Will Halpin wanted to redeem himself in a bad way. The Shaker junior got his chance late in the fourth quarter in a playoff rematch with Shenendehowa Friday night.
“I was thinking about the missed kick, my missed extra point,” Halpin said. “It would have hurt us if I didn’t make it.”
Halpin booted a field goal from 36 yards out, and Patrick Hoey blocked one soon after to preserve Shaker’s 23-21 lead in a Section II Class AA quarterfinal victory over the stubborn Plainsmen.
“We knew it was going to be a tight game,” said Shaker coach Greg Sheeler. “We were hoping it wouldn’t be this close.”
Halpin’s clutch kick, Hoey’s timely block and touchdowns by Lloyd Smalling, Matt Woods and Michael Tanu were all part of Shaker’s third straight win over Shenendehowa. The Blue Bison beat the Plainsmen in the 2012 regular season, 35-8, and again in the Super Bowl, 14-0. The rematch was so much more compelling, with Hoey making the last big play in a contest chuck full of them.
“Shaker is a great team, but I also want to make sure our players get credit for playing their hearts out for 48 minutes,” said Shenendehowa coach Brian Clawson. “We couldn’t ask for anything more from our football team.”
A 24-yard kickoff return by Jeremiah Smith, Ben Sibson passes of 18 yards to Jordan Zlogar and Kevin Boland, and a six-yard connection with Erik Kromer on fourth down afterward helped put Shenendehowa in position for the win. Hoey, though burst through the line and stuffed Matt Drum’s 33-yard field-goal attempt with 10 seconds left.
“I saw a hole and ran through,” said Hoey.
“There was nothing to say at that point,” said Sheeler. “You tell your guys to go get the ball.”
Shenendehowa (Empire No. 4 seed, 5-3) had rallied from 14-0 and 20-7 deficits in the second half before Shaker (Liberty No. 1 seed, 7-1) pulled out the victory and advanced to the semifinal round where it will host Saratoga Springs (Empire No. 2, 7-1) next Friday night.
Oliver Robinson’s one-yard touchdown run after Matt Hardy’s 48-yard interception return and Drum’s extra point had given Shenendehowa a 21-20 lead with 8:03 left in the fourth quarter.
“It’s something we always talk about,” said Sheeler. “When things don’t go our way, we pick each other up.”
After going up, 21-20, Shenendehowa forced a punt and had the ball at its own 28. Back-to-back penalties set the Plainsmen back, and they were forced to punt.
“That was the turning point in the game, when we had the football with a one-point lead,” said Clawson. “We had a holding call and an offsides call, and that changed the complexion of the game. We wanted to drive the ball there, and chew away some of the clock.”
Sean Egan returned the punt 16 yards, and a facemask penalty pushed Shaker up to the Shenendehowa 34. Halpin’s second field goal of the season followed five running plays, with 1:37 to play.
“It’s something we work on all the time, and Halpin made a big kick,” said Sheeler.
Big plays were a significant factor in Shaker building its halftime lead.
Lloyd Smalling caught a pass from Woods on a short out pattern, and the track standout turned it into an 83-yard touchdown on Shaker’s second drive. A 67-yard interception return by Nick Brown soon after led to Woods’ one-yard quarterback sneak into the end zone.
A run of 28 yards by Robinson and an 18-yard reception by Drum set up Shenendehowa’s first touchdown, that coming on a six-yard run by Drum early in the second quarter. Shaker answered late in the frame on Tanu’s eight-yard scoring run, which came after catches of 45 and 14 yards by Michael Lewis.
Halpin missed the extra point, leaving the score at 20-7.
“We didn’t have any momentum in the beginning of the game,” said Clawson. “It took us a while to get it together.”
Matt Taft scored on a two-yard run, and Shenendehowa got within 20-14 on Drum’s PAT early in the fourth quarter. Two plays before, Robinson ran for a yard on fourth-and-one from the four, part of the junior’s 18-carry, 106-yard performance.
Hardy’s interception came two plays into Shaker’s ensuing drive, and Ben Hoffman had a pick for the Plainsmen earlier in the game.
“We knew it was going to be a dogfight for four quarters,” said Halpin. “It wasn’t easy.”
Connor Hale had a sack and a fumble recovery for Shaker, and Egan picked off a pass for the state’s No. 23-ranked team.
Shenendehowa saw its hopes for a fourth straight Super Bowl appearance dashed. The Plainsmen used quarterfinal wins over the Blue Bison in 2010 and 2011 as steppingstones toward title games, and claimed the area flag two years ago.
“It was a battle tonight,” said Clawson. “We all knew it was going to be that way. It was everything everyone expected.”
Shenendehowa 0 7 0 14 — 21
Shaker 14 6 0 3 — 23
Shak — Smalling 83 pass from Woods (Halpin kick)
Shak — Woods 1 run (Halpin kick).
Shen — Drum 6 run (Drum kick).
Shak — Tanu 8 run (kick failed).
Shen — Taft 2 run (Drum kick).
Shen — Robinson 1 run (Drum kick).
Shak — Halpin 36 FG.