By Rob Centorani
The Daily Star
---- — BINGHAMTON — When the result is a four-point loss with a spot in the sectional final riding on the outcome, there are so many what-ifs.
What if Sidney had scored when it had first goal from the inside the 2-yard line in the second quarter? What if the Warriors’ Patrick Vibbard and Billy Kozak had hooked up on what seemed like a sure touchdown in the third quarter? What if Sidney’s defense had held on a third-and-12 late in the third quarter?
But none of it happened.
The Warriors’ 6-3 season ended with a 17-13 loss to unbeaten Waverly in a Section Four Class C semifinal final on a comfortable Saturday night at Binghamton Alumni Stadium. It marked the second straight year the Wolverines ended Sidney’s season, the former a 20-0 thumping in 2011 sectional semifinal en route to winning the Section Four Class C title.
“We had our heads up and we played hard the whole game,” said Sidney senior Nate McDonald, who rushed for 71 yards and had two receptions for 20 more. “I thought we had a chance. We didn’t give up.”
Though the winning points came in the third quarter _ a 54-yard sprint around the left end by Dylan Guttierez that capped the scoring _ the game’s biggest sequence occurred in the second quarter with Sidney holding a 7-3 lead.
The Warriors kept the ball for 15 plays on a drive that bridged the first and second quarters. It started on the Warriors’ 39, with fullback Brandon Walters gaining 4 yards on the first play.
Sidney made it to Waverly’s 13 without picking up more than 6 yards on any play. It was as basic as the Warriors get _ football’s equivalent of the three-card Monte. Is it the powerful Walters going straight ahead, McDonald heading right or Kozak going left?
Walters highlighted the drive with a powerful surge. Lined up just a yard behind quarterback Vibbard, Walters took a handoff, followed his line and then dragged several Waverly defenders on an 11-yard run that gave Sidney a first-and-goal inside the 2.
McDonald tried the right side and moved the ball to the 1 on first down. Next, Sidney tried a quarterback sneak, but Waverly had none of it, dropping Vibbard for a 1-yard loss. A fumbled center-to-quarterback exchange on third down moved the ball back to the 3.
On fourth down, Vibbard threw a lofted pass to the middle of the end zone. Dylan Wright made a diving interception to give Waverly possession at its 20.
“We were hoping to get 1 yard,” Sidney coach Jeff Matthews said. “That’s how the game is played. They put together a great stand there and then I think that gave them some momentum, and then Cooney takes over.”
That would be Waverly senior quarterback Zack Cooney, the athletic young man who rushed for 120 yards, threw for 64 more and generally gave Sidney defenders fits all evening.
“He’s very versatile and he knows how to play the field,” McDonald said of Cooney, a varsity player since his freshman year and Waverly’s starting quarterback since his sophomore season. “He knows what to do. He gave us a run for our money and he’s a good quarterback.”
One play later, Cooney escaped for his longest run during what was arguably the game’s most confusing play.
On a play that worked with great success all day, Cooney faked to Anthony Girolamo heading to left before finding a seam on the right side. Cooney zipped 66 yards before being tackled on Sidney’s 13-yard line.
But a flag fell on Waverly’s 29, on the opposite side of the field. It was an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that drew the ejection of Waverly’s Sam Kolesnik.
After some discussion, it was ruled the penalty would be assessed from the end of Cooney’s run rather than from the spot of the foul.
After Guttierez gained 11 yards on first down, Cooney found a huge hole in the center of the field, eluded one defender at the 5 and crossed the goal line while holding the ball over his head. The 17-yard scoring run gave Waverly a 10-7 lead 2:57 before halftime.
But Sidney reclaimed the lead 55.1 seconds before halftime, driving 75 yards in seven plays. Kozak covered the final 42 yards, using his quickness and cutting ability to score on a play that might have counted in a two-hand touch game.
He took a pitch from Vibbard heading left but cut back almost immediately, finding a crease in the center of the field. Once in the secondary, he made a sharp cut to the right and then zipped up the right sideline. It gave Sidney a 13-10 lead, but Kozak’s PAT was blocked.
Three successive plays from scrimmage in the third quarter tilted things in Waverly’s favor.
After the teams exchanged punts to start the second half, Waverly took over at its 9. Following a first down, Waverly faced a third-and-12 from its 30. Cooney rolled right and found tight end Tim Sutton dragging across on the right side for a 16-yard gain.
The next play, Guttierez bolted around the left end, avoided a defender near the sideline about 15 yards downfield and continued into the end zone. Dan Hyland’s extra point made it 17-13 with 1:33 left in the third quarter.
McDonald answered with a 48-yard kickoff return that gave Sidney possession at Waverly’s 32. McDonald fielded the kick on the run at the 20 and found a crease in the center of the field. He cut to the left around midfield before being forced out of bounds.
The next play nearly resulted in a touchdown. Kozak got behind safety Cooney in the left-center of the field. He had to adjust to the middle of the end zone for Vibbard’s pass. Kozak appeared to have difficulty picking up the ball and couldn’t hang onto it about 5 yards deep in the end zone.
Still, the Warriors made it to the 15, where they faced a fourth-and-4. McDonald ran a fade to the left corner, but Waverly’s Wright batted down Vibbard’s pass.
Sidney’s final possession started at its 5 after the Dylan Perry’s 47-yard punt.
Vibbard hit Mike Ward on a pass play that went for 16 yards on the first play.
McDonald gained 2 yards on the next play but then was called for motion penalty on the next play. Vibbard then threw incomplete on second down and faced heavy pressure on third down before being tackled after a 2-yard gain.
That forced a punt with 3:43 left and Sidney never got the ball back.
“I love every one of these kids on this team,” McDonald said. “We’re family. I’ll never forget my team this year. We did great.”
The Warriors opened the scoring on Waverly’s first offensive play. Girolamo took a handoff around the left end. McDonald and Mike Chase converged on the tackle near the sideline and popped the ball free. Jerrid Cubby grabbed it in the air and raced 31 yards for a touchdown.
It marked Cubby’s second defensive touchdown of the season. He also returned a fumble for a touchdown in Sidney’s 31-30 loss to Chenango Forks three weeks ago.
“Defensively, to get a spark like that really helps,” Matthews said. “They have a high powered offense, so if you can score when they’re on the field, that takes a lot out of them. The defense played great all season long. To hold a team like that to 17 points …”
Fifteen seniors will graduate for Sidney in June.
“It’s a very dedicated group of seniors,” Matthews said. “They’ve done a great job. I told them it kind of puts us back on the map, being a playoff contending team last year and this year. I hope the younger kids can feed off of that.”
Rob Centorani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.