The Eagles have landed — smack in the middle of the Class AA football playoff picture.
Fighting to ensure itself an invitation to the postseason party, Bethlehem used a late-game defensive stop Friday to come out of Ballston Spa with a 14-12 Empire Division win. The outcome not only kept the Eagles’ playoff hopes alive, but could also shake up the seedings for the upcoming sectionals.
The win left both teams with
3-2 division records with one game to play, and trailing 5-0 Saratoga Springs and 4-1 Shenendehowa.
“Our defense has taken some hits this year because they have given up yardage,” said Bethlehem coach Ron Smith, whose team plays at
1-4 CBA next weekend. “But they came up with that big stand at the end of the game. They just decided they weren’t going to give up that touchdown. I’ll take that.”
Quarterback Mark Seager (140 yards on 24 carries and one touchdown) had driven Ballston Spa from its own 10 — after a terrific punt coverage tackle by Bethlehem’s Ryan Ference — to the Eagles’ 12, with the clock nearing the 3:00 minute mark.
Three runs netted only four yards, and on fourth-and-six from the eight, the combination of tight coverage and pressure from the defensive line forced Seager into an off-balance throw into the middle of a crowded end zone.
Bethlehem defensive back Casiem Maxwell jumped to bat the ball back in the direction of the line of scrimmage, and defensive tackle Teddy Abriel grabbed the redirection.
Three plays later, Maxwell
secured the win, breaking through Ballston Spa’s goal-line defense and sprinting down the left sideline for a 40-yard gain on a third-and-two from the Bethlehem 16.
“It was a situation where we felt it was too much yardage to run,” said Ballston Spa coach John Bowen of the fourth-down play.
“We had real good coverage, and Casiem made a great play to get up and knock that ball away,” said fellow defensive back Andy Bettinger, who had stopped an earlier two-point Scotties’ conversion try that prevented Ballston Spa from tying the game late in the third quarter. “We were prepared for anything, and we knew he [Seager] liked to roll out to his right.
“We knew we had to win to make sure we had a shot at the playoffs, and hopefully, this gets us in.”
“We’ve had an up and down season, and this is definitely one of the peaks,” said Eagles quarterback/defensive back Randy Bowers. “To come up with that stop says a lot about how much we wanted to win this game. We knew we had to win to kind of control our fate, as far as the playoffs are concerned.”
After the first three possessions resulted in touchdowns and a
14-6 Bethlehem lead, the last thing Bowen envisioned was late-game drama.
“It sure didn’t look like it was
going to come down to the final minutes,” said Bowen, whose team was hurt by a handful of procedure penalties, including one that negated what would have been a pass out of a PAT formation after its first touchdown. “But give Bethlehem credit, they made two big plays at the end of the game.
“We settled down on defense after the first quarter, and didn’t give them much. The frustrating thing is that we hurt ourselves with penalties.”
Bethlehem’s Sean Murphy had a big game, racking up 122 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries.
“He’s a tank,” said Bowers. “He just goes forward and gets yards.”
Ballston Spa finishes division play at Shenendehowa. If the Scotties and Eagles both win next weekend, they would join the Plainsmen, all with 4-2 division records. That could mean the first-round playoff matchups could be decided by the section’s tiebreaker system that awards points for quarters won.
“That makes it an even bigger game,” said Bowen.
Bethlehem 14 0 0 0 — 14
Ballston Spa 6 0 6 0 — 12
Beth — Murphy 1 run (Smith kick).
BS — Seager 20 run (kick failed).
Beth — Murphy 56 run (Smith kick).
BS — Clark 20 run (run failed).
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Categories: High School Sports