2013 Chenango Forks Varsity Football

Game 12 vs Cleveland Hill

Blue Devils Freeze Cleve Hill 22-0!
Advances to NY State Record 7th NYSPHSAA Championship

Articles courtesy of the
Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin & The Buffalo News

to Game 11 - General Brown

to the 2013 team page

to Game 13 - Rye Neck

Chenango Forks blanks Cleveland Hill to advance to Class C state football final

Mike Mangan
Press & Sun-Bulletin

Isaiah Zimmer remembered all too well the disappointment he and his Chenango Forks teammates felt a year ago at Sahlen's Stadium when the Blue Devils' state title hopes were extinguished in a semifinal loss to Hornell.

Back at the same field Saturday, Zimmer and company more than made amends.

Zimmer rushed for 130 yards and two touchdowns and the Blue Devils defense overwhelmed Cleveland Hill for a 22-0 victory in a Class C semifinal.

Forks (11-1) advances to its first state title game since 2007, where it will meet Rye Neck of Section 1 at noon next Sunday at the Carrier Dome. The Blue Devils are in search of their first state title since winning the Class B crown in 2004.

"Most of us knew what it felt like last year, we definitely had extra incentive to win this game," said Zimmer of the 20-7 loss to Hornell. "We're basically living the dream, and I wouldn't rather do it with any other guys."

In less than ideal conditions -- a fierce wind blew throughout and snowfall turned the turf into a sheet of white by the first quarter -- Forks imposed its will upon first-time semifinalist Cleveland Hill (11-1) from start to finish.

The Eagles mustered 55 yards of offense and four first downs, just one of those in the first half, and committed four turnovers. Especially noteworthy defensively for Forks was the play of nose guard Mike Zurenda, who had several tackles for losses, including a sack of quarterback Aaron Jackson in the end zone for a safety with 8:07 remaining in the fourth quarter that provided the final points.

"We call him the Beast," said Forks coach Dave Hogan of Zurenda, who was named the Defensive Player of the Game. "And he played like a beast today. He was all over the place ... we certainly wouldn't want to play against him."

Meanwhile, Zimmer was a beast carrying the ball, particularly in the first half in helping Forks build a two-touchdown lead.

After a three-and-out by Cleveland Hill to open the game, Zimmer carried the ball on eight of Forks' 10 plays, accounting for all but 8 yards on the 60-yard drive. He finished it off with a dazzling, spinning 5-yard touchdown run to give Forks a 7-0 lead with 5:51 left in the first half.

He carried it another five times on Forks' second scoring drive, capping it with an 18-yard run up the middle to make it 13-0 with 7:24 left in the second quarter.

Zimmer had 20 carries for 98 yards in the first half alone.

"We definitely trust him, we ride (Zimmer)," Hogan said. "And what helps is our line has done such a good job all season."

The second half didn't go much better for Cleveland Hill. After forcing a Forks punt to open the third quarter, the Eagles had good field position at their 45.

But after a 2-yard loss and an incompletion, quarterback Aaron Phillips was stripped of the ball by Forks' Hunter Luybli at his 28, Tony Silvanic recovering the fumble and returning it 18 yards to the Cleveland Hill 10. On the next play, Andrew Ziegenfus made an over-the-shoulder grab of a John Colm Sweeney pass for a 10-yard touchdown reception to put Forks up 20-0 with 8:57 remaining in the third quarter.

After that, Forks' defense did the rest, leading to a most satisfying victory for a program that's more than its share over the past 15 years.

"The way we were looking at it, we just wanted get a few first downs and let our defense take care of business," Hogan said. "That's exactly what happened, our defense played so good (Saturday)."

Forks' defense, snowy road stall Cleve Hill's run to the Dome

Two undeniable forces end Golden Eagles? playoff run

Keith McShea
The Buffalo News

ROCHESTER - The Cleveland Hill football team faced two undeniable forces of nature Saturday.

One was cold, windy, snowy weather snow which turned the green artificial turf of Sahlen's Stadium white for much of the afternoon.

The other was perennial power Chenango Forks of Section IV (Binghamton area), which earned its seventh trip to the state championship game with a 22-0 shutout of the Golden Eagles in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class C semifinals.

The Blue Devils' defense limited what had been a dangerous Cleveland Hill offensive attack to 39 yards, while it racked up 231 on offense as it scored in each quarter. Senior Isaiah Zimmer ran for two touchdowns and 133 yards on 30 carries for Chenango Forks.

All of Forks' seven trips to the state final at the Carrier Dome have come in the last 12 years, including state titles in Class B in 2003 and 2004.

The Blue Devils (11-1) will play for this year's championship at noon next Sunday in Syracuse against Section I (Dutchess, Putnam, Rockland and Westchester counties) winner Rye Neck. Rye Neck scored a 14-0 win over defending state champion Hoosick Falls of Section II (Albany area).

Cleveland Hill's season ends at 11-1 after winning the Class C North title and a second straight Section VI championship, then making school history as the first Golden Eagles team to win a Far West Regional game to make the state semifinals.

"Our kids played fantastic all year long," said 11th-year Cleveland Hill coach Glen Graham. "At the beginning of the year we talked about winning the division, then trying to repeat as a sectional champion and then trying to be a state champion. We fell short obviously, but this is a fantastic football team and I'll love these guys to death."

Even before the weather really made it tough on offenses, the Chenango Forks defense showed that it would likely be able to do that if it was clear and sunny.

The Blue Devils stopped Cleveland Hill on a three-and-out, then went on a long drive - 10 plays, 55 yards over 4:33 - which ended with a 4-yard run by Zimmer with 5:51 left in the first quarter.

Cleve Hill rushed for 56 yards on 32 carries. Senior standout Brandon Thomas was hounded all day, with enough tackles behind the line of scrimmage to result in a total of 7 yards on 18 attempts.

The conditions kept getting worse, and so did the Golden Eagles' chances. Zimmer added an 18-yard run with 7:24 left in the first half that would account for Chenango Forks? 13-0 halftime lead.

While Cleve Hill had trouble passing for much of the game (2 for 10 total), Forks got its third touchdown when senior quarterback John Colm Sweeney hit senior Andrew Ziegenfus for a 10-yard score with 8:57 left in the third. That play was the first after a Cleve Hill fumble.

"They're big, they're physical and we didn't do a very good job up front in the first half," said Graham. "Our goal was to try and shorten the game up, but that one turnover that set up their third score really took it out of us and made it really tough."

The teams combined for seven turnovers in the slippery conditions, with Forks fumbling three times and Cleve Hill having a pair of interceptions and fumbles.

"It was an obstacle, I think mentally more than anything else," Graham said of the weather. "The wind was the biggest factor. The snow was fine, but the wind will always affect you -  particularly the passing game. We had to try to use the passing game to come back and it just wasn't there for us today."

Chenango Forks capped its performance with a safety with 8:07 to play on a sack by senior Mike Zurenda, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound senior who was all over Cleveland Hill ball carriers all day (seven tackles, four for loss).

"Once it got really cruddy, we were happy we had the lead, that's for sure," Chenango Forks coach Dave Hogan said of the weather. "I can't say enough about our defense. I just felt so good about our defense playing so well."

Cleveland Hill is a six-time Section VI champion which was ranked second among small schools in the most recent Buffalo News poll.

"I'm going to tell our seniors that I love them and I'll remember this group as long as I can, and try to keep my faculties about me," an emotional Graham said amidst snow flurries on the field after the game, before meeting with his team for the final time. "And I'll remind our guys who are returning that the hard work starts in another six or seven days."

01 02 03 04   Tot
Chenango Forks 7 6 7 2 - 22
Cleveland Hill 0 0 0 0 - 0
  • CF - Isaiah Zimmer 5y run (Tony Silvanic kick)
  • CF - Zimmer 18y run (kick failed)
  • CF - Andrew Ziegenfus 10y pass from John Colm Sweeney (Silvanic kick)
  • CF - Mike Zurenda tackled Aaron Jackson in end zone

TEAM STATISTICS  - NOTE: Enhanced stats from the NYSPHSAA (including DEFENSIVE) are here

First Downs 4 12
Rushes-Yards 29-45 55-218
Passing Yards 5 10
Comp-Att-Int 2-10-2 1-3-0
Total Offense 39-50 58-228
Punts-Ave yards 5-25.6 4-36.0
Fumbles-Lost 3-2 3-3
Penalties-Yards 5-28 2-7


Cleveland Hill rushing

  • Wayne Jones         3-31 
  • Aaron Jackson       5-15 
  • Anthony Sullivan    4-7
  • Brandon Thomas     15-6  
  • Jermaine Hariston   1-1
  • Aaron Phillips      1-(-15)

Chenango Forks rushing

  • Isaiah Zimmer      30-130  2 TDs
  • Ryan Bronson       12-38
  • LJ Watson           7-45
  • JC Sweeney          3-7
  • Jack Sherwood       2-(-1)
  • Dylan Studer        1-(-1)

Cleveland Hill passing

  • Aaron Jackson, 1-for-8,  7y, 2 int.
  • Aaron Phillips, 1-for-2, -2y,

Chenango Forks passing

  • JC Sweeney, 1-for-3, 10y, 1 TD

Cleveland Hill receiving

  • Jared Watkins     2-5

Chenango Forks receiving:  

  • Andrew Ziegenfus  1-10   1 TD

Preview Article(s) 


Kevin Stevens
Press & Sun-Bulletin

Chenango Forks will look to secure the program's seventh berth in a state football final since 2001, against a first-time semifinalist.

It will be the Blue Devils against Cleveland Hill, Section 6 champion from Cheektowaga that has logged four shutouts this season and limited seven opponents to single-digit point totals. Kickoff for the Class C contest is scheduled for noon Saturday, opener of a semifinal tripleheader at Sahlen's Stadium in Rochester.

Last weekend's 46-20 quarterfinal victory over Wayland-Cohocton brought the highest point total by an Eagles foe this year.

Chenango Forks improved to 10-1 with Saturday's 35-18 quarterfinal win over General Brown. That makes it 10 or more wins for the 11th time in the past 13 seasons -- during which the Devils' overall record has been an astounding 139-15.

"What jumps out to us is their team speed, on both sides of the ball. Defensively they swarm in a hurry," said Forks coach David Hogan of Saturday's opponents. "Their tackles fly up the field and their linebackers swarm to the ball."

Hogan cited inside linebackers Tyler Pawlowski and Josh White, along with linebacker/strong safety hybrid Wayne Jones as especially active defenders -- and not coincidentally they are the team's top three tacklers. Of the team's 23 interceptions, Jared Watkins has six and Aaron Wesley five.

Offensively, Brandon Thomas (5-9, 180) heads Eagles rushers with 1,086 yards and 13 touchdowns on 166 carries. He went for 214 and two scores in the quarterfinal. Quarterback Aaron Jackson (5-8, 160) has passed for 666 yards, and last weekend tossed two touchdown passes -- one to Watkins, who closed with six catches for 99 yards.

"Usually they're in the shotgun and they spread you out," Hogan said. "Even when they're running between the tackles they seem to bounce it outside and get around the end anyway."

Atop Forks' defensive to-do list? "Just not giving up the big plays to their playmakers," he said.

Of greatest concern to Cleveland Hill defenders will be fullback Isaiah Zimmer, whose 189 yards against General Brown left him a 219-per-game postseason average and 1,749 for the season. Quarterback John Colm Sweeney's two touchdown passes against General Brown ran his season total to 15.

Asked if he detects any particular Blue Devils advantage, Hogan said: "The last two games they've (Cleveland Hill) played, I think teams have tried to run around them. We'll do that, too, but of course we like to go north and south."

To the winner will go a spot in the final, noon Dec. 1 in the Carrier Dome, against Hoosick Falls or Rye Neck. A victory would send Forks to the final for the first time since 2007.

Cleveland Hill Golden Eagles (11-0) vs. Section IV (Binghamton area) champion Chenango Forks Eagles (10-1)

By Keith McShea
The Buffalo News
What: New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class C semifinal.
When: Today, noon.
Where: Sahlen's Stadium, 460 Oak St., Rochester.
Tickets: $10 for three-game session (Class B game at 3 p.m.; AA game at 6).
Television: Time Warner Cable Sportschannel (live).
Buffalo News small school poll (last poll Nov. 12): Cleveland Hill No. 2 (behind No. 1 Randolph).
New York State Sportswriters Association Class C poll: Chenango Forks No. 3 (same as last week); Cleveland Hill No. 4 (same as last week).
Where's Chenango Forks? Nine miles north of Binghamton.
Cleveland Hill in the state semis: First appearance.
Chenango Forks in the state semis: 6-3, with all nine appearances in the last 12 years. Included in that run are seven straight final four trips in Class B (2001 to 2007), five straight appearances in the state championship game (2001 to 2005), and two state championships (in 2003 and 2004). It has lost the two state semifinals it has made in the last four years, which have come with it in Class C. It lost in 2009 (21-0 to Southwestern, which went on to win the state title) and last year to Section V (Rochester area) champion Hornell, 20-7.
Coaches: Cleveland Hill, Glen Graham, 11th season (70-25); Chenango Forks, Dave Hogan, fifth season (56-8).
How they got here: Cleveland Hill won its first Far West Regional game in the program's third appearance with a 46-20 victory over Section V champion Wayland-Cohocton. Chenango Forks beat Section III winner General Brown, 35-18.
Cleveland Hill key players (and statistics): Sr. QB Aaron Jackson, 5-foot-9, 150 (26-75, 553 yards, 6 TDs; 50-251 rushing, 1 TD); Jr. QB Anthony Sullivan, 5-8, 130 (19-39, 269 yards, 48.7 pct., 2 TDs, 2 INTs; 31-155 rushing, 2 TDs); Sr. RB Brandon Thomas, 5-10, 190 (166-1,086, 13 TDs; 26 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 1 INT); So. RB Grayson Taylor, 5-9, 195 (38-357, 4 TDs); Sr. WR Jared Watkins, 6-0, 145 (29-637 receiving, 10 TDs); Sr. FB Josh White, 5-4, 205 (99 tackles; 27-153 rushing, 1 TD); Sr. G Tyler Pawlowski, 5-11, 195 (90 tackles, 2 INTs); Sr. Wayne Jones, 6-0, 175 (87 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT; 2 rush TDs).
Cleveland Hill pre-snap read: Cleveland Hill's diverse lineup has been on display the last two weeks as it has moved the program to its furthest point in the state playoffs. Thomas has run for five touchdowns in the two games, while Jackson threw two to start last week's win. Six-foot, 300-pound senior Keon Crawford ran for a 3-yard touchdown last week. Six-foot, 215-pound junior Jermaine Hariston got carries at The Ralph. The 5-4 White led the team in tackles last week. Six-foot-4 senior Aaron Phillips, who just signed a baseball scholarship with St. Bonaventure, appeared at quarterback for a play last week. The defense shut down a high-scoring Fredonia team at The Ralph. The Eagles have been opportunistic, recovering three fumbles against Fredonia and forcing four turnovers last week.
Chenango Forks pre-snap read: The Blue Devils certainly have history and tradition on its side as it faces a team that has never been this far. Forks' only loss was a 7-0 defeat in Week Two at Tioga, which lost to Randolph, 35-6, Friday night in the Class D semifinal. Otherwise, it won all of its regular season games as well as its two Section IV playoff games by at least 21 points before beating General Brown by 17 last week. Senior fullback Isaiah Zimmer (5-10, 190) has 1,749 yards rushing this season after a 89-yard game last week. Senior quarterback John Colm Sweeney (5-11, 180) threw two TDs last week to give him a total of 15.
What's next: The winner heads to Syracuse's Carrier Dome for the NYSPHSAA championship at noon next Sunday, Dec. 1. In the East semifinal, defending state champion and the state's top-ranked team in the NYSSWA poll, Section II (Albany area) champion Hoosick Falls (11-0) plays Section I (Dutchess, Putnam, Rockland and Westchester counties) winner Rye Neck (10-0, No. 5) at 11 a.m. today at Kingston's Dietz Stadium.
At BuffaloNews.com: The #PrepTalkLive blog will have play-by-play updates from all four of Section VI's state semifinals. You can comment in the blog or via Twitter by tweeting with the hashtag #PrepTalkLive.

Post-game Midweek Article(s):    

Fifth Quarter:

Published Tuesdays in the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin 

Zimmer carries the load

He may not be a mailman, but whatever the conditions, Chenango Forks' senior Isaiah Zimmer continues to deliver.

On a frigid, snowy and windy day Saturday that made for a most-difficult playing experience, Zimmer had another big game, carrying the ball 30 times for 130 yards in a 22-0 victory over Cleveland Hill in the state Class C semifinal at Sahlen's Stadum in Rochester.

It was another heavy workload for Zimmer this postseason. After averaging 18.3 carries in eight games during the regular season, Zimmer has averaged 31 carries over his past four games -- consisting of two Section 4 playoff and two state playoff contests -- tallying 787 yards and 10 touchdowns during that stretch.

In the first half alone against Cleveland Hill, Zimmer lugged the ball 20 times for 98 yards and two touchdowns, staking the Blue Devils (11-1) to a 13-0 lead.

"The hardest thing was holding onto the ball," he said of the weather conditions. "Your hands are cold, facemasks to the hands can hurt. But that's what football's all about, you just have to go and fight in the trenches."

Zimmer has proven his toughness countless times over his varsity career, but he also showed a bit of nimbleness on his first touchdown against Cleveland Hill.

On third-and-goal at the Eagles' 5-yard line, he took a handoff and appeared he might get stopped near the line of scrimmage as a Cleveland Hill defender surged through the line. Instead, Zimmer made a quick spin move to elude him and easily get into the end zone for the score.

"He had a full head of steam coming," Zimmer said with a smile. "But I knew the only way I would get (by) would be with a spin move."

The victory moved Forks into its first state title game since 2007, as the Blue Devils managed to get past a semifinal round that had been a bit of a stumbling block in recent years. After reaching five consecutive state Class B finals from 2001-05 -- winning back-to-back state titles in 2003-04 -- Forks had gone 1-3 in state semifinal games prior to Saturday.


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