The team that never gave up points surrendered a bunch, and then came back to stun Shaker in a state Class AA semifinal football game Saturday night.
After the Blue Bison erased a 20-0 deficit with a superb second-half comeback, New Rochelle answered with a 12-yard touchdown pass from Khalil Edney to Joseph Clarke Jr. in the final seconds to log a riveting 28-21 victory at Dietz Stadium.
“All the credit goes to the kids,” Shaker coach Greg Sheeler said after the school’s first state tournament appearance. “These kids were warriors.”
Shaker (10-1) scored touchdowns on three consecutive drives, capped by quarterback Chris Landers’ 48-yard sideline sprint to the end zone with 1:35 to go. Landers’ two-point pass moments later to Mike Mainella gave the Section II champions a 21-20 lead against a New Rochelle cast that had allowed just 41 points all season.
“We moved the ball very well in the first half, but we made some mistakes in the red zone,” said Sheeler. “We were still confident.”
Landers hit Mainella with a 53-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter to begin Shaker’s rally, and Ryan Griffin scored on a three-yard dive with 3:39 left.
Landers ran for four yards on a fourth-and-two just before his long pass to Mainella. Mike Lewis hauled in a tipped pass for a 23-yard gain on third-and-14, and Mainella made an eight-yard, sideline catch on fourth-and-six to sustain the drive before Griffin’s touchdown.
Landers scored on his long dash two plays into Shaker’s next drive, after opening with a 10-yard pass to Mainella.
“Shaker is a great team,” said Edney. “Most teams just stop playing when they get down like that, but they pulled together and made a great comeback. Nobody has done that against us.”
Edney’s scoring pass to Clarke with 30 seconds left finished off an eight-play, 65-yard march that included, on consecutive snaps, a 15-yard pass interference penalty, a 19-yard run by the senior quarterback and his 18-yard pass to Clarke. Those plays pushed the ball to the 13, and after Edney grounded the ball and Jon Forrest ran for a yard, Edney found Clarke.
Edney padded New Rochelle’s lead with a two-pointer to Jason Ceneus, and Shaker’s final bid ended on an interception by Clarke.
“You kind of hold your breath,” Sheeler said of the Huguenot’s go-ahead drive. “Unfortunately, our guys didn’t make plays. Give New Rochelle credit.”
“Coach [Lou DiRienzo] put the game in my hands, and I delivered,” Edney. “Coach believed in me, and I was relaxed and composed.”
New Rochelle (Section I, 10-1) scored a pair of second-quarter touchdowns on a seven-yard run by Ceneus and a one-yard burst by Forrest, and a 10-yard touchdown dash by Ceneus made it 20-0 in the third period. That TD came two plays after Shaker failed on a fake punt, giving the Huguenots the ball at the 17.
Shaker reached the New Rochelle 20 on its first possession, and later in the opening half got to the 32 and 21-yard lines. A sack derailed that initial bid that ended in a fourth-and-19 incomplete, Landers gained only a yard when he needed three to halt the next threat, and Shaker ended up punting after getting to the 21, following two penalties and another sack.
Griffin pounded for 137 rushing yards, 102 coming in the first half against a New Rochelle team that had posted six shutouts and gave one touchdown in a regional win over Pine Bush. Ceneus paced the Huguenots with 79 yards, and had a 23-yarder to set up his team’s second touchdown.
Shaker came in with a No. 1 state ranking, while New Rochelle was No. 7. The Huguenots improved to 4-1 all-time against Section II in state semifinal play, with only Troy winning in 2010, 20-19.
Shaker 0 0 7 14 — 21
New Rochelle 0 14 6 8 — 28
NR — Ceneus 7 run (Clarke kick).
NR — Forrest 1 run (Clarke kick).
NR — Ceneus 10 run (kick failed).
S — Mainella 53 pass from Landers
S — Griffin 3 run (kick failed).
S — Landers 48 run (Mainella pass from Landers).
NR — Clarke 12 pass from Edney (Ceneus pass from Edney).