BINGHAMTON – An opportunistic Unatego squad that forced five turnovers Saturday afternoon, including a clinching interception in the end zone by Corbin Henry in the closing seconds, will now head into a sectional football final for the first time since 2007.
The second-seeded Spartans (8-1) took the lead 2 minutes, 14 seconds into play and held it the rest of the way – barely – en route to a 20-12 Section Four Class D semifinal victory over No. 3 Elmira Notre Dame on a cool autumn day at Binghamton Alumni Stadium.
“We just swarm to the ball,” said Henry, a senior who finished the day with two interceptions, a fumble recovery and a 6-yard scoring run.
Unatego coach Frank Microni accurately said following the game that his team’s defense won the game. It’s likely the ball-hawking Spartans will need to create more takeaways this coming Saturday, when they’ll face a 9-0 Tioga squad that put a 54-0 hurting on Spencer-Van Etten in the other semifinal at Binghamton Alumni.
“We do capitalize on turnovers quite a bit,” said Microni, whose team will play the top-seeded Tigers at noon Saturday back at Binghamton Alumni in a rematch of last season’s Section Four Class D semifinal that Tioga won, 26-21, en route to reaching the state semifinals. “That’s been our M.O. all season. It does the turn the tide.”
Perhaps the play that best describes the Spartans’ eighth straight victory early came in the third quarter. Trailing, 7-6, the Crusaders started the opening possession of the second half at their 41 and drove to Unatego’s 27.
A holding penalty pushed END back to its 38, where it faced a fourth-and-17. Quarterback Hunter Thomas rolled right and couldn’t find anybody. He then threw across his body, but senior linebacker Joel VanAlstine dropped into coverage, moved to his right and intercepted the pass at the 20-yard line.