Fingertip grab saves Warriors

It could be the kind of win that gives Niskayuna a boost as it seeks a spot in the Class AA football

It could be the kind of win that gives Niskayuna a boost as it seeks a spot in the Class AA football playoffs.

At least that’s what the Silver Warriors are hoping after pulling out a last-second 20-19 win over Saratoga Springs in a Class AA crossover game.

After three frustrating, fruitless fourth-quarter possessions deep in Saratoga Springs terr­itory, Niskayuna’s pulled out an improbable win when Uwem Akpanikat somehow came up with a deflected pass in the front corner of the end zone to tie the game with 18 seconds left. Alex Helenek then nailed the winning PAT to pull the Silver Warriors to 2-2 as they enter the final three weeks of the season with games against Liberty Division rivals.

“The last couple of years, we’ve been 2-2 [to start the season], but we’ve made it to the playoffs and beat good teams down the stretch,” said Niskayuna coach John Furey. “We’d like to think that’s what we can do.”

Akpanikat, Furey and quarterback Rob Singleton all had different views of the play that may have righted their season. Only Akpanikat was sure of what happened after Singleton lofted the ball his way on a first-and-goal from the Saratoga nine, a pass that was nearly picked off by Blue Streaks’ defensive back Cody Kerns and seemed headed to the ground for an incomplete pass.

“I thought he was going to pick it,” said Akpanikat. “Right when he dropped it, I tried scooping it up when it went to the ground. I swear I caught it with my fingertips, just off the ground.”

The catch, emotional enough as it was, was even sweeter for Akpan­ikat, who dropped a sure touchdown in the third quarter on an option pass from Josh Callahan that saw him 20 yards clear of the nearest defender.

“Things worked out,” he said. “The second half, I was dropping everything. That’s a play I’m going to remember forever.”

“My first read wasn’t there, so I just threw it up in the end zone, off his break, and he came down with it,” said Singleton, who hooked up with Akpanikat on a 38-yard pass in the second quarter as the Silver Warriors began to dig out of an early 13-0 hole. “I saw a Saratoga kid jump up, then I saw Uwem was laying on the ground with the ball. It was one of those moments you’ll never forget.”

Furey, on the opposite side of the field, wasn’t sure his team had scored.

“I have no idea what happened. I think Uwem just came in and stole it away. I’m not sure,” he said.

Saratoga began the game bullying its way to two first-quarter TDs, both by Dan Rittenhouse, as he and Jesse Spencer found plenty of room to run.

The game turned on the final play from scrimmage in the first half, when Singleton hit Callahan with a short, quick pass, and Call­ahan lateralled to Nate Malerk, who sped down the sideline in front of the Saratoga bench to complete a 70-yard scoring play.

“That was huge because it gave us some momentum going into halftime, to be 13-13, instead of 13-7,” said Singleton.

“There was a point where I was thinking we were in trouble in the first half. I felt we had to get even, and getting even helped a lot getting into the half,” Furey said.

But Niskayuna fell behind when a pass came out of Singleton’s hand tumbling end over end, falling into the hands of Saratoga’s Calvin Millar, who returned it 18 yards for his team’s only score of the second half.

“It was tough,” said Singleton of playing in a steady rain. “There were spots where I threw two picks, I think consecutively, where the ball was just slipping out of my hand.”

After seeing nothing come of its repeated good field position in the fourth quarter, Singleton was determined not to let his team fall to 1-3.

“That happened the last home game, too,” he said of a 12-6 win over Colonie. “We kept getting in the red zone and nothing happened. You can’t get frustrated. You have to have a short term memory.

“If we would have come out of this 1-3, a playoff spot probably wouldn’t have been likely. Now we have some momentum.”

“The team has heart. We found a way,” said Akpanikat. “We have divisional games the rest of the season. We’re 2-2 and we want to finish strong.”

Saratoga Springs 13 0 6 0 — 19

Niskayuna 0 13 0 7 — 20

S — Rittenhouse 46 run (King kick).

S — Rittenhouse 2 run (kick failed).

N — Akpanikat 38 pass from Singleton (Helenek kick).

N — Malerk 60 run with lateral (kick failed).

S — Millar 18 interception return (kick failed).

N — Akpanikat 9 pass from Singleton (Helenek kick).

Categories: High School Sports

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