Sophomore Devon Willis made a gutsy call for a two-point conversion pay off as unbeaten Schalmont posted its third straight Section II Class B championship, edging Albany Academy, 36-35, in overtime Saturday afternoon at Steuerwald Stadium.
In a game that went back and forth, Schalmont got the final say.
After a 28-28 tie in regulation, Albany Academy started at the Schalmont 20. Quarterback Conner Hartigan went to the air three times for 17 yards and then he gained one yard to put the ball at the two.
After an incomplete pass, Hartigan scored to put the Cadets in front, and the extra point made it 35-28.
It didn’t take long for the Sabres to respond.
Taking possession at the Academy 20, Willis picked up 15 yards and then on a keeper play, quarterback Niko Nicoletti raced in the remaining five yards to cut the deficit to 35-34.
Schalmont head coach Joe Whipple decided to go for two points. Willis got the handoff from Nicoletti and raced to the corner of the end zone for the conversion and a thrilling victory.
“We decided right away [on the two-point conversion],” said Whipple. “I told the guys we were going for the win. ‘We’re going to get it done,’ I said. ‘I believe in you guys.’ I knew they believed in each other. We went out and got it done.”
Willis had a terrific day with 273 yards on 19 carries.
“That two-point conversion was tough. We knew they were going to come out hard and try to stop the run,” said Willis. “I just had to do all I could to get to that end zone. The play was designed for me. I have confidence in my team. Without the line, I couldn’t do anything. I just looked for the end zone and when I got there, I was just happy.”
Schalmont, 10-0, will play Friday in the regionals at Ausable Valley against the Section 7/10 winner at 7 p.m. The Cadets finished with a 7-3 record.
Schalmont struck on its first series, going 52 yards on five running plays with Jean Gomez reaching the end zone from three yards away with 9:49 left.
After Albany Academy came up empty, Schalmont went to work from its 13 and again kept the drive on the ground. This time, Alex Hildebrand got past the Academy defense and went 33 yards for a touchdown. The two-point try was successful, with Nicoletti passing to Willis, and Schalmont led, 14-0, with 4:47 showing on the clock.
Academy took advantage of a Schalmont fumble to produce its first score. Mo Perez fell on the loose ball and gave the Cadets posssession at their 47. That led to a Hartigan 38-yard touchdown pass to David Bryce, and Academy got closer, 14-7.
On the next series, Academy alertly recovered a Schalmont fumble on the latter’s 42. Seven plays later, Hartigan scrambled to the corner of the end zone for a two-yard run to tie the game, 14-14, with 20.7 seconds left in the half.
The Cadets failed to generate any offense on the opening series in the third quarter. A punt gave the Sabres possession at their 16, and Willis immediately rambled 84 yards for a touchdown to make the score 21-14.
The Cadets then put together an 11-play, 60-yard scoring drive. Reed Mahoney dashed in the end zone from one yard out and the score was tied, 21-21.
On the ensuing series, Schalmont started from the 31 and marched down the field with Nicoletti scoring on a 16-yard run. The crafty quarterback hit the Academy line and then cut back and raced into the end zone as the Sabres regained the lead, 28-21.
But Academy rallied and relied on the talents of Hartigan again. This time, a three-yard touchdown run with 1:12 left in the game and the score was deadlocked, 28-28.
Schalmont had a final opportunity with 1.2 seconds left on a run by Willis, but he came up just short of the end zone.
“It was a good game. We hung in there. It was a tough loss. I couldn’t tell whether he [Willis] crossed the goal line on the two-point try,” said Albany Academy coach Tony Fruscio.
“I thought this game was great,” said Whipple. “Albany Academy is a heck of a football team. We knew that coming in. Conner Hartigan is an outstanding football player. All the other kids played well, too.
“I thought coming in we could throw a little bit, but we knew we had to run the ball to win. The scary thing is Devon [Willis]. He’s a sophomore, so we get him for the next couple of years. The seniors stepped up. It feels great to win the sectionals again. It never gets old. We’re just going to enjoy this right now, rest up and focus on our next game.”
Schalmont 14 0 7 7 8 — 36
Albany Academy 0 14 7 7 7 — 35
S — Gomez, 3 run (kick failed)
S — Hildebrand, 33 run (Nicoletti pass to Willis)
AA — Bryce, 38 pass from Hartigan (Newton kick)
AA — Hartigan, 2 run (Newton kick)
S — Willis, 84 run (Nicoletti kick)
AA — Mahoney, 1 run (Newton kick)
S — Nicoletti, 16 run (Nicoletti kick)
AA — Hartigan, 3 run (Newton kick)
AA — Hartigan, 2 run (Newton kick)
S — Nicoletti, 5 run (Willis run)
GAZETTE COVERAGEEnsure access to everything we do, today and every day, check out our subscribe page at DailyGazette.com/Subscribe
More from The Daily Gazette:
Categories: High School Sports