AMSTERDAM — After a “Fall II” football season in March and April without a win that included just one home game in front of a sparse crowd, the Amsterdam Rugged Rams made the most of their return to the turf at Lynch Literacy Academy Saturday afternoon.
In front of a capacity crowd, Amsterdam rallied from 14 points down and executed a two-point conversion with its emergency quarterback to take the lead before a good set of hands put the game away on defense in a 29-28 homecoming win over Averill Park.
Amsterdam’s only Fall II home football game was a contest played in the middle of the afternoon on a Friday against La Salle, with a crowd limited to two spectators per athlete and without the Amsterdam Marching Rams and Majorettes on hand to perform.
Down 28-14 early in the third quarter, Amsterdam responded with a nine-play, 87-yard drive to pull within a score on Jhai Vellon’s 6-yard touchdown pass to Tyrell Douglas.
Down 28-21, Amsterdam owned the fourth quarter — the good and the bad — making the final 12 minutes something of future Rams lore.
Amsterdam (2-0 Class A Capital Division, 3-0 overall) needed more than 11 minutes to construct a two-step forward, one-step back drive.
The Rams recovered two if their own fumbles, saw a 35-yard touchdown run by Garrett McHeard negated by an illegal block in the back penalty and forced coach John Homich to use his final timeout with four minutes left. Then, the Rams fans saw Vellon stretch out on a broken pass play, running up the middle to barely secure a first down following a measurement.
“You can’t write this script any better for me right now,” Homich said. “Our fans today really packed this house, and it was that true Amsterdam tradition, the home field advantage. They were loud, really loud for us and they brought it.”
During the back-and-forth drive, the raucous boos towards the officials on the Rams’ penalties were quickly forgotten when Vellon connected with Louie Gonzalez on a fourth-and-10 pass play keeping the drive alive.
On the next play, Vellon found Ceasar Thompson in the left corner of the end zone, an dthrew the ball up for a touchdown with 28 seconds left in the game.
“Jhai and me, we’ve been playing for a while,” Thompson said. “I gave him a little hand signal and just threw it and I had to just go and get it. I like him to throw it up because I can jump higher than most defenders.”
Vellon was hit on the release and stayed on the turf, suffering a cramp in his leg, and was helped off the field.
Down by a point, 28-27, Homich went for the win, just as he did in the team’s Fall II meeting with Averill Park (1-1, 2-2), when the Rams were stopped to seal a 41-40 loss.
“We went for it for two in the Fall II, but we’re getting it this time,” Homich said. “I looked everyone in the eye, and I didn’t have to say anything. With that look alone I knew those kids were going to get in.”
Those kids didn’t include Vellon, who had to sit out the play after coming off due to the injury.
Gonzalez then had his number called for the crucial two-point conversion.
“Our backup quarterback, his shoulder is off a little, so it’s me, I played quarterback a little,” Gonzalez said. He [Homich] called me and I said ‘Uh, oh, I’m going in at quarterback.’”
Gonzalez hid his emotions setting up in the backfield for the critical snap.
“I didn’t know the play, I said I got to get my [Baltimore Ravens quarterback] Lamar Jackson up right now,” he said. “I got all the pressure on me, praise God, there it was.”
Gonzalez bolted to the right corner of the end zone and delivered two precious points and a 29-28 lead with 28 seconds left.
But the Rams still had to kick off to the Warriors — something that cost them a win last year on the road at Averill Park in the closing seconds.
A 25-yard return put the ball at midfield for the Warriors with 22 seconds left.
Averill Park quarterback Gavin Giordano broke for another 10-yard gain, but his pass towards the Rams bench was knocked down by Thompson.
“I watched film on [him], that was his go-to guy,” Thompson said. “I was just looking in [receiver Nicholas Galuski’s] eyes and his eyes got big. I knew the ball was in the air, so I had to turn and get the ball. That was the biggest play of the game in my eyes.”
One play later, Xavier Acevedo intercepted Giordano’s pass at the goal line as time expired to seal the homecoming win.
For Homich, while Saturday was just his third career coaching win at Amsterdam in his first two seasons, it could be the most memorable.
“There was a 14-point swing at the end of the half, and we weren’t happy,” Homich said. “They never got down. They could have cowered and let it eat away at them, but they didn’t.
“We saw that we were gaining on offense, we knew we could stop them on defense, we just needed to make sure we cleaned up a little bit of special team’s stuff. When that fell into place and we started pinning them a little deeper than we had, everything fell into place for us.”
Averill Park 0 21 7 0 — 28
Amsterdam 0 14 7 8 — 29
AP — Tempel 5 run (kick failed)
AMS — McHeard 4 run (Covey kick)
AMS — Vellon 1 run (Covey kick)
AP — Galuski 41 pass from Giordano (Giordano run)
AP— Giordano 2 run (Giordano kick)
AP — Rizzo 20 pass from Giordano (Giordano kick)
AMS — Douglas 8 pass from Vellon (Covey kick)
AMS — Thompson 10 pass from Vellon (Gonzalez run)