- Hoffman 15-34
- Luvison 6-10
- Zapata 5-9
- Hillman 5-(-10)
- O'Branski 8-105
- Batty 11-59
- Chier 5-41
- Jim Nicholson 8-28, 2 TDs
- Spencer 6-11
- Farnham 2-7
- Joe Nicholson 1-0
- Falcon 1-0
- Hillman 6-for-13, 91 yards, 1 int
- Luvison 1-for-1, 10 yards, 1 TD
- Stewart 4-55, 1 TD
- Young 2-42
- Gilbert 1-4
- Florance 1-25
- Vredenburgh 1-11
- Farnham 1-10
Forks wary of Final Four first-timer
Devils to play Hornell Friday
By Kevin Stevens
Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin
Chenango Forks' been there/done that Blue Devils, atop Class B's football rankings as they've been all season, will oppose a first-time state semifinalist at 5 p.m. Friday in the Carrier Dome
Forks, state champion and winner of 24 consecutive games, will meet a Hornell squad that is 11-0 for the first time in program history. By contrast, the Blue Devils' record is unblemished through 11 games for a fourth year running.
However, from Forks' vantage point, these upstart Red Raiders are very much deserving of a Final Four start.
"We thought if we got to this point, this is who'd be waiting for us -- and here they are," said coach Kelsey Green, whose Blue Devils' peak performance in the quarterfinal round resulted in a 48-7 rout of Syracuse Westhill.
"We saw them live against Geneva, and Geneva was a very, very good football team," Green added, speaking of Hornell's 21-20 win that secured the championship of Section 5. The Red Raiders followed last weekend with a 12-7 quarterfinal victory over Jamestown Southwestern.
Hornell's offense gets considerable mileage from the tailback platoon of senior Kirk Luvison and junior Josh Hoffman. Luvison has rushed for 923 yards this season, Hoffman for 580. Defensively, Luvison plays in the secondary, Hoffman at linebacker -- in which spot he earned Defensive MVP recognition with an eight-tackle outing against Southwestern.
"They're pretty diverse, they'll go from a lot of a different formations," Green said of the Raiders' offense. "They will go shotgun and throw from it, run power out of it ...
"They've got some big children, too."
In the semifinal round the last three years, Chenango Forks outscored its opponents by an aggregate 54-23 -- last season's win over Eden following back-to-back successes against Bath. In this round last November, quarterback Tim Batty was chosen the Devils' offensive MVP after producing 150 rushing yards, a touchdown and two field goals.
Forks may be without the services of offensive guard Brad Watson, who sustained a sprained knee ligament in the Westhill game. If Watson is unavailable, the Devils will likely line up with Josh Cary at guard and Luke Parga at tackle.
Special teams could make the difference
By Matt Wing
Hornell Evening Tribune Sports
SYRACUSE - Every game begins with a kickoff. Chenango Forks, the No. 1 team in the state rankings heading into the contest, is trying not to let Friday's New York State Class B semifinal football game end on one.
The Hornell Red Raiders, the No. 3 team in the state rankings, have improved its play on special teams to a point where kick and punt returns have added to an already stellar scoring attack for one of the highest scoring teams in Section V.
"They go out and they make plays," said Hornell special teams coach Erik Werner. "We have such great athletes on the team and basically if they do their assignment, there will be a hole opening up and these guys usually find it and squeak through. It's great having these athletes."
"I think we've put a little more emphasis on (special teams)," said Werner of why it's paying off this season. "The kids have worked a lot harder and there are some different wrinkles that we've put in that put kids in position to make these big plays."
The main threat in Hornell's lineup is senior Matt Stewart, who has the breaking speed and shifty moves to turn any busted play into a huge gain. Stewart had three returns for touchdowns on specials this season, including a punt return against Honeoye Falls-Lima and kickoff returns against Palmyra-Macedon and Dansville during the regular season. He also returned an interception for a score against the Cougars.
"It's a huge adrenaline rush, that's why I like it so much," Stewart said. "The more I field it, the better I feel. As the year goes on, I feel more and more comfortable receiving the ball."
Even if the Raiders didn't break a huge return on its opponents (Hornell hasn't had a return for a score in the postseason), the work done on specials teams has made the field much shorter for the offense, leading to several easy scores and outstanding starting field position.
"The kids are starting to realize that when you play at this level, the farther you go, field position becomes an enormous advantage if you can get good field position on a return," Werner said. "That's what we want to take advantage of."
Stewart has been joined by junior Bryce Ingalls in the two-returner system most of the year, but Ingalls has been relieved on punts by freshman David Zapata, who moved up for the Red Raiders' Section V, Class B semifinal against Wayland-Cohocton. Zapata may be the quickest player on the Hornell roster and has the moves to go with it.
"It's crazy, but after that first kick, I'm all right," Zapata said of fielding his first varsity punt. "I'm not scared at all, I'm ready. That first game is already over with."
"Matt is a really good returner," added Zapata. "I do look up to these guys and try to do whatever they do, because it seems to be working. That's why they are winning."
No matter who is in the backfield set to return the kick, the Red Raiders have the confidence in its athletes to get the job done.
"It's incredible just having those guys back there," Werner said. "You can put a great return package together and you can always get some good yards, but it takes a special athlete to take it all the way, which these guys have done and are capable of any time they touch the ball. It really makes my job easier to have those athletes back there. Even if something goes wrong and they have to improvise, they can definitely do that, make a play and get good yardage or even score."
It all starts up front
The returners get all the glory and take all of the punishment when it comes to special teams, but every return starts with good blocking in the first level.
On kick returns, seniors Jake Herbert and Ryan Bicker team up with juniors Aaron Parks, Kevin Abbey and D.J. Henry to form the first level of blocking, the most important. Senior Ryan Harrison and junior Tyler Sick form the next level, what turns into the inside of the blocking wedge. The outside of the wedge is made up of senior Kevin Gilbert and junior Ryan Dieter.
"It's huge," Werner said of the first level of blockers. "Just because of how we like to block things, we definitely have to get into a drop, make sure they don't loose their man, use proper footwork, use proper leverage and get to where they need to go. If they don't get their blocks then the second unit has to clean up and they can't get to their blocks. Then it is sort of falls apart from there. It all starts up front and works its way back from there."
Once the blocking has been taken care of, it's all about the catch and finding the right hole.
"I just read my blocks, watch the double-team and follow the blocks to find the holes," said Stewart. "Just follow the return. If the return is suppose to go right, go right. Just find the hole."
"The most important thing is that we need to make sure we are catching," Werner stressed. "When kids make their drops, they are not at full speed coming at the kickoff coverage. Usually the kickoff team has that advantage. We just focus on getting back quickly and come right up and make the hit instead of receiving the hit. That creates more seems in the kickoff coverage."
Kickoffs are much easier to prepare for because you know the other team has to kick to you, or face the penalty for kicking out of bounds. On punts it's a different story.
First the team has to prepare for fake punts, but as opponents begin to see how dangerous the HHS returners can be, the tendency has leaned towards kicking punts out of bounds in order to keep the ball out of the hands of the athletes in the back.
"It's frustrating, but it can also be a sign of pride - because of the things we've done all year - if they show us that much respect to kick away from our returners," Werner said. "That's usually a smart move because we can make a lot of plays. If they decide to kick away from us, we'll take the field position and just let our offense do the work."
It only takes one play to take down the mighty Chenango Forks and the specials teams are ready to give it a shot.
Dome trip: Raiders state title quest continues Friday
By Derrick Balinsky
Hornell Evening Tribune Sports Editor
There is no way to overstate the success Chenango Forks has had as a high school football program.
The 11-0 Blue Devils have reached the New York State semifinals in each of the past four seasons and advanced to the past three straight NYS championship games where they laid clam to the title in 2003. The Devils also have the longest active winning streak in New York State at 24 games. Dating back to the start of the 2003 season, they've won 44 straight games against Section 4 opponents, 25 straight divisional contests, 23 straight wins at home and 17 straight victories on the road.
(webmaster note, those "streak" stats date back to the start of the 2001 season and some to mid-2000)
"They've been here before and on the other side there's Ravena and Rye, who are also traditionals in this thing," said HHS Coach Gene Mastin, whose Red Raiders kickoff their first NYS semifinal game against Forks at 5 p.m. Friday in Syracuse University's Carrier Dome. "We're kind of the new kid on the block and I don't think that statewide there is a lot of expectation that Hornell will win this game. So I don't think you worry about that, you just go play."
"Chenango is better than Geneva," Mastin added. "I've heard this said from a number of people who are very knowledgeable - probably CBA (Christian Brothers Academy out of Syracuse) and Chenango Forks are probably the two best teams in the state regardless of class. CBA is in the AA and obviously Forks is in the B. If you're going to play, you're not going to get any weak sisters at this point of the year. You're going to see good teams and that's good. If we want to play at this level as a team and as a program then we have to have the expectation that we're going to play great teams."
As Mastin pointed out, Hornell is traveling in uncharted territory. Like their opponent, however, the Red Raiders have compiled 11 wins this season, setting a new single-season record in that respect. Still, HHS has been fortunate to advance with close wins over Geneva, 21-20, and Southwestern, 12-7.
"Collectively, I think we realize that we haven't played our best football in the last couple of weeks," Mastin said. "Clearly our best game came against Cal-Mum. But because of the tradition that they bring in being the defending state champions and because of the fact that a number of our players have looked at the film, they understand the task at hand."
"As I've said before, there are no weak sisters at this level," Mastin added. "Everybody that you play is a quality opponent. But each of the teams that are still in this - Chenango Forks, Ravena, Rye - had to get to that level by winning a game at this level first. We would like to achieve that in our first time there. This isn't something that we feel that because we won the West Regional for the first time, 'okay, that was nice, that's enough.' We're within a week of playing within the state championship game. In fact, you could say that because they are the defending state champs, this might be the state championship game from our standpoint. There is certainly a lot of emotional aspects to the game as it is and as coaches I don't think we need to add anything to that."
"I think whether you play the defending Super Bowl champ, the defending national champ, or the defending state champ, until somebody goes in an beats that defending champ you are the underdog. We're certainly in that role. We have not played that up as such. To be honest, this is such a quality team that we'll be playing that we don't have time to talk about playing mind games. They're good and they are sound in every facet of their game. We don't have time to play that, we need to make sure that we are fundamentally and tactically in place first.
"I don't feel that our kids are intimidated by them. They're not in awe of them in any way. We're not bad ourselves and it's good to have a team like that to lay it all on the line with. The emotions of the game at this level with take care of themselves."
Breaking it down
While the Blue Devils may not have had to play the toughest regular-season schedule - Forks has one forfeit victory to their credit in Week 7 - they do appear to be as perfect as their 11-0 record would indicate.
"We're not going to find teams who have personnel weaknesses or who are unstable from a coaching standpoint," Mastin said. "These are good teams and that's why there here. Certainly when you get Forks that has advanced to this point over the past three consecutive years and to the semis a year prior to that you're talking about some real quality people and real quality opponent."
"They've played just about a perfect season. They've played 11 games of just about perfect football," Mastin added. "They have so much talent with great packages on both sides of the ball and obviously are very well-coached and well-disciplined in that. They've done everything very, very well so far. But to get to this game, that is the kind of team that we want to play. These are the kind of seasons and these are the kind of games that dreams are made of. Again, we really need to understand that it's just a matter of going and playing and letting everything fall where it falls."
Over the past several days, many of the Red Raiders have mentioned playing a near-perfect football. While that may be important, Mastin again said that it's merely a matter of stepping on the field an executing.
"I don't think you can worry about being mistake-free," Mastin said. "No kid ever looks to make a mistake when they play, no player in any sport ever looks to make a mistake. I think the thing that we need to do is to just go out and play aggressive, not try to change much of anything that we've done all year - be aggressive on both sides of the ball, play good special teams and let the game go where it goes."
So how does one go about dismantling a team without any weaknesses, one that puts up close to 45 points per game while holding opponents to right around five?
"I think we've put together plans on both sides of the ball that are a little bit different than we've done this year," Mastin said, "because I think you have to go a little bit off of the page when you play an opponent of this quality. We're not going to work to the casual fan ... we're doing some things differently in an attempt to make some things happen."
"I think from the offensive side of the ball we have to do a lot better blocking than we did the last couple of weeks," he added. "That won't come so much in the initial contact, but more so in maintaining the blocks. I think we also need to throw the ball a little more effectively and play as turnover-free as possible."
"There isn't a weak spot in this team, at least not one which is visible," Mastin added. "Once it comes to that you just have to worry about trying to do what you do well. What we're going to try to do is play very aggressively defensively - as aggressive as we can be against an option offense."
"Those things don't always happen in these games. This is not a game where we can go in and find a person or something tactically that we can exploit. This is a place where we've just got to go play."
The Blue Devils run a wishbone type offense and have a number of interchangeable blocking backs including Joe Nicholson, Jim Nicholson, Tyler Spencer while Jason Chier and Tim O'Branski share much of the ball-carrying responsibilities. As a team, Forks has run the ball 432 times this season for a total of 3,580 yards, an average of slightly over 325 per game. The quarterback, Tim Batty, is apparently one of the best in the state. However, as a team the Blue Devils have only accumulated 597 yards through the air - an average of 60 per game - on 29-for-53 this season.
"First of all, it's a wishbone offense and a wishbone run well can not be beaten on paper," Mastin said. "It's the one offense on paper that you can always win with X and O wise. What we have to do is win individual matchups. We have to tackle a lot better, we need to make first hit tackles. These are good backs and that is easier said than done."
"The quarterback is right at the top. He's as good of an option quarterback as I've ever seen," Mastin added. "They haven't had to throw the ball much (this season). They've been in situations similar to ours, they've had a lot of blowouts and a lot of 50-point games. We've seen them throw effectively, but there's no doubt that with their size, strength and running ability that they are really going to be bringing it. They'll try to bring it on the ground first."
HHS Xs and Os
As a team, HHS has put up 372 points this season, an average of just over 33 points per game. The Red Raider offense is led by senior tailback Kirk Luvison, who is just short of the 1,000-yard mark with 923 yards this season (8-plus per carry). He also leads the team in scoring with 13 touchdowns. Junior tailback Josh Hoffman is second on the team in rushing with 580 yards this season (7.25 per carry) and is second in scoring with 12 TDs. Senior play caller Shawn Hillman has completed 45 of his 77 passing attempts for 779 yards and nine TDs. His favorite receiver has been senior Matt Stewart who has 313 yards on 21 receptions. Senior Nate Smith is next with 148 yards on seven catches while junior tight end Scott Young is just behind with 142 yards on eight pass catches.
"We'll try to run the ball off-tackle like we always do on offense and we'll try to throw the play-action pass," Mastin said. "In kicking the ball, we'll try to establish good field position."
Games can be won or lost in the area of special teams and no one knows that better than Mastin. Second-year assistant Erik Werner has done wonders as a special teams guru for the Raiders, but according to Mastin neither team may have a decisive advantage in the area.
"Great kickers," Mastin said, "great kickers. They play as hard on special teams as they do on offense or defense. They're impressive on special teams and this could possibly be the first game where we can't generate a special teams advantage. But at this point you expect teams to be well-rounded and complete. And, they are."
Dome, sweet Dome
As one would imagine, Chenango Forks is no stranger to the Carrier Dome Astroturf. Last week the Blue Devils knocked off Westhill in the NYS Class B quarterfinal, 48-7, on the same turf that Friday's game will be played on. Clearly, advantage Forks.
"I think they have an advantage in the sense that they are familiar with everything, but that was also the case with Southwestern last week playing at Ralph Wilson," Mastin said. "It does take a bit of time to get accustomed to the familiarity of it and to be honest, they're regulars up there. They've played at least two games a year over the past three years. That's all paper stuff, the game gets played on the field. With all of the anticipation, with all of the details - we're looking forward to just getting to the game.
"Our preparations have gone well. It's difficult and complex in getting ready for this week, but I feel that we are pretty much where we want to be."
By Mike Mangan and Kevin Stevens
Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin
FORKS RIGHT AT HOME
Two Chenango Forks football streaks lived to see another weekend, but a third expired Friday during the Blue Devils' 27-7 victory over Hornell in a Class B state semifinal.
The Devils' 25th consecutive victory earned them a fourth consecutive berth in the state title game. However, when Matt Stewart went to the Carrier Dome turf to receive halfback Kirk Luvison's pass for a touchdown 1:41 into the second quarter, it marked the first first-half points surrendered by Forks this season.
"The first thing I thought was, 'That's the first time we've been scored on, how are we going to react to this?' And, I'd say we did a pretty good job," junior tackle Matt Faughnan said. "I don't know if it occurred to any of the other guys.
"But, this team (Hornell) is legit, this team is good. They scored on us, it popped in my mind."
Indeed, Forks responded in championship form-- with the advantage of a wealth of state-playoff experience from which to draw. The Blue Devils not only didn't allow Hornell another point, but didn't allow Hornell to penetrate their 33-yard line.
Hornell was playing in its first state semifinal.
"We know the noise of the dome, they don't," the Devils' Ben Farnham said. "That means a lot on offense. Learning how to hear in here is a little difficult.
"It's overwhelming the first time you play here, like, 'Wow, we're playing here?' That's big, because so many good people have played here. It's a great experience to play here."
Faughnan said:"I think (Forks' experience) was big. A lot of people don't know, when you come in here, it's a lot bigger than you think and it's a little nerve-wracking. And it's a lot hotter. That's the biggest difference to me. The heat gets to you and the fluids leave you so much quicker. Our coaches tell us every week we come in here, 'Gotta get your liquids, gotta get your liquids, gotta get your sleep.'
"You've got to be ready to play in here because it's a lot different than anything else. It helps a lot, just knowing what it's like in here."
Hornell coach Gene Mastin, to his credit, refused to use Forks' playoff seasoning as an excuse. "None, zero," he replied when asked how much playoff experience -- or lack thereof -- played into the outcome. "They're a better team.
"We did not run the ball effectively enough to think that we could win this game. Their defense in particular was outstanding."