POP WARNER BATTLE OF UNBEATENS-CAZ BEATS NORTH UTICA 25-19
It was a battle of the unbeatens in a Tri-Valley Pop Warner Pee Wee Division contest Sunday afternoon at John F. Kennedy Field in Utica, pitting the 4-0 North Utica Raiders and the 5-0 visiting Cazenovia Lakers.
Not only were both teams undefeated, but they were vying for the top two seeds in the upcoming playoffs, as well as the division title.
The JFK complex was beaming with excitement, enthusiasm and Raider pride, as it was homecoming weekend and both football players and cheerleaders were greeted with homemade signs of support as well as a rousing pre-game entrance for the football team.
It was a quick start for the Raiders, as they began with a big running play, as Brandyn Miller scampered free for a big gain to get the Raiders offense moving.
On the very next play from scrimmage Joshua Raymer was handed the ball and dashed towards the end zone and with just two plays the Raiders found themselves up 7-0 after the extra point.
The Cazenovia Lakers, down by a touchdown already, took to the field looking to pick up some yards on the ground themselves and did so after handing the ball of to Matthew McLaughlin who broke away and made his way to the goal line but was met by Jasyn Bonner who striped the ball and forced a fumble and the Raiders recovered.
The Raiders called the number of quarterback Eric Gohringer on a QB keeper and Gohringer was able to move the ball deep in Lakers territory on a solid run.
The Raiders then looked to the outside, handing the ball to Brandyn Miller who hit the outside hard and turned it up for the second touchdown of the game and a 13-0 Raiders lead after the extra point was no good.
With the running game working for both teams the Lakers continued to ground and pound picking up positive yardage along the way.
The Lakers were able to move the ball to the one yard line before they looked to quarterback Patrick Nourse to call his own number on a quarterback sneak and he was able to barrel his way through the Raiders defensive line and narrow the margin to 13-6 after a missed extra point.
The next few positions brought much of the same from the North Utica Raiders – run, run, run and why not, the Cazenovia defense allowed it and the Raiders took advantage.
This time the Raiders found success in handing the ball to Brandyn Miller, who jumped out to the outside and ran down the sidelines for touchdown number three and a 19-6 lead.
Cazenovia followed a similar game plan as the Raiders, running the ball at every chance.
The Lakers piled up a bunch of yards before its running back took the Lakers down to the four yard line and then Tiernan Tormey ran it in for a touchdown and the Raider’s margin continued to shrink, now leading 19-12.
With the half approaching, the Raiders continued to move the ball on the ground, hoping for another score before the half time horn blew, however, after a flag set them back, the Raiders went against their traditional game plan and put a ball in the air for the first time in the game, which fell in the hands of Cazenovia’s Patrick Nourse with just 14 ticks left on the clock.
The Lakers took possession and were happy to go into the half down just six points, 19-12.
Cazenovia came out in the second half with what appeared to be one goal in mind – running the ball.
The Lakers were able to move the ball well on its first drive, coming out of the half, but did so very methodically, eating up the game clock.
The Lakers first possession in the third quarter lasted uninterrupted, until 3:25 on the game clock.
The possession came to an end when Patrick Nourse was able to nudge free and score, putting the Lakers down just one, with the Raiders clinging to a 19-18 lead.
The Raiders were not fazed by the clock management of Cazenovia as they waited for their turn and went right back to work.
It was much of the same for the Raiders, as they had their way with the running game and picked up a big gain after handing the ball of to Brandyn Miller.
They then looked to Joshua Raymer, who turned it up on the outside for another big gain, however, a costly turnover in the form of a fumble brought the Raiders drive to a screeching halt.
The Lakers, were biting at the bit, with their first opportunity to jump out in front staring them in the face.
The game plan was the same, continue to take advantage of what the Raiders defense was giving – yardage- on the ground.
The Lakers again continued to find holes and kept moving the ball towards the end zone.
Facing a crucial third down late in the game, the Lakers were able to capitalize, as Patrick Nourse scrambled up the middle of the field for a first down, with just 5:08 remaining in the game and the Lakers down 19-18.
With the Lakers moving the ball and eating clock, the Raiders were in need of a stellar defensive stop and found one on second down, when Brady Heintz stepped up and shut down a key running play.
However, the Raiders followed with a false start on third down, which made it easier for Lakers quarterback Patrick Nourse, as he picked up a first down on the very next play on an option play quarterback keep.
The Lakers were able to finish the drive, as they handed the ball to Matthew McLaughlin, who jumped to the outside and scored and picked up the extra point and the Lakers took their first lead of the game 25-14 with just 2:27 remaining.
The Raiders found themselves in a situation they had not been in all season – in a tight game – as they have been winning games easily against other teams.
With a little over two minutes remaining, what happened next was pure heart. On their first possession after receiving the ball after the kickoff, the Raiders fumbled, giving the ball right back to the Lakers with 2:09 remaining in the game.
The Lakers were clearly looking to finish out the game and walk away with a victory, but knew they must retain possession and not give the ball back to the Raiders, as they were very aware that the Raiders potent running attack could score quickly.
The Lakers continued to hand the ball off in an attempt to gain enough yards for the crucial first down, however, the Raiders defense dug down deep and made stops when necessary and used it timeouts to save time, should they get the ball back.
The Raiders were able to force the Lakers to a critical fourth and short which Cazenovia decided to pursue. The Lakers pounded the ball up the middle, as the Raiders defense crashed the line – they were close – the chain gang came out for a measurement and the Lakers were short a first down by one chain link – Raiders ball with 1:37 remaining.
The Raiders continued to do what worked all game – run! They handed the ball off to Brandyn Miller, who rushed down the sideline for a monster gain, as the crowd roared.
The Raiders continued to pick up yardage, on the ground, but the drive stalled when Caz made a big defensive stop ,as the clock continued to tick, tick, tick.
The Raiders rushed to the line and were able to spike the ball with 13.5 seconds remaining.
With just one or two plays remaining, the Raiders went to their bread and butter, giving the ball to their running back, who barreled down the sideline – the linemen blocked, the running back ran and when it was over, the Raiders were five yards short with 00:00 left on the clock.
The game was over, with a final score of 25-19. The Raiders locked up the number two seed in the playoffs with a (4-1) record overall, while Cazenovia improved to (6-0) and locked up the number one seed and took home the division crown.
But, much more came out of this game – in the end the kids had fun, played a remarkable game and made memories that will last forever.
Both teams battled and never gave up – lessons that will serve them well in life.
Cazenovia coach Matt Moore told his players, after the game, how proud he was of his team and to cherish this victory as “this is as good as it gets”.
It was obvious to see how proud Coach Moore and his entire coaching staff of Roger Carges, Alec Hoke, Craig Nourse and Ron Proctor Jr. were of their Lakers, as they beamed with joy after telling the kids they worked hard and deserved this today.
Coach Moore said of the game, “it was a fantastic game, we had a lot of heart and there were great efforts from both teams.”
Coach Moore acknowledged that “both teams were evenly matched and the Utica team is a phenomenal football team and hats off to them.”
Coach Moore spoke of his team saying, “we felt that we could run the ball and control the offense and the line of scrimmage…we felt that without the ball they (North Utica) couldn’t score, so ball control was important and you saw that in the second half.” The coach also acknowledged his team had a few lucky breaks, specifically the fumble by North Utica.
The North Utica post game speech by Coach Jim Raymer was not about how they almost won this game, but about how well they played down the stretch. Raymer told his kids that he considered this group of 19 kids one of the greatest groups of kids he has coached in his career.
The Raiders coach spoke to his team about the fact that today they proved that when the game got the hardest or most difficult they stepped up. Raymer also told the kids that they were able to bring the ball down to the five yard line and that was the difference – and that he thought more of them today as people, as a team, then in any win they had.
Raymer also told his squad that prior to today’s game, when asked about his team, he would tell people that he had a great bunch of athletes, but after today’s game he learned much more about them, about their character when things get difficult – if asked now, he told them he would proudly and confidently say “they are the greatest 19 kids I have ever coached.”
Raymer also spoke about the fact that this team has been winning games all year, by double figures, but today they played a tough game and they responded and while the kids could of easily quit when the going got tough, but instead they fought and battled to the very end – that means something.
“Some of the greatest teams lose and you learn that you don’t like that feeling – you learn something from it.” Raymer also mentioned that he told his kids, “When you win you get a ‘W’ and when you lose you get an ‘L’ but that ‘L’ means learn not loss.”
The coach reiterated that although this one will show up in the box score as a loss, it’s not a loss for this team, rather they will learn from it and it will make them better.
In the end the coach wrapped up by saying, “I have never been as proud as I am today with a team after a loss…in the end I ask the kids…did we have fun?”