, where the heroes are facing insurmountable odds and undefeatable foes. Imagine expecting the heroes to pull through, believing, knowing they will. But then, at the last minute, they fail. Imagine how it would feel. Or imagine that it’s a cliffhanger, only this time the hero falls to his demise. Or perhaps it’s a mystery, only this time the detective is unable to solve the case. Would it still be your favorite movie? Would you ever cheer for the underdogs again?

If you were in Endicott on Friday evening and happened to be a Norwich fan watching the Section IV class ‘B’ football championship Friday versus Chenango Forks, this might have been your exact experience as Norwich fell just short of victory 15-6.

Forks won the opening coin toss, and elected to defer their choice to the second half. As a result, Norwich received the kickoff and it’s smash-mouth offense took the field. Over the season, the Norwich offense has proven a powerhouse running machine, and churned out hundreds of yards and points with numerous weapons. This was no ordinary defense, however. This was Chenango Forks, who had forced four shutouts and never allowed more than 14 points for the entire season. The Blue Devils promptly shut Norwich down, forcing a punt after three downs.

Now, the Forks offense took the field. Led by returning state MVP Tim Batty, they were used to rolling right over opposing defenses. The dogged Norwich defense, however, was not so easily dismissed. After three downs and two stops behind the line of scrimmage, it suddenly appeared obvious to onlookers that Norwich had not come to play, but to win. To keep this in perspective, the Chenango Forks offense had, previously, cranked out 425 points over 8 games, or about 53 points per game, the best by far in the section.

So it went for the next couple of series. Three downs, forced punt, repeat. Until the last drive of the first half, where Forks, having edged closer and closer to the end zone in a battle of field position, caught a break on a big play. With linebacker Chris Eddy in his face, on third-and long, Batty launched an off-balance, wobbly pass in the general direction of receiver Zach Vredenburgh. It was caught, and the play finished all they way down at the Norwich eight-yard line. The Norwich defense had a choice: Dig in and tough out four downs within its own ten-yard line, or quit and let Forks score. NHS chose to fight, and fight it did, stuffing the next four downs and recovering the ball on its own eight-yard line.

Now things began to get interesting, as both teams headed into the second quarter with different realizations. Forks realized that it was facing its first, and possibly only real threat for a loss this year. Norwich realized that in order to win, they would have to overcome the enormous talents on the Forks sidelines and simply out-tough them. The next few series could only be described as one thing: War. Every player on the field played with the intensity and determination of hardened battle veterans. There were hard hits, like the one Blaine Laughlin put on Batty on a scramble to the Forks sideline. There were plays of pure hard-nosed toughness, like the sack shared by Zach Stratton and Raymond Gonzalez in the middle of the Forks offensive line. And, there was a whole lot of good football.

Finally, with a minute and a half to go before the half, Batty dropped back in the pocket and let rip a long, hanging pass 38 yards downfield to John Florance, who tangled with Mike Abbott for the ball, and seemed to come up with it somehow when the whistle blew. It was a tough break for Norwich, and though it held through the next three downs, even forcing a loss, it was Batty again, this time on a perfectly tossed ball to Vredenburgh in the far corner of the end zone.

Going into the halftime break, down six points, and knowing that they were giving the ball right back for the start of the second half, the Purple Tornado had an uphill battle. It would have been easy to come out of the locker rooms shrugging their shoulders and conceding defeat, knowing that they already had done what no one else in the season had done, that they had already gone further than anyone had expected. But they did not.

The determined Norwich defense took the field after the kickoff and allowed only four yards on three downs. The defense, which had just seen a long desperate pass completed and a perfectly thrown touchdown score against it, balled its fists and swung back.

What separates the good teams from the great teams, however, is not only its ability to fight back from behind, but also to capitalize on momentum swings. The offense did just this, driving 68 yards in almost five minutes all the way to six points. Senior Justin Frink grabbed a couple of good runs off the start, followed by Brett Oles and Laughlin. Then it was quarterback Robert Martin, connecting first with Chris Eddy and then with Zach Williams to bring the ball within three yards of paydirt. Everyone in the whole stadium knew that Laughlin would get the call, right up the gut on first down, but, behind a newly re-energized offensive line and the collective will of half a stadium, he made it in anyway, right over the front of the Chenango Forks defensive line.

It was the culmination of an entire season’s worth of frustration for the players, and three years’ worth for the fans and coaches. It tied the game 6-6. It offered an opportunity, it seemed a gateway, a possibility for a truly great team to finally earn the respect that it had so long been denied. It earned such a huge response from the fans, players, and coaches alike, that it seemed to shake the stadium. Never mind that the extra point was missed, and that a chance to take the lead was dropped, the game was tied with only 17 minutes to go.

It seemed that the game was now a formality. The underdogs had struck, and the script said that of course, they had to win. The Norwich fans had seen this movie before, and their confidence was at a season-high. So it was that much more terrible when, two series later, with less than two minutes left on the clock, Tim O’Branski caught the corner on an option, and sprinted 65 yards down the sidelines for a touchdown.

To their credit, the Tornado fought back valiantly, driving again and again, pushing, striving toward another touchdown. It’s defense held until late in the fourth quarter, when, after a few Norwich players were dropped to injury, Batty drove the Forks machine to the six-yard line. Then, a thing of true beauty, if such a thing exists in high school football. Down 12-6, with less than five minutes to play, facing first-and-goal from only seven yards out and with two of its starters with ice strapped to their knees on the sidelines, the Norwich defense showed pride and character. They stopped Forks on three consecutive downs, including two downs from within one yard.

Then, with time growing thin, Batty drew up for a field goal, and, despite having missed his two previous extra point attempts, he aced this one, making the score a final 15-6.

The players continued to push until time expired, but Forks, riding a two-score lead now, simply played prevent defense. It was, perhaps, Norwich’s best effort of the season, despite the loss. They came hard, fought hard, and lost hard. It was a heart-breaking loss, no doubt, but it was a loss in which the Tornado could take pride. They should know now that not only can they play with the best, but they can beat them, if a few big plays swing one way or the other. And they should know that now, they are champions, in deed if not in name.

Head coach John Pluta summed it up well: "You are a great football team, no doubt about it. But better than that, you are great young men."

1 2 3 4   Tot
Chenango Forks 00 06 06 03 - 15
Norwich 0 0 6 0 - 6
  • CF - Vredenburgh 5 pass from Batty (Batty kick failed)
  • N - Laughlin 3 run (kick failed)
  • CF - O'Branski 65 run (Batty kick failed)
  • CF - Batty 19 FG


Norwich CF
First Downs 8 9
Rushes-Yards 42-101 36-119
Passing Yards 59 108
Comp-Att-Int 3-9-0 6-13-0
Total Offense 51-160 49-227
Punts-Ave yards 9-33.8 7-36.9
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 1-0
Penalties-Yards 5-25 4-30


Norwich rushing:  

  • Abbott 8-30
  • Oles 8-28
  • Laughlin 10-28, 1 TD
  • Bilow 4-15
  • Frink 6-13
  • Benenati 4-0
  • Martin 2-(-13)

Chenango Forks rushing:  

  • O'Branski 3-69, 1 TD
  • Chier 8-25
  • Batty 18-19
  • Spencer 3-17
  • Jim Nicholson 2-1
  • Farnham 2-(-2)

Norwich passing

  • Martin 3-for-9, 59 yards

Chenango Forks passing: 

  • Batty 6-for-13, 108 yards, 1 TD

Norwich receiving: 

  • Williams 2-47
  • Eddy 1-12

Chenango Forks receiving:  

  • Florance 1-38
  • Vredenburgh 2-23, 1 TD
  • Farnham 1-22
  • Chier 1-14
  • Tarnowski 1-11

Preview Articles:

Norwich has new look for football rematch with Forks

Purple Tornado improved since Week 1 drubbing by Blue Devils

By Kevin Stevens
Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin

Chenango Forks will look to secure a fourth consecutive Section 4 Class B football championship when it takes on Norwich at 7 tonight in the title game at Union-Endicott's Ty Cobb Stadium.

Class B Title Game
Matchup: Chenango Forks (9-0) vs. Norwich (8-1)

When: 7 tonight.

Where: Union-Endicott.

State ranking: Forks first; Norwich honorable mention.

Win streaks: Forks 22; Norwich 8.

Last meeting: Forks, 44-8 (Sept. 3).

Up next: Syracuse Westhill (6-3) / Oneida (8-1) winner, 9:30 a.m. Nov. 13 at Carrier Dome.

Etc.: The Blue Devils own the longest active football win streak in New York football. ... Norwich's last state playoff appearance came in 1999, when it lost 55-22 to Syracuse CBA.

The Blue Devils, who've topped New York State Sports Writers Association 'B' rankings the entire season, are one first-half shutout -- and ensuing victory -- from exiting Section 4 with a perfect halftime record. To date, Forks has outscored its opponents by an aggregate 279-0 in the first half.

It'll be a Purple Tornado squad with a different look than that which opposed Forks on opening night -- when the Devils held a 37-0 halftime lead and closed with 306 rushing yards.

"They definitely have stepped it up since then, I don't think there's any question about that," Forks coach Kelsey Green said of Norwich. "They've maneuvered and moved some people around to different positions. I think they're satisfied with where they've got people now. Most of the names are the same but the positions are different."

Green also cited the progress of Tornado sophomore quarterback Robert Martin, describing him as "a lot more confident and fluid."

All of which bodes well for Norwich as it attempts to pull of what would be a remarkable turnabout against Forks' reigning state champions.

However ...

"I think we're a lot better than we were eight weeks ago also," Green said. "That's all we've been trying to do every week is get better. Which is not to say that we have every week, but that's what we focus on."

No fewer than 16 players have scored touchdowns this season for Forks, which features the most seasoned cast of reserves in all of Section 4. Most significant threats include quarterback Tim Batty, backfield members Jason Chier, Tim O'Branski and Jim Nicholson, and end Zach Vredenburgh.

In the first Forks-Norwich contest, Batty rushed for two scores and passed for another, and Vredenburgh scored one offensive and one defensive TD.

Despite what transpired in that early-September game, Forks figures to take the field tonight with its customary all-business approach.

"(The players) know that something you've been working toward is getting closer and closer," Green said of a group replete with players who last year helped Forks to a third consecutive state-final appearance and its first state championship.

Tornado look for shocker in sectional title game

By Patrick Newell
Sun Sports Editor

Tonight is a scenario in which Norwich meets a team whose offense is an irresistible force, and its defense is an immovable object.

Chenango Forks, three-time Section IV defending Class B champions and returning state champions stand across the sidelines tonight at Ty Cobb Stadium at Union-Endicott High School looking for a fourth straight perfect regular season.

Forks hasn’t lost a regular season game since the 2000 campaign when it fell to Oneonta. Before breaking through with its first state football title, it had back-to-back state finals appearances - the only losses those years - and over the past four years, the Blue Devils are a combined 46-2.

Breaking down those four years, this has clearly been the most impressive. Forks is the highest scoring offense in Section IV at over 53 points per game, and it has the stingiest scoring defense at just over four points a contest. The 49-point margin of victory is almost unheard of, and makes for quite a task for the Purple Tornado, who themselves are riding an eight-game winning streak since losing its opening game to the Blue Devils. “We feel we’ve improved a lot since the first game,” said Norwich junior running back Mike Abbott. “Our coaches have told us all along that we can beat Forks. We just have to believe. We’re ready to go out and shock everyone.”

It would be a shocking turn of events if NHS was to pull off what would widely be regarded as one of the biggest upsets in the section since New York State instituted the state playoff system over a decade ago.

The two combatants face off for the third straight year, and in each instance, Norwich has come into the contest with an 8-1 mark. Last week, Norwich rolled up its most impressive offensive numbers with 473 yards, but also gave up the most yardage (316 yards) since the Forks contest in a 32-26 victory over Susquehanna Valley. “If this was going to be our down game it was good time for us,” Pluta said after the SV victory, “and we got it out of our system. We would like to have gone into the championship at the top of our game, but we have been getting better and better each week, so we were bound to have a step back.”

During Norwich’s 24-5 run the past three seasons, the Blue Devils have saddled NHS with four of those five defeats. Other than a 14-0 victory in week two a year ago, the contests were not close entering the fourth quarter.

In week one, Norwich fell behind 37-0 at halftime as the Blue Devils, behind signal-caller Tim Batty and top receiver Zach Vredenburgh, moved through the NHS offense with relative ease.

It’s an interesting cast of contributors for Chenango Forks. Not one back or receiver is among the top-20 statistically among Section IV individuals. Batty, the second-year star QB, is not close to the top in yards throwing, but like Norwich, several people come together to complete the offensive puzzle. There is not a single featured back, but expect Tim O’Branski, Ben Farnham, Jason Chier, Tyler Spencer, and others to get their share of carries. Batty, though, is perhaps the most dangerous averaging around 17 yards per carry.

It’s a system not unlike Norwich in which Pluta has two sets of trios rotating each possession in the backfield. There seems to be little drop-off with Brett Oles the top carrier (774 yards) in the first unit, and second-leading rusher Mike Abbott (403 yards) in the second unit. “We don’t really consider ourselves backups,” Abbott said of his group of backs that also includes Jared Bilow and Ryan Benenati. Blaine Laughlin and Justin Frink join Oles in the first set of backs. “We consider ourselves one big rotation of the first string. It just shows how deep we are as a team.”

As far as Norwich has come and as impressive as it has looked for several weeks, it didn’t look like the purple-clad individuals would reach this point. First there was the Forks loss, then a close seven-point win at home over Chenango Valley - a team that did not win a game this season. “To be honest, I think a lot of people wrote us off early,” Pluta said. “We heard the talk and the kids heard it. As a coaching staff, we thought we could be pretty good, but with the nature of this league and how tough it is... . What turned it for us was the Elmira Notre Dame game. Playing in those conditions (severe rain), shutting them out and putting 19 points on the board. I think we thought we could be a special team at that time.”

At 7 p.m., Norwich will indeed find out how far it has come since an opening loss that seems light years ago. “Now is the opportunity to see what we need to do to get better,” Pluta closed. “To be successful, we’ll have to play our butts off, and our kids will.”

Tuesday Review Article:
Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin
By Staff reports

Tight title game teaches Forks valuable
lesson in quest to repeat

Nearly four full quarters of anxiety aside, Friday night's tight ballgame with Norwich may just have been the kick in the pants Chenango Forks needed as it ventures into state football playoffs for a fourth consecutive November

Against a Norwich squad putting up defensive resistance not experienced by Forks all season, the Blue Devils moved on with a 15-6 victory in the Section 4 Class B final at Union-Endicott.

While Forks -- winner of 23 consecutive games -- kept alive its season-long streak of keeping opponents scoreless in the first half, statistics and records and the like were the least of the Devils' concerns. Instead, with the Purple Tornado hanging right with the reigning champions until well into the final quarter, it was a matter of staying afloat in the postseason.

"We learned that you never take anything for granted, because that might have been the case coming in," said Tim O'Branski, whose 65-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter broke a 6-6 tie. "We work hard every week. We might have slipped just a little bit."

Said Tim Batty, whose 19-yard field goal with 4:03 to play accounted for the final points: "We learned we've got to prepare a lot better during practice. We know how hard we have to work. The regular season was easy for us, now we know we have to work hard."

Top-ranked Chenango Forks -- which exits Section 4 for the fourth consecutive season with a 10-0 record -- was limited to 20 rushing yards in the first half, and didn't post its first points until Zach Vredenburgh's crafty over-the-shoulder reception of a Batty pass for a 5-yard TD 27.9 seconds before halftime.

Norwich halted a string of 14 straight scoreless quarters by Forks

opponents when Blaine Laughlin rushed in from the 3, one play after Robert Martin passed for 27 yards to Zach Williams.

"Forks is a great football team, I hope they win another state championship," Norwich coach John Pluta said. "They're a class organization, class kids, class coaches.

"But I'll tell you what, we've got a hell of a football team up in Norwich, and our kids just played with so much character and pride."

The way Forks coach Kelsey Green sees it, neither margin of victory nor style points along the way matter one little bit.

"They're trying to do something that very few teams do," he said. "I don't ever want them to think, 'Oh, ho-hum,' and be all upset that they didn't pound these guys.

"They keep moving. Last year, it was the Whitney Point game (a 13-7 sectional semifinal). It was a win, we keep moving. The alternative is, you turn your stuff in. Now, you hang your head. That's the way I look at it.

"It had been easy, everything had been easy (during the regular season). Now, they know it isn't going to be easy, and now they know what it feels like when it isn't. I think that's all part of the process."

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