SCHENECTADY — The five touchdowns were all spectacular, but it was a couple of defensive plays that pointed Holy Trinity toward the next level of the Section II Class C football playoffs.
The Pride backed Joe Tortello's four touchdown passes with four takeaways in a 35-18 quarterfinal win over Voorheesville Saturday that was more difficult than the final score indicated.
Ja-Del Whitfield's interception early in the fourth quarter was the most significant of those defensive stops, a leaping grab at the 1-yard line that enabled Holy Trinity to maintain a 10-point lead.
"That's what turned things around for us," Holy Trinity coach John Barber said of the takeaways.
Nacier Hundley caught two touchdown passes and recovered a fumble that halted Voorheesville's final drive, Noah Foster scored twice on receptions and Anthony Farina recovered two fumbles as the defending Class C champs extended their win streak to six games and earned a home semifinal date next Saturday with Chatham.
"A win is a win, but we've got to play better," said Hundley, a junior receiver and outside linebacker. "Some stuff went bad, and we've got to flush it."
Voorheesville (No. 7 seed, 5-3) had success moving the football with time-consuming drives. Three times the Blackbirds scored on short runs by Jake Palmer, and twice they lost the ball while in position to generate more points.
Farina's recovery of a Killian Fullerton fumble stopped a drive at the Pride 34 with the hosts up 7-6 early in the second quarter. Whitfield's interception of an Ian Owens pass from the 20 kept Holy Trinity's advantage at 28-18.
"When he picked it off, that helped end it," Hundley said.
"Those are always very big," Foster, a junior receiver and outside linebacker, said of the takeaways. "Coach is always emphasizing turnovers on defense. We made our biggest plays on defense."
Rodney Parker's quarterback sack helped curtail Voorheesville's ensuing drive following the Whitfield pick, and Foster scored soon after, taking a screen pass from Tortello and racing 49 yards for his second TD. His TD first went for 13 yards.
"Coach calls the plays, and we get it done," Foster said.
Voorheesville got it done first, marching 80 yards on 15 plays to begin the game. Palmer scored from the one, part of the senior's 25-carry, 131-yard rushing effort. Owens ran 22 times for 101 yards, and the senior was 10-for-18 passing for 182 yards.
"They [Chatham] run a little more outside than Voorheesville and they've got an athletic quarterback," Barber said. "If we can't get off the field on third down, we're going to be in trouble."
Holy Trinity (No. 2 seed, 7-1) beat Voorheesville 42-0 and Chatham 44-0 in last year's sectionals before topping Stillwater 34-12 in the title game. Chatham (No. 3 seed, 7-1) beat Stillwater (No. 6 seed, 6-2) Friday 26-21 to set up another rematch.
"What happened last year doesn't mean anything," Foster said. "The past is the past. We've got to be ready to play hard."
Hundley scored on a 47-yard screen play in the first quarter, and on a diving 24-yard catch in the end zone in the second quarter. He caught four passes for 115 yards, Tortello was 8-for-16 for 198 yards with an interception, and Nelon Priest ran seven times for 112 yards with a 70-yard scoring dash to begin the third quarter.
Voorheesville 6 6 6 0 — 18
Holy Trinity 7 14 7 7 — 35
V — Palmer 1 run (run failed)
HT — Hundley 47 pass from Tortello (Lawson kick)
HT — Foster 13 pass from Tortello (Lawson kick)
V — Palmer 1 run (run failed)
HT — Hundley 24 pass from Tortello (Lawson kick)
HT — Priest 70 run (Lawson kick)
V — Palmer 4 run (run failed)
HT — Foster 49 pass from Tortello (Lawson kick)