One of the grittiest comebacks in the history of Schenectady football ended just shy of the end zone Friday night at Larry Mulvaney Field.
The Patriots struck for four fourth-quarter touchdowns in less than seven minutes before Matt Briggs’ tackle on a two-point bid gave Columbia a 32-31 Class AA Liberty Division victory.
Felix Rodriguez returned the game’s opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown and caught three scoring passes from Kwame Jarvis in the fourth frame, his final reception setting up Schenectady’s attempt to pull out a win against the defending division champions.
“We had momentum going. We took a shot at the end, and it didn’t work out,” said Schenectady coach Jim Kramer. “Put this one on me.”
Alex Phann handled the conversion snap after Rodriguez’ 10-yard touchdown grab with 58.5 seconds left and sprinted to his right. Briggs met the Schenectady senior at about the five, and wrestled him to the turf to maintain the Blue Devils’ one-point lead.
Columbia knelt on the ball twice to eat the clock after an on-sides attempt failed.
“I was going to blitz, and it popped in my mind that we were up by one and they might go for a fake. They might go for the win,” said Briggs, a junior cornerback. “I stayed at home.”
“We saw their kid [Briggs] crash all game. He was cheating in, and Alex is one of our quickest guys,” said Kramer. “The kid made a good, disciplined play.”
Schenectady made a bunch of huge plays after falling behind, 26-6, on Kenny Mathieu’s 10-yard touchdown run with 17 seconds left in the third quarter.
“Schenectady made a great comeback. They showed great character,” Columbia coach Craig Cavotta said after his team’s second straight win over the Pats. “Thankfully, we were able to make a play at the end.”
“I have a feeling it’s going to be a tough week of practice on the defensive side,” said star Columbia tailback Chris Smith.
Phann intercepted an Austin Lobban pass at the one-yard line to set the wheels in motion for Schenectady’s grand comeback against the 2011 Class AA Super Bowl participants.
“They controlled the line of scrimmage for three quarters. They ran the ball at will against us,” said Kramer. “We caught fire and showed that we have some weapons. We showed we can get rolling.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the kids with the way they competed. They never gave up,” he added. “What a tremendous, tremendous job the kids did showing heart.”
A 99-yard drive that included two pass interference calls, an 18-yard run by Jarvis, a 26-yard reception by Trent Wheeler, and a 13-yard touchdown catch by Rodrigiez with 7:41 left made it 26-12.
A fumble recovery by Wheeler soon after led to a four-play, 35-yard drive that Hassan Rainey capped with a two-yard touchdown run.
“We couldn’t do the things in the second half that we did in the first half,” said Cavotta. “We turned the ball over and got penalties. Luckily, we survived.”
Dom Desmoni recovered an on-side kick try by Schenectady and Columbia went 50 yards to boost its lead to 32-19, with Connor Kinzelman scoring from the 11 yards away. Schenectady answered with a five-play, 73-yard scoring sequence that saw Phann haul in a 35-yard pass and Jeremy Kent grab a 26-yarder before Rodriguez’s 10-yard TD catch.
Rodriguez then pounced on Schenectady’s on-side kick at the 50. Phann caught a 24-yard pass and Rainey ran for 16 yards, and, after an incomplete pass, Rodriguez scored again on a sprawling reception in the end zone after getting beyond the Columbia secondary.
“We didn’t know what we were doing out there. We weren’t communicating. We kind of fell apart,” said Briggs. “I’m just glad we got the win.”
Smith ran 22 times for 219 yards, and the 2011 Liberty Division Player of the Year finished off Columbia’s opening drive with a four-yard touchdown run. Follow-up touchdown runs by Anthony South, Lobban and Mathieu put Columbia up by 20 in the third quarter.
Kinzelman rushed for 111 yards on nine attempts and added a two-point conversion run. The junior also intercepted a first-quarter pass at the 19 to end Schenectady’s best drive before its 25-point fourth-quarter surge.
Jarvis was 11-for-25 for 211 yards with his three scoring passes and the two interceptions. Rainey led the Patriots on the ground with 67 yards on 10 carries, and Nakia Boozer blocked two two-point conversion passes by Lobban.
Columbia 8 6 12 6 — 32
Schenectady 6 0 0 25 — 31
S — Rodriguez 93 kickoff return (kick failed).
C — Smith 4 run (Kinzelman run).
C — South 1 run (pass failed).
C — Lobban 1 run (pass failed).
C — Mathieu 10 run (pass failed).
S — Rodriguez 13 pass from Jarvis (run failed).
S — Rainey 2 run (Boozer kick).
C — Kinzelman 11 run (run failed).
S — Rodriguez 10 pass from Jarvis (kick blocked).
S — Rodriguez 10 pass from Jarvis (run failed).