NORWICH _ It boiled down to about 6 inches midway through the second quarter.
Nursing a three-point lead, Oneonta High had fourth and less than a yard from its 20 and Yellowjackets coach Adam Hoover opted to go for it. Senior running back Bryce Wooden was stopped by Grant Brigham for no gain, and 27 straight Norwich points ensued.
"It was a terrible call going for it on fourth down," Hoover said following his team's 34-16 Section Four Football Conference Division III loss to rival Norwich on Friday. "We had fourth-and-a-half yard at our 20 and we should have punted. As much as we've had trouble punting the ball, the odds are better to punt it.
"I have confidence in our guys that we'd get it and they stopped it," he continued, "and that turned the momentum. The majority of this loss falls squarely on my shoulders for that call."
The play that set it up was equally important. Norwich's Kyle Edwards, who returned an interception 50 yards for a touchdown with 28.9 seconds left in the first half to give Norwich a 19-3 lead, lined a 44-yard punt that went out of bounds at Oneonta's 1 early in the second quarter.
The Yellowjackets (1-3, 1-1) got a first down on a third-and-7, when Brendan Lord hit Jakob Mykytyn in the right flat for an 8-yard gain to Oneonta's 11.
Wooden gained 3 yards on first down before Anthony Delgado dropped a pass over the middle on second down.
Mykytyn then took a sweep right and gained 6 yards to the 20.
Hoover took a timeout before deciding to go for it.
"It definitely did," Hoover said, when asked if Oneonta's punting troubles last week in a 35-14 loss to Greene, which included a punt being returned for a touchdown and two botched snaps, contributed to his decision to go for it. "I was tentative."
Wooden, who finished with 84 rushing yards on nine carries, took a handoff right and was met immediately by Brightman. Wooden surged forward but fell a yard short.
"Our defense, they should garner respect," said Norwich coach John Martinson, whose team is 4-1 overall and 2-0 in division play. "We're giving up six points a game. It was a gutsy call on coach Hoover's part, but we were able to capitalize. That was a huge turning point. Our kids were running off the field just jacked. That was what we needed."
Five plays later, the 210-pound Brightman ran through a big hole on the right side for a 5-yard scoring run. Jaden MacRabie's PAT made it 7-3.
The Yellowjackets' next drive looked promising when Lord hit Delgado on back-to-back passes over the middle, covering a combined 31 yards.
Oneonta passed again on first down from Norwich's 34, but Lord's jump pass intended for Miguel Vega was intercepted by Edwards at Norwich's 18.
Brightman, who gained 139 yards on the ground on 18 carries, took over on Norwich's ensuing 82-yard drive.
On first down, he found a gaping hole off the left side for a 47-yard gain. Two plays later, we went right for 34 yards to Oneonta's 7 and senior quarterback Seth Thomsen, the younger brother of 2006 Daily Star basketball Player of the Year Zack Thomsen, scored on the next play, powering up the middle on a sneak 1:59 before halftime.
"It feels great," said the speedy Thomsen, who rushed for 111 yards on 16 carries and completed 3 of 5 passes for 38 yards. "We hate that team, really."
Another interception by Edwards on Oneonta's ensuing possession all but ended Oneonta's chances. On a first down play from Oneonta's 48, Lord rolled right and was hit from behind just as he released the ball. The ball floated toward the right sideline and Edwards stepped in front of an Oneonta receiver and returned it 50 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown to make it 19-3.
Lord threw 18 passes in the first half and completed 10 but also was intercepted three times. The Yellowjackets threw eight straight passes on their opening possession. Lord, who finished 18-for 30 for 213 yards, completed four, including three to Delgado, who finished with nine receptions for 122 yards.
Mat Robinson's 21-yard field goal gave Oneonta a 3-0 lead with 5:12 left in the first quarter.
But Norwich started getting more pressure on Lord in the second quarter and that led to some of the interceptions.
"We wanted to loosen them up a bit and it did," Hoover said of his team's passing in the first half. "We probably stuck with that a little too long. We could have run more in the first half. That interception (for a touchdown) was a back-breaker."
The Yellowjackets opened the second half by driving from their 33 to Norwich's 24 _ all but 12 of the yards coming on the ground.
But on first down from Norwich's 24, Lord tried to hit Delgado on a deep fade pattern to the right side. Had Lord thrown the ball when Delgado made his cut it likely would have been a touchdown, but he held it a second too long. Purple Tornado safety Patrick Taylor came over and intercepted the ball in the end zone _ Lord's fourth interception of the game.
A 47-yard run by Thomsen that started left before he reversed across the field highlighted Norwich's 80-yard drive following the interception. Thomsen's sneak from the 1 made it 27-3.
Wooden scored on a 16-yard run early in the fourth quarter and Lord had a 1-yard touchdown run to cap the scoring with 2:01 left.
Despite the loss, Oneonta still has an excellent shot to make the Class B playoffs. If Oneonta beats winless Windsor in two weeks and Norwich beats Chenango Valley on the same weekend, the Yellowjackets will secure the second playoff spot in Division III.
"We just have to put this game behind us and win the next two," Delgado said.
OHS plays Dryden next weekend.
Norwich 34, Oneonta 16
Oneonta 3 0 0 13 _ 16
Norwich 0 19 8 7 _ 34
O _ Mat Robinson 21 FG
N _ Grant Brightman 5 run (Jaden MacRabie kick)
N _ Seth Thomsen 12 run (kick failed)
N _ Kyle Edwards 50 interception return (pass failed)
N _ Seth Thomsen 1 run (Patrick Taylor pass from Seth Thomsen)
O _ Bryce Wooden 16 run (run failed)
N _ Patrick Taylor 8 pass from Seth Thomsen (Jaden MacRabie kick)
O _ Brendan Lord 1 run (Mat Robinson kick)
Rob Centorani can be reached at email@example.com or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.