MIDDLETOWN - The last thing Holy Trinity wanted to do was give the football back to John S. Burke Catholic late in the fourth quarter of Saturday's state Class C semifinal game.
So facing a third-and-15 from their own 30-yard line, the Pride went with a play they had never tried before outside of practice -- a pass, a pitch ... and another pitch.
And of course it worked.
All that was left afterward was a grinding of the clock in a 28-23 comeback victory that propels the program to its first-ever trip to a Carrier Dome title game.
"That's a heck of a football team," Holy Trinity offensive coordinator Colton Barber said of Burke. "They were stopping everything, and we needed a play. It worked."
Holy Trinity (11-1) had produced three unanswered fourth-quarter touchdowns to build a 28-17 lead, and after Burke cut into that advantage, the Pride went razzle-dazzle to secure a trip to Friday's state championship game.
Burke had stuffed a run play and a pass play to put Holy Trinity in its third-and-15.
"We've got to execute it," Holy Trinity sophomore quarterback Joe Tortello said of his thoughts before his pass began what would be a 24-yard gain. "We always practice it. When we called it, we knew we would get it."
Tortello threw a short pass over the middle to Jordan Mettler, who pitched the ball to Nacier Hundley as he ran right to left. Hundley continued toward the sideline and turned it up, and then pitched to Nelon Priest who reached the Burke 46 with 2:24 to go.
At that point Burke (Section IX, 9-2) used its last timeout, and Cam Kiser's 17-yard run for another first down put the finishing touch on Holy Trinity's fifth postseason win -- but the first one that was close at the end.
"I knew we were going to get a first down," Hundley, a sophomore receiver and outside linebacker, said. "I actually thought we were going to get a touchdown out of it."
Holy Trinity (11-1) head coach John Barber, RPI's former quarterbacks' coach, called the key play.
"It's an old RPI play," Colton Barber said. "They ran it once against Hobart, and it worked."
Earlier in the fourth quarter Kiser scored on a 2-yard run, Noah Foster turned a screen pass into a 27-yard touchdown, and Hundley turned a short crossing pass into a 58-yard touchdown.
"That's what we do," Hundley said. "We're an explosive team. Coach calls the plays and we get it done."
Burke Catholic led 17-7 in the second quarter after Solomon Hemingway TD runs of 12 and 17 yards. David Ross delivered Burke Catholic's last touchdown on a 4-yard run with 2:52 left that was set up on a 46-yard catch and run by Mark Przybocki.
"Guys like Nacier, Cam, they just expect to win," John Barber said after Holy Trinity's 10th straight victory. "With them it's, 'We're here to win. That's what we're here to do.'"
Four-year-old Holy Trinity had never won a playoff game before this season. The Pride made its first playoff appearance in 2016 and lost a Section II quarterfinal at Hoosic Valley less than 48 hours after its fieldhouse was destroyed by an arson fire.
The Pride will meet Skaneateles (Section III, 11-1) Friday at 6 p.m. for the New York title. Skaneateles outlasted Cleveland Hill in Saturday's other semifinal by the eye-popping score of 62-56.
"This is the best feeling," Hundley, the Pride's offensive MVP, said after making 7 receptions for 133 yards. "The best feeling."
Holy Trinity began its comeback from that 17-7 deficit with a 12-play, 54-yard drive that Kiser capped with his short TD run two plays into the fourth quarter. Holy Trinity forced punts before its next two touchdowns, when Tortello upped his TD pass total to 35.
"I was on the guys, trying to be a leader, and they responded to it," Kiser, a senior fullback and middle linebacker, said. "We're a resilient team. We're tough mentally and physically."
Holy Trinity took a 7-3 lead in the second quarter on Dion Sexton's 4-yard touchdown run and the first of four PATs by Luke Clement. Clement came up just short on a 47-yard field goal attempt late in the quarter.
Senior defensive end Jake Cross made 9 tackles for Holy Trinity and was selected its MVP on that side of the ball.
Holy Trinity 0 7 0 21 - 28
Burke Catholic 3 0 14 6 - 23
BC - Stevenson 34 FG
HT - Sexton 4 run (Clement kick)
BC - Hemingway 12 run (Stevenson kick)
BC - Hemingway 17 run (Stevenson kick)
HT - Kiser 2 run (Clement kick)
HT - Foster 27 pass from Tortello (Clement kick)
HT - Hundley 58 pass from Tortello (Clement kick)
BC - Cross 4 run (run failed)