2013 Chenango Forks Varsity Football

Game 13 vs Rye Neck

CF by a hair! Beats Rye Neck 28-27!
Wins Chenango Forks' 3rd NYSPHSAA Championship!

Articles courtesy of the
Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin & The Journal News
There are NINE Pre & Post-game articles below, so grab some popcorn and have a seat

to Game 12 - Cleveland Hill

to the 2013 team page



Kevin Stevens
Press & Sun-Bulletin

SYRACUSE - Add another championship to the storied football program at Chenango Forks. And label this one was as hard-earned as they come.

All-square with Rye Neck after a scoreless third quarter, the Blue Devils polished off a 70-yard scoring drive 3½ minutes into the fourth for a lead they would not relinquish and held off the Panthers, 28-27, for the Class C title Sunday in the Carrier Dome.

Most Valuable Player Isaiah Zimmer's 175-yard, three-touchdown outing included a 7-yard rush for the go-ahead points, and Forks denied Rye Neck's two-point conversion attempt with 4:02 to play.

The outcome brought Chenango Forks its third state title in the program's seventh Week 13 appearance -- and first since 2007. It won titles in 2003 and 2004.

"It's amazing. It hasn't sunk in yet, but it's still amazing," said Ryan Bronson, a Forks junior named the game's Most Valuable Defensive Back.

"Feels great. I can't even explain it, it's just amazing," said senior quarterback John Colm Sweeney, whose afternoon included a 30-yard touchdown pass to Andrew Ziegenfus.

"I'm relieved, but I'm certainly more happy than I am relieved," said coach David Hogan, whose 12-1 squad extended its win streak to 11 games despite surrendering a season-high point total.

Rye Neck played like anything but a state-playoff newcomer. The first-time Section 1 champion from Westchester County gave the Blue Devils all they could handle, particularly in a first half that concluded with the teams tied at 21.

But come second-half play, Forks' defense stiffened and its running game continued to hammer away at the Panthers.

Rye Neck's first two second-half possessions brought a single first down and netted 22 yards. The Panthers' second punt of the half -- a 40-yarder courtesy of a fortuitous bounce -- left Forks the football at its 30-yard line with 1:31 to play in the third quarter.

The drive's key play was turned in by Sweeney, who called upon his legs to elude defenders in the backfield before delivering a third-and-11 pass to freshman L.J. Watson that went for 24 yards to Rye Neck's 47.

When the third quarter gave way to the fourth, Zimmer took control.

He rushed the football on six of the next eight plays, including back-to-back 7-yard gains on the final two. His scoring rush was over the right side and he crossed the goal line on his feet. Tony Silvanic's PAT kick gave the Devils a 28-21 advantage with 8:25 to play.

Sweeney, by the way, added another clutch play on that drive, a 6-yard gain on fourth-and-2 after faking to Zimmer that brought the ball to the 20.

Rye Neck took the ball at its 20-yard line after a touchback, and showed offensive life for the first time since the second quarter.

Dom Brescia rushed 14 yards on first down, Thomas Pipolo hit Jake Sevean for a 32-yard catch-and-run and the Panthers were at Forks' 32-yard line.

After five running plays and an incomplete pass, Rye Neck had fourth-and-goal from Forks' 9-yard line -- from which point Pipolo hit a lunging Sevean in the right-center of the end zone to make it 28-27 with 4:02 to play.

The decision was a no-doubter for Rye Neck.

"I watched and I knew they were going to go for two because (Panthers coach Nick Ianello) was looking at his plays right away," Hogan said. "We thought about calling timeout but I thought with the defense we were in, we were pretty safe and it worked out pretty good with Zurenda getting through the gap there."

More than pretty good. Nose guard Mike Zurenda blasted through the Panthers' front and went low to wrap up Pedro Cueto' lower legs and down him comfortably short of the goal line.

"It was just like the first one they ran, they bought power right at us," Bronson said. "Our guys did a good job of getting in the backfield and wrapping up the legs. He's a great runner but if you've got his legs he can't go anywhere."

The Devils recovered a subsequent onside kick and took over at their 43-yard line with 3:55 remaining. And so they went to Zimmer -- "Ironman" -- again and again and again.

Eight times in the next nine plays, Zimmer carried the ball on a drive that gained two first downs and reached Rye Neck's 28-yard line before the Devils gave up the ball on downs with two seconds remaining. Offsetting penalties negated an apparent 32-yard touchdown rush by Zimmer with seven seconds left.

"I think at the end, our offense did a great job of getting first downs when we had to," Hogan said. " ... We were just calling the same play. We felt like that was our safest play running behind our best linemen with a back that we'd been riding all year. I thought that was big."

Rye Neck's Pipolo was sacked by Silvanic and Scott Craver for an 8-yard loss on the final play.

The Blue Devils fell behind 6:44 into play when a Pipolo-to-Matt Garcia pass of 20 yards went for a touchdown to finish a 60-yard drive. Forks pulled even 3:26 into the second when Zimmer powered over from the 1-yard line, and went ahead 14-7 on the Sweeney-to-Ziegenfus pass midway through the quarter.

Then, the unthinkable happened.

Ryan Morningstar fielded the ensuing kickoff at his 12-yard line and proceeded up the middle of the field for a touchdown. Against Forks -- which simply does not permit kick-return scores.

Hogan said the most recent might have been surrendered 16 or 17 years ago.

"I was surprised. That was a big momentum swing," Sweeney said. "That's the first time that's happened to us all year, it was definitely a shocker. I think they just created a wedge and went though the middle."

A touchdown apiece from there left them tied at halftime.

"I think our defense played a whole lot better the second half," Hogan said. "We talked at halftime about wrapping up because those kids run hard. I though we did a lot better job of that in the second half."

Zimmer's 39-carry impact was not lost on Panthers coach Nick Ianello.

"I expected them to run right at us," he said. "We had some trouble up front. We have skill kids and when our skill kids aren't involved in the game it can be tough for us."


Matt Weinstein
Press & Sun-Bulletin

SYRACUSE - Needing to stop a two-point conversion attempt to avoid losing the lead late in the fourth quarter, instinct kicked in for Chenango Forks nose guard Mike Zurenda.

Rye Neck running back Pedro Cueto took the handoff from his quarterback and darted up the middle, but Zurenda shed his blocker and wrapped Cueto's ankles to preserve the one-point lead for his Blue Devils, who went on to win the Class C state championship by that 28-27 score on Sunday at the Carrier Dome.

"I didn't see anything; I just tackled him," the senior said. "I just gave it my all and pulled him down."

The stop with 4:02 remaining came after Rye Neck converted a fourth-and-6 on a 9-yard touchdown pass from Thomas Pipolo to Jake Sevean. The Blue Devils' offense then went to work on the clock, draining it down to two seconds before Rye Neck took over again on its own 28.

"That's the play of the game, no doubt about it," Forks coach Dave Hogan said. "Michael was able to get through there and just made a huge play for us. Obviously it changes everything because the pressure would have been on us to score.

"Games are won up front. We never won a championship without a good defense and they definitely stepped it up in the second half."

Rye Neck coach Nick Ianello on his decision to go for the lead instead of the tie: "We are here to win the game. We're not here to play for a tie and that's something I would do again."

Zurenda finished with five tackles and has shown a knack for making big plays late in important games. He had a sack for a safety in the fourth quarter to help seal the Blue Devils' 22-0 victory against Cleveland Hill in the state semifinals last month in Rochester.

Zurenda said winning a state title has been something he has thought about for years.

"It's been my dream ever since I've been a little kid, ever since I strapped on that red helmet," the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder said. "Every one of these guys deserves it more than anyone in the world. We worked our butts off for this.

"We always talk about how we are a family. It means a lot when you play for your brothers, you really come together and play close."

Rye Neck had success running and passing the ball in the first half, but the Blue Devils made some adjustments at halftime and Hogan reminded his team to wrap up the ball carriers.

"They have very hard runners and we thought we were hitting shoulders and not wrapping up," Hogan said. "We feel we could tackle a whole lot better than that. Earlier in the season we tackled a lot with just our shoulders but that's not going to happen against (Rye Neck)."


Josh Thomson
The Journal News

The Rye Neck defense had been gashed up front for much of the last three quarters. Chenango Forks wasn't explosive, but it was big and tough and had imposed that physicality to take a one-touchdown lead.

So when the Panthers scored with 4:02 remaining, coach Nick Ianello made a tough choice, but one in line with the philosophy of him and his team. The risk -- one of several in the game -- went unrewarded. Chenango Forks stopped Pedro M. Cueto short on a 2-point conversion and burned the remaining time to beat Rye Neck, 28-27, in a dramatic Class C state championship game on Sunday at the Carrier Dome.

"It came down to that 2-point conversion," Ianello said shortly after his program's first appearance in a state final. "Maybe in hindsight, maybe I should've gone for the kick and played for overtime, but we got here on what we do. I wanted to go for it, and I think the kids wanted to go for the two points and the win."

"It was the right call," Panthers senior Jakob Calvini said. "Today, we just couldn't get it in."

It was an afternoon of bold choices for Ianello and his Panthers, who, after an easy opening scoring drive, quickly learned what they had to face against the Section 4 champ. In particular, it was MVP Isaiah Zimmer who kept busy. The 190-pound senior rushed 39 times for 175 yards and three scores, pounding away from the Blue Devils' favored three-back sets.

Zimmer's running led to three second-quarter touchdowns, but one came after Rye Neck (11-1) had been stopped on a fake punt at its 30. Quarterback John Colm Sweeney connected on a 30-yard touchdown to Andrew Ziegenfus one play later.

"I found it similar to the first Woodlands game," said Ianello, whose team beat Woodlands 41-40 in overtime during the regular season. "I thought it was going to be that kind of game, back and forth. I figured I had to do some stuff to keep them off guard."

Senior Ryan Morningstar did his part in that regard. After Sweeney's touchdown pass, he responded with an 88-yard kickoff return for a score. When Rye Neck quickly fell behind again, quarterback Thomas Pipolo found Calvini for a 9-yard touchdown pass on fourth down. Cueto's 2-point run tied the score 21-21 heading into halftime.

The second half remained physical, but the Panthers withstood it until Zimmer scored his third touchdown with 8:25 to play. Again, Rye Neck replied, driving 80 yards in 11 plays and drawing within a point on Pipolo's third touchdown pass -- this one to Jake Sevean on fourth down.

Ianello called for the bruising, 220-pound Cueto again on the 2-point play. He ran to the right, just as he had earlier, but was stopped well short of the goal line.

Chenango Forks (12-1) burned almost the entire clock and both Panthers timeouts. Rye Neck had one play at its 28, but Pipolo was sacked.

He finished 6 for 10 for 113 yards and was named the game's most outstanding offensive back.

"Our motto all along has been, 'Play to win,' " Pipolo said. "We're not going to sit back and let things happen. We have to attack. Those plays just didn't go our way today."

The Panthers came within a yard or two of a state title, but Sunday also marked their first trip to the Dome on the heels of the program's first sectional title.

"In a couple days, we'll feel good about it," Pipolo said. "Right now, it stings."

Rye Neck falls in state football final

Kevin Devaney Jr.
MSG Varsity

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — A circle of blood roughly the size of a quarter had dried up between the eyes of Jakob Calvini’s forehead. The black paint on his face had smeared and dried, distracting from the devastation that was clear in his eyes.

Calvini looked every bit as exhausted and bruised as a Rye Neck football player should have on Sunday afternoon. The Black Hats were treated to the most physical and intense football game of their season, leaving the Carrier Dome battered over what nearly could have been.

Chenango Forks outmuscled Rye Neck in the Class C state championship game, holding on for a 28-27 win after stopping the Black Hats’ 2-point conversion attempt with 4:02 remaining. Rye Neck’s defense just couldn’t get the stops it needed in the final minutes, a theme for the afternoon against a gritty Forks rushing attack.

Rye Neck’s quest for a state title deflated in the Dome with every carry Isaiah Zimmer took. The star running back ran for 175 yards and three touchdowns on 39 attempts, wearing down a defense that’s shut down the run all season.

The Black Hats, making their first ever trip to the state final, never faced a back, or an offensive line, as good as Sunday. Zimmer, a nails-tough 5-foot-10, 190-pounder, dug in for the final four minutes after Rye Neck’s failed conversion attempt and carried Forks one final time.

“I could do that a thousand more times. I’m not tired,” Zimmer said. “This was the best feeling in the world.”

It was third state championship for Forks, which had two previous wins in Class B over Rye.

For Rye Neck, Sunday was a game that will leave questions. The Black Hats had several critical decisions come back to hurt them. They missed 2-point conversion attempt in the second quarter and a failed on a fake punt on their own 30 before the half, which Forks turned into a touchdown on the next play.

The aggressiveness by Rye Neck, though, was understandable. Chenango Forks dominated the clock, finishing with nearly 10 more minutes of possession, and piled up eight first downs in the second half.

The decision to go for two after its final touchdown for Rye Neck seemed like an obviously, albeit regrettable, decision.

“This is on me,” Ianello said. “We should have kicked it.”

When asked if he’d do it again: “Absolutely. We couldn’t stop them.”

Forks converted two third downs on the final drive, milking the clock before Rye Neck’s final play. Getting the ball back with two seconds left at its own 27, Pipolo was sacked to end the game.

Pipolo put the first points on the board of the game, connecting with Matt Garcia for a 20-yard touchdown pass on Rye Neck’s opening drive. Forks responded with an 8-play, 48-yard scoring drive to tie.

After Rye Neck’s fake punt midway through the second quarter, John Sweeney threw a 30-yard touchdown to Andrew Ziegenfus. Ryan Morningstar returned the ensuing kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown for Rye Neck but its two-point try was stopped to keep Forks up 14-13.

Forks extended its lead to 21-13 on Zimmer’s 7-yard touchdown run with 2:48 left in the second quarter but Pipolo took the Black Hats down the field before the half. Pipolo hit Calvini for a 9-yard touchdown, and Pedro M. Cueto punch in the conversion to tie it 21-21 at the half.

“Our coach just said the game is zero-zero now,” said Zimmer, who had 20 first-half carries. “It was a new game.”


01 02 03 04   Tot
Chenango Forks 0 21 0 7 - 28
Rye Neck 7 14 0 6 - 27
  • RN - Matt Garcia 20y pass from Thomas Pipolo (Jakob Calvini kick)
  • CF - Isaiah Zimmer 1y run (Tony Silvanic kick)
  • CF - Andrew Ziegenfus 30y pass from John Colm Sweeney (Silvanic kick)
  • RN - Ryan Morningstar 88y kickoff return (Thomas Pipolo pass failed)
  • CF - Isaiah Zimmer 7y run (Tony Silvanic kick)
  • RN - Calvini 9y pass from Pipolo (Pedro Cueto kick)
  • CF - Isaiah Zimmer 7y run (Tony Silvanic kick)
  • RV - Jake Sevean 9y pass from Pipolo (Pedro Cueto run failed)

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

First Downs 13 17
Rushes-Yards 34-141 56-229
Passing Yards 113 54
Comp-Att-Int 6-10-0 2-4-0
Total Offense 44-254 60-283
Punts-Ave yards 3-38.7 2-29.5
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 0-0
Penalties-Yards 4-20 9-75


Rye Neck rushing

  • Pedro Cueto         9-48
  • Dom Brescia        11-38
  • Jake Sevean         8-37 
  • Jakob Calvini       3-9
  • Tom Pipolo          2-7
  • Ryan Morningstar    1-2  

Chenango Forks rushing

  • Isaiah Zimmer      39-175  3 TDs
  • John Colm Sweeney   9-26
  • Ryan Bronson        4-12
  • Dylan Studer        2-9
  • LJ Watson           2-7

Rye Neck passing

  • Tom Pipolo, 6-for-10, 0 int, 113y, 3 TDs

Chenango Forks passing

  • John Colm Sweeney, 2-for-4, 0 in, 54y, 1 TD

Rye Neck receiving

  • Jake Sevean       3-43   1 TD
  • Jakob Calvini     1-9    1 TD
  • Matt Garcia       2-61   1 TD

Chenango Forks receiving:  

  • Andrew Ziegenfus  1-30   1 TD
  • LJ Watson         1-24

Preview Article(s) 


Kevin Stevens
Press & Sun-Bulletin

Watch for the team with the most pass attempts to be the one in a spot of bother when Chenango Forks bangs into Rye Neck with New York's Class C football championship at stake.

Kickoff is scheduled for noon Sunday in the Carrier Dome, where two squads who've made it this far by leaning effectively on the run game will see who moves the football most soundly and efficiently without the need to send it airborne.

Second-ranked Chenango Forks (11-1) has rushed for 3,791 yards, or, an average of 316 per game. Rye Neck (11-0), first-time Section 1 champion from Mamaroneck in Westchester County, surpassed the 3,000-yard rushing mark with 307 in last week's 14-0 semifinal win over defending state champion Hoosick Falls.

One noticeable difference between the two is, Rye Neck's spread-the-wealth approach to the ground game has left four individuals with 500 or more yards. Pedro Cueto's 709 and 11 touchdowns top the Panthers' chart.

For Forks, senior fullback Isaiah Zimmer is 121 short of reaching the coveted 2,000-yard mark for the season. And talk about getting it done when it matters most? He's logged 787 of those yards in the Blue Devils' four elimination games.

"They have a lot of the same sets we have," Forks coach David Hogan said. "The run a nice counter, they carry out their fakes well and they have some nice play-action off that.

"Yeah, a lot like us."

With one glaring exception: Pedigree.

For Rye Neck, which received a bye through the state quarterfinal round, Sunday will mark the second state-playoff game in program history. It'll be Forks' fifth over the last two seasons, and 29th since the state tournament was instituted in 1993.

Nevertheless, Hogan declared a relative "Deuce."

"This is all new for our kids, going to the Dome," he said. "It'll be new for our kids, it'll be new for their kids. I don't see any advantage."

Aside from Cueto, who rushed for 127 yards as last week's most outstanding offensive player, the Panthers' top runners are Dom Brescia (663 yards, 11 TDs), quarterback Tom Pipolo (618 yards, eight TDs) and Ryan Morningstar (511, 10 TDs). Pipolo has attempted 49 passes this year, 29 fewer than Blue Devils senior John Colm Sweeney.

The Panthers have blanked six opponents in 2013, three better than Forks. However, most impressive of the Devils' three shutouts -- and an indication that the defense is peaking in timely fashion -- was a 22-0 semifinal win over Section 6 champion Cleveland Hill.

The yardage Rye Neck gains in the Carrier Dome will most certainly be earned against the likes of Mike Zurenda, Scott Craver, Hunter Luybli, Ryan Bronson and the rest of Forks' Grade-A defensive cast.

"They're a good team, they're going to try to run at us," said Paul Groover, a senior offensive tackle for Forks. "They throw the ball a little bit and they have a pretty tough defense up front. I think we're a little bigger than them up front, and we'll have to use our size to our advantage like we've done most of the year."

Sunday will mark Forks' first appearance in a state final since 2007, which brought the end of a stupendous stretch of six title games in a seven-year period.


Josh Thomson
The Journal News

MOUNT VERNON ­ Two weeks ago, the Rye Neck football team had played as many state tournament games as Super Bowls. Yet on Sunday at noon, the Panthers will kick off the Class C state championship against Chenango Forks, a Binghamton-area school making its record 29th state playoff appearance.

The contrast is obvious, but ultimately meaningless for Rye Neck. The tiny district tucked in Mamaroneck on the Sound Shore, and surrounded by Section 1 football giants Rye, Harrison and New Rochelle, figures both teams will be forced to overcome nerves playing at the Carrier Dome.

Despite its storied history, Chenango Forks, a 12-time Section 4 champ, hasn’t played for a state title since it lost to Rye in 2007, ending a seven-year stretch that included six trips to the Class B final.

“I think it’s new for them, too,” Rye Neck coach Nick Ianello said. “It’s a totally different group. It’s a storied program, but I’m not sure that it will make a difference. They’ll be enamored by the Jumbotron just like us. I think it’ll be about who settles in first.”

Ianello’s Panthers have proven their adaptability the last two weeks. Their first two trips to Dietz Stadium in Kingston ended in definitive victories ­ first 47-6 over Section 9’s Burke Catholic and then a 14-0 shutout of defending state champ Hoosick Falls, a seven-time Section 2 winner.

“I don’t think it’s a factor, really,” junior Jake Sevean said. “We have a lot of seniors on our team, so we’re very experienced. I don’t think where we play will make a difference in how we play.”

The spacious, sterile Carrier Dome will make for a far different venue than gritty, frigid Dietz. To ease the transition to playing indoors, the Panthers practiced four times this week at the Sports Underdome in Mount Vernon.

They ended up in the turf bubble by chance last week when it rained the day before their state semifinal against Hoosick Falls. At Ianello’s request, the district invested in additional practices there this week in order to simulate what his players will experience in the Dome.

“I think it helps a ton,” said senior captain Tom Tripodi, a two-way starter on the line. “The air in the Dome is different. Just getting used to it gives us an edge.”

The Panthers will have a first look at the Carrier Dome today, albeit from the stands. They are scheduled to arrive in Syracuse early and attend this afternoon’s Syracuse-Boston College game.

Athletic director Joe Ceglia secured the program and its supporters 68 tickets. The Yorktown High School product played lacrosse at Syracuse and helped the Orange win the 2000 national championship.

A look from the stands may not chase away those game-day nerves. Rye Neck is eager to play in the Carrier Dome. Players said that opportunity has been their primary focus ­ not Chenango Forks’ history as a state power.

“It’s going to be amazing,” Tripodi said. “I can’t wait. I think we’ll be able to adjust. Everything that’s been thrown at us over the years, we’ve been able to adjust to. I think we’ll be fine.”


Class C state championship
Rye Neck (11-0) vs. Section 4’s Chenango Forks (11-1)

When: Sunday, noon
Where: Carrier Dome, Syracuse University

Key players:
Rye Neck
­ Jakob Calvini (6-2, 210), Sr., RB/LB; Pedro M. Cueto (5-11, 185), Sr., RB/DL; Dom Brescia (5-11, 180), Jr., RB/DB.
Chenango Forks ­ Ryan Bronson (5-8, 185), Jr., RB/DB; L.J. Watson (5-10, 175), Fr., RB/DB; Paul Groover (6-0, 300), Sr., OT/DT.

Outlook: While this is Rye Neck’s first appearance in a state final, this is Forks’ seventh trip, tying Dobbs Ferry for the state tournament record. The 12-time Section 4 champ played in six of seven Class B state finals from 2001-07, but has not reached the Carrier Dome since, despite winning three other sectional championships after dropping to Class C. Still, this will mark the program’s state-record 29th playoff game and just the third for Rye Neck. That lack of experience won’t matter to the Panthers, who have won 18 of their last 19 games, 12 of them by shutout, including last week’s 14-0 defeat of defending state champ Hoosick Falls. Chenango Forks runs the same option offense it did in previous state final appearances against Harrison (2002) and Rye (2003-05, 2007). Bronson and Watson are just two of four backs who will touch the ball. Groover and co. give the Blue Devils size up front, which they’ll have to use to their advantage. Rye Neck has better athletes on the perimeter. Cueto is a bruising runner, but Brescia, Calvini, Ryan Morningstar, Jake Sevean, and Matt Garcia are among the two-way standouts who fortify a very balanced Panther team.

Chenango Forks coach Dave Hogan on Rye Neck: “I don’t think there’s just one player who jumps out at us. They have four or five people who are pretty athletic. They’re fast on defense. On offense they have at lease four different guys who can run and their QB can throw the ball and hurt you.”

“On defense, it’s the team speed. They seem to swarm to the ball. I think it is fairly rare to see this. It’s kind of rare even on defense. Teams will usually have a stud linebacker or a stud safety that takes over. You don’t see that with them. They do a lot of things really well.”

“I think they do very well with their playaction passing. They can hurt you with big plays. They’ve hurt other teams with big plays. I guess you have to tackle well for sure. They seem to break a lot of tackles.”

“I think it’s funny. People are asking me, ‘Who are they like?’ Well, I think they’re a lot like us.”

“We run the option. I guess you’d say that I like having three guys in the backfield. That’s my favorite offense.”

“We have the same coaching staff. We have a different head coach, but the same coaching staff that we had when we played against Ry and Harrison. I’d say we’re similar. Our defense has kind evolved and adapted to the offensive stuff, teams spreading out.”

“I think their coach is correct. Both teams are very excited to play for the state championship. It’s a lot different (for our team). A lot of these kids were in sixth or seventh grade back when we went last time, so they’re very excited about being able to go.”


Kevin Stevens
Press & Sun-Bulletin

Come noon Sunday in the Carrier Dome, the Section 4 football program with the most state playoff victories will brace for kickoff seeking yet another.

Three hours later, the football program with Section 4's highest state-playoff winning percentage will look to enhance that percentage.

Coincidence that Chenango Forks and Maine-Endwell are the last two standing among Section 4's 42 teams?

Unequivocally, no!

The 11-1 Blue Devils will oppose Rye Neck in the Class C final.

The 12-0 Spartans will follow, taking on Schalmont in the Class B final.

Forks has logged 19 state playoff victories since New York instituted a tournament in 1993. That is tops in the section, with M-E's 12 wins second-best.

Maine-Endwell has played to a section-best .857 winning percentage in state playoffs, with Forks' .679 success rate fourth-best.

The Spartans' three state championships head Section 4 charts. The Blue Devils' two titles share next-best billing with Walton's previous standard bearers for excellence in these parts.

Should the Spartans celebrate at midfield come 5:30 or so Sunday, they would do so having gained a share of Section 4's all-time winning streak record-- held by none other than Forks, which banged out 38 in succession before absorbing a loss in the 2005 state title game.

The programs' paths to sustained superiority have followed similar blueprints.

Gimmicks and gadgets be damned: They play football, straightforward, fundamentally sound, more-disciplined-than-the-opponent football.

In this era of increasing inclination to wing the ball around and shake the opponents' hands too-near three hours after opening kickoff, Forks and M-E emphasize the running game, and defense, and special-teams play that each knows can be difference-making.

Each employs a selfless, We-over-Me approach. Should an individual be tempted to stray from that modus operandi, to pilot his own ship for even a brief stretch, he'll be reminded summarily of the greater mission.

Neither the Blue Devils nor Spartans leave things to chance, for they know the unturned rock may hide the difference between success and failure on a given weekend. Attention to detail is at a premium, from August into December.

Each has a Grade-A coaching staff in place, teachers, communicators, motivators.

Each has a thriving youth program stocked with wide-eyed small fries who cannot wait for their turn to tug the varsity jersey over pads. In both schools and both communities, football genuinely matters.

Many -- most? -- programs hope to represent Section 4 in the postseason, and would be ecstatic to roll the dice against intersectional competition. In Forks and M-E quarters, the aim is higher: Postseason success is expected.

Pour it all in a pot, stir, let set a spell and what have you got? The potential Sunday to bump the pair's combined state championship take to seven, their state-playoff victory total to 33, and to even further their respective reputations as relative How-To manuals for football success.

Why even more programs hereabouts haven't borrowed or just plain ripped off from the Blue Devils and Spartans is a mystery. Can't beat 'em, so why not carbon-copy what they do and unveil it come mid-August, 2014, when another season of opportunity is about to unfold?

Forks took one in the chops in Week 2 of this season, a 7-0 setback at Tioga that remains Game of the Year from this vantage point. It was a loss that made the Devils better, hungrier, even more honed in on the bigger prize ahead.

M-E didn't have a to-the-tape test until the state quarterfinal, when the absence of six suspended players factored greatly into a one-point escape against Cazenovia.

There were the two squads Wednesday morning, sharing space under the dome off Airport Road, separated by netting strung the width of the field. Those who had not had the privilege to witness the way they go about their practice-field business would have gotten an eye-opener. No wasted time or motion. A purpose to everything. Thanksgiving Eve or no, still room for a tweak here and a correction there -- and push-ups all around when a miscue dictates.

Couldn't help but let the mind wander ... What if? What if, just for, say, a quarter's time, the netting could be tugged aside?

Blue Devils vs. Spartans.

Firsts vs. Firsts.

Say, 2-3 possessions per team. State finalists -- have at it!

On second thought ... Nah. Better left to the imagination, to debate and speculation.

Here's hoping Sunday's respective challenges bring out the best of the best.

Kevin Devaney Jr.
MSG Varsity

State Football Championships

Rye Neck (11-0) vs. Chenango Forks (11-1)
Sunday, noon
Where: Carrier Dome, Syracuse
Previous results: Rye Neck ended Hoosick Falls’ reign as state champs, 14-0, in the state semifinals. Chenango Forks, the Section 4 champs, beat Section 6 champion Cleveland Hill 22-0 in the state semis.

Players to watch
Rye Neck:
Jakob Calvini, Sr., RB/LB; Pedro J. Cueto; Pedro M. Cueto, Jr., LB; Ryan Morningstar, Sr., RB; Dom Brescia, Jr., RB/DB; Tom Pipolo, Sr., QB; Mike Bianco, Sr., TE/DE; John Barach, Sr., OL/LB; Jake Pucella, Sr., OL/DL.
Chenango Forks: Isaiah Zimmer (5-10, 190), Sr., FB/LB; Mike Zurenda (6-2, 220), Sr., OL/NG; J.C. Sweeney (5-11, 180), Sr., QB; L.J. Watson (5-10, 175), Fr., RB/DB; Tony Silvanic (6-0, 175), Soph., RB/DE.

Who’s is Chenango Forks?: The name should ring a bell to football fans in the region. Forks lost to Harrison in the Class B state football championship in 2003 then beat Rye in the final in ’04 and ’05. Rye beat Forks in ’05 and again in ’07. Forks has won 11 sectional titles in the past 13 years (seven in B) and is making its first state final appearance since 2007.

Key matchup: Isaiah Zimmer vs. Pedro J. Cueto. Forks is a predominantly running team, piling up 3,719 yards on the ground and just 740 through the air. The Blue Devils line up and keep the game between the tackles, which is where Zimmer is most dangerous. He’s an extremely durable back who moves the chains and wears down defenses. Rye Neck, led by Cueto and his team-leading 8-0 tackles, has to be physical from start to finish and make somebody else beat them.

Rye Neck wins if: The defense stays the course. If you take away the 40 points the Black Hats allowed in their overtime over Woodlands in the regular season, Rye Neck has allowed just 2.9 points and posted six shutouts. Hoosick Falls learned how deep this defense is, with players recording 40 or more tackles for the season. Calvini (77 tackles, 6 sacks) is as good as they come on that side of the ball.

Chenango Forks wins if: Zimmer gets help. As good as Zimmer is, there’s no way one player is going to beat Rye Neck. Chenango, though, hasn’t scored 489 points this season with Zimmer alone. He’s rushed 1,879 yards but there’s other stars on offense, including sneak-good QB Sweeney, who has over 1,000 yards and 16 touchdowns through the air this season. Balance is everything for Forks.

KDJ’s pick:
Rye Neck 15, Chenango Forks 14.
At some point, one of these teams is going to realize they have to gamble and go for the win. Rye Neck will be that team. The Black Hats just feel like a team of destiny, one that’s done everything right all season long. They got here with talent. They’ll win a title with a little bit of luck.

Post-game Midweek Article(s):    

Fifth Quarter:

Published Tuesdays in the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin 


Kevin Stevens
Press & Sun-Bulletin

On Spectacular Sunday in the Dome, one extraordinary football classic unfolded -- only to be trumped by the next.

Three hours apart, Chenango Forks and Maine-Endwell matched one-point victories on an afternoon that brought twin state championships to go with theater not even the most flamboyant imagination would dare script.

There was the two-point conversion that wasn't. Then the one that was.

There was a thoroughly exhausted "Ironman" on the verge of losing his pre-game meal, and later a bum-winged quarterback summoning the numbing powers of fortitude to pitch his team to a title.

There was Flyin' Wiz, defying gravity and self-preservation to make the most astonishingly athletic play seen under the bubble that day. And there was the sheer force of Z-Man, burrowing powerfully through fellow big boys to make a play of even greater significance.

There were shocks absorbed: A kickoff-return touchdown allowed by Forks, then what coulda/shoulda been a crusher of a punt-return TD permitted by M-E.

Chants and groans, shrieks of surprise and chin-to-chest chagrin. Held-breath, hands-grasped, squinty-eyed torment as footballs popped free, tackles were broken, and tiny chain links determined first downs gained or narrowly missed.

The doubleheader lacked nothing, save for relief from exorbitant price tags hanging from the venue -- i.e., $10 for a parking space an uphill climb from another $10 whack at the gate. For a high school sporting event? Please!

Forks was first to the field against Rye Neck, a Westchester County opponent that some figured to bring a happy-to-be-here acceptance of its fate, given the program's first-time state-playoff appearance. Thing was, someone forgot to tell the Panthers that they were up against a program in search of a 20th state-playoff win and third championship.

The first half passed and it was a 21-apiece standoff. And that was with Rye Neck gift-wrapping a Forks touchdown by failing to execute a startlingly ill-advised fourth-and-5 punt fake from its own 36-yard line.

But the Blue Devils did what superior teams do: They got better at halftime, in part because the adults doing the talking during that respite know their business, inside and out, and the boys do as they're told.

Forks went ahead for good when seemingly indefatigable fullback Isaiah Zimmer rushed 7 yards for a touchdown 3:35 into the fourth quarter. It was one of his three scores, and came on one of his 39 carries.

"He's Ironman. He'd run every single play if he needed to," quarterback John Colm Sweeney said. "We do a lot of conditioning, and also he's just tough, a tough kid, a tough runner. And he's really competitive."

But even Ironman has his limitations. Of one particularly demanding second-half stretch, Zimmer said, "I was tired. I was about ready to throw up. I was gone. I wasn't expecting it to be as hot in here as it was, actually. But, I just wanted to play football, I just wanted to run."

Rye Neck answered with a touchdown and, trailing by a point with 4:02 remaining, opted for a two-point conversion. Enter Forks' Mike Zurenda -- 6-2, 220 pounds, tough as a three-dollar steak -- to crash though the offensive front and tug down the ball carrier with a grasp of his legs.

Then Forks ran, and ran some more, nickel-and-diming Rye Neck until the clock read next-to-nothing and the Blue Devils were atop the state's pile, as they were in 2003 and 2004.

Next up, Maine-Endwell vs. Schalmont, a fast-on-fast squad that operated its offense as if the bus was double-parked, or the fellas were up against strict curfew back in Schenectady.

These were the Spartans of M-E, winners of 37 in a row and state champions each of the past two years. This was the Dome, where about all they do is win.

Except, then the first half happened, and they fumbled away the football thrice, had mucho trouble advancing said football, and trailed 14-0.

Jake Sinicki -- more on him shortly -- was asked: Who were those guys in the white jerseys in the first half? "I think that was our seventh-grade modified team," he said -- cracking himself up, by the way. "That wasn't Maine-Endwell football, I'll tell you that much."

The real Spartans emerged from halftime, fought into a tie, but fell in arrears again by allowing that punt-return score for a 21-14 Schalmont lead. At the time, it appeared about all New York's longest active football win streak had left was 88 seconds worth of game clock and tenuous life support.

Ah, but then the coolest customer in uniform did his thing, separated throwing shoulder be damned.

Quarterback Kyle Gallagher did what leaders do, what winners do. He led. He won.

Gallagher drove M-E 75 yards on nine plays in 1:19 for a touchdown pass to Sinicki streaking across the end zone. Along the way came a pass that Alec Wisniewski rose -- and rose, and rose some more -- to grab over two defenders along the Sabres' sideline for a 19-yard gain. Perfectly remarkable!

Schalmont's lead was 21-20. Four seconds remained. Conventional wisdom screamed "Kick the football!"

Matt Gallagher, M-E's coach and Kyle's old man, decided otherwise.

"We were going to kick it," Coach G said. "Then I brought it up and we kind of chatted about it and I said, 'Know what? We're going to do it. We're going to put the ball in the hands of the guys who got us here.' "

And so they did, and Kyle delivered a wee flip to an inexplicably open Darnell Woolfolk for the streak-preserving, title-clinching couple points.

Sinicki -- through his alter ego @White_Mamba30 -- summed it up on the Twitter: "Safe to say that the football gods wanted us to win today."

Kyle Gallagher attributed the final drive to the art of preparation.

"We do two-minute every week and the coaches always do a good job of getting us ready," he said. "They always make the situation way harder than it has to be. And it paid off. When we were out there it was easier than we had in practice, which is what you want."

A Broome County sweep for the ages was complete.

David Hogan, Forks coach, good guy from hat to heels and an educator who gets the bigger picture, used the following to sum up the day. His words apply to both state champions.

"Just being so close to these kids makes it that much better, that much more special," he said. "I think we do it the right way, I think the kids buy in year after year. The kids buy into what we're doing, they do exactly what we ask. It's always, 'Yes sir, whatever.'

"They work hard and we do it the right way and that just makes it that much more special. And hopefully they learn something and carry that on in life as well because there are no shortcuts. I think our kids, this group for sure, knows that."

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