First-year coach Mark Cerrone talked to his Schenectady football team about the prospect of starting the season with two losses during the halftime of Saturday night’s home opener with Bethlehem.
At that point, it looked liked the Patriots were headed for that hole.
“Our guys decided at the half that enough was enough, and they played lights-out,” Cerrone said after Schenectady’s 38-28 Class AA comeback win at Larry Mulvaney Field. “I couldn’t be prouder of their poise and selflessness.”
Cerrone’s first victory as Schenectady’s top guy was one he’ll long remember. The Patriots threw a
defensive blanket over Bethlehem’s counter running attack that had worked so well in the opening half, while Felix Rodriguez produced two touchdowns and Hassan Rainey and Lynn West both scored another in a comeback from a 28-13 deficit.
“I told them, you don’t write your own destiny when you’re 0-2. You ask for favors. You look for help,” Cerrone said. “We don’t have to do that now. Now, we have something to build on.”
Rodriguez scored Schenectady’s first two touchdowns in the opening quarter as well as the game-clincher with 4:44 left on a 21-yard burst, part of the senior’s 20-carry, 315-yard rushing performance. John DerBoghossian capped the Patriots’ brilliant second-half defensive effort soon after when he intercepted Dan Robeson to halt the Eagles’ final drive.
“Coach emphasized defense at the half. He didn’t talk too much about offense,” said Rodriguez. “We knew our defense was better than that. We came out in the second half definitely focused, and the offense came with it.”
“The kids were not down at the half. That was huge,” said Cerrone, after the Patriots bounced back from last week’s 55-20 loss to Fayetteville-Manlius at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse. “They kept their heads up.”
West put Schenectady ahead, 31-28, when he hauled in a 31-yard touchdown pass from first-year starting quarterback Brandon Gwinner early in the fourth quarter. In the third frame, Rodriguez broke off a 74-yard touchdown run and Rainey reached the end zone on a 22-yard dash.
“We had to forget about the first half. We had to have a short memory,” said Rainey. “The offensive line had great blocks, and our defense stepped it up. We came out as a team.
“This lets us know how good we can be.”
Bethlehem was awfully good in the second quarter, and erased a 13-0 deficit with four touchdowns.
“They we’re outplaying us,” said Cerrone. “It seemed like the second quarter wouldn’t end.”
Robeson, Mike Graves and Jason
Clas scored Bethlehem touchdowns on consecutive drives, with Clas’ 19-yard run set up on a fumble recovery by Dan Comber. Tommy Ganley’s 21-yard interception return and Spencer Ferrigan’s fourth PAT made it 28-13.
“We felt good at halftime. We had all the momentum,” said Bethlehem coach Rick Leach. “I don’t want to say we felt we could put them away, but we felt like we could continue to pressure them.”
The running lanes closed up in the second half. Graves ran for only 21 of his 134 yards in the second half, and Clas managed 20 of his 126 yards after the break.
“We switched up our defense. They were killing us with the counter,” said Cerrone. “It was a scheme thing, not a personnel thing.”
Bethlehem’s best opportunity to score in the second half came late before DerBoghossian’s interception on a third-and-10 toss from the 28 by Robeson.
“A couple of times in the second half we were moving the ball, and we had a big negative play on first down,” said Leach. “We’re not built for that.”
Rodriguez rushed for 160 yards on eight carries in the first quarter. The senior zipped 63 yards on the game’s second play, and scored from five yards out two plays later. He also scored on an 80-yard scamper on the first play after Clas fumbled the ball into the end zone and Shawn Anderson recovered.
“I couldn’t have done it without my line,” Rodriguez said of his second career 300-plus yard rushing game. “I’m so happy to have those guys. I can’t say enough about all of them.”
Rainey rushed for 160 yards on 17 carries. His 27-yard run set up Rodriguez’ final touchdown. West had three receptions for 94 yards.
“When we’re behind, we don’t give up,” said Rodriguez. “Even last week when we were at the Dome. We made a comeback.”
Bethlehem opened its season with a 32-13 loss to Christian Brothers Academy. The Brothers had a big second quarter in that contest, outscoring the Eagles, 19-0.
“We didn’t play well in that second quarter against CBA,” said Leach. “Tonight, we had a real good second quarter. A lot of things were woking for us.”
Bethlehem 0 28 0 0 — 28
Schenectady 13 0 12 13 — 38
S — Rodriguez 5 run (West kick).
S — Rodriguez 80 run (kick failed).
B — Robeson 2 run (Ferrigan kick).
B — Graves 30 run (Ferrigan kick).
B — Clas 24 run (Ferrigan kick).
B — Ganley 20 interception return (Ferrigan kick).
S — Rodriguez 74 run (run failed).
S — Rainey 22 run (run failed).
S — West 31 pass from Gwinner (run failed).
S — Rodriguez 21 run (West kick).