Sabres get going in second half (with photo gallery)

Trailing early and in a haltime deadlock, Schalmont’s football team showed its skill and will Friday

Trailing early and in a haltime deadlock, Schalmont’s football team showed its skill and will Friday night in a Section II Class B semifinal tussle.

Devon Willis and Niko Nicoletti ran for second-half touchdowns, and the Sabres made enough defensive plays to edge Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk, 19-14, and advance to their third straight championship game.

“In the locker room, the coaches got pretty emotional, and we were all getting in each other’s faces.” said Schalmont senior linebacker Mike Floccuzi. “We were all saying we don’t want it to end and we had to get the job done, It was kind of a reality check.”

Alex Hildebrand raced 75 yards to begin a string of 19 unanswered points by the Sabres, Jean Gomez, Floccuzio and Ryan Matyka recorded second-half sacks, and Nicoletti made a key fourth-down tackle late in the final quarter as part of their 27th straight victory against Section II opponents.

That string shows three wins against Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk, including last year’s 48-13 triumph when the Sabres claimed their second Section II banner.

“The experience we have on this team means so much,” said Schalmont coach Joe Whipple. “We have guys who have been to the Super Bowl and the state championship. They know how to respond to adversity.”

Connor Zeoli threw two touchdown passes for the Indians (6-3), his first 4:06 into the game going seven yards to Ryan Rivers, and his second with 1:53 left covering 20 yards to a leaping Aaron Stewart. Ravena failed on an ensuing onside kick, and Schalmont (9-0) chewed up the clock, getting first down runs of 13 yards by Willis and 11 yards by Nicoletti.

“We had some opportunities in the first half, and we weren’t connecting,” said Hildebrand, a senior running back and linebacker. “In the second half, we came out and played better and finished the game. We didn’t want to lose our last home game.”

Schalmont will take an eight-game sectional winning streak into next Saturday’s 3 p.m. final at Shenendehowa’s Steuerwald Stadium. Either Reinfurt Division champ Albany Academy (6-2) or Cobleskill-Richmondville (5-3) will supply the competition against the West Division representatives.

“There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle,” said Whipple of his team’s success. “The coaches are all on board working 12 months through. The kids buy into football for 12 months, and our support is just great. We couldn’t do it without them. Our fans were rooting us on when were were driving, and that gave us a boost of energy.”

Willis rushed for 141 yards on 19 carries and gave Schalmont a 13-7 lead on a 33-yard dash to the end zone in the third quarter. Hildenbrand gained 137 yards on nine attempts, and scored his tying touchdown on a long second-quarter scamper after Willis took out two Indians defenders with a superb block on the edge.

“They’re a talented bunch,” Ind­ians coach Gary VanDerzee said of the Sabres. “They have so many weapons, and you have to defend the whole field. We did a good job except for two or three times.”

Nicoletti’s two-yard touchdown run with 2:25 left capped Schalmont’s longest scoring drive, a seven-play, 81-yard sequence. Hildenbrand had a 37-yard run during the drive, and Willis later went for 16 and 21 yards just before Nicoletti delivered.

“Devon, Alex, Niko, they do a great job,” said Floccuzio. “They’ve got to put points on the board.”

Nicoletti ended Ravena’s preceeding drive when he tackled Stewart after he caught a 15-yard pass on a fourth-and-16 play.

“We gave up a touchdown on a short field, and a trick play set up their second touchdown,” said Whipple. “Our defense played really well.”

Cam Grecco led Ravena’s runners with 48 yards on 16 carries, Dylan Keyer picked up 46 on 10 attempts, and Rivers made three catches for 72 yards.

Desmond Williams took an end-around handoff and fired a 32-yard pass to Rivers one play before Zeoli’s second touchdown. Zeoli’s first touchdown capped a five-play, 32-yard series that took place after a short Schalmont punt.

Hildebrand scored on the first play following a Ravena punt, and Willis scored his tie-breaking touchdown on the fourth play of a 52-yard drive after another Indians’ punt.

“Any time you can beat a good Ravena team it’s definitely a notch in your belt,” said Whipple.

Schalmont and Ravena came in ranked No. 5 and No. 19 in the state, respectively.

RCS 7 0 0 7 — 14

Schalmont 0 7 6 6 — 19

R — Rivers 7 pass from Zeoli (Hoose kick).

S — Hildebrand 75 run (Nicoletti kick).

S — Willis 33 run (kick failed).

S — Nicoletti 2 run (pass failed).

R — Stewart 20 pass from Zeoli (Hoose kick).

Categories: -Sports-, High School Sports

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