By Ted Waddell
KINGSTON November 8, 2005The Eldred Yellowjacket football team finally found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
On Friday, Eldred (9-1) pulled off a dream win by defeating the reigning two-time defending Section IX Class D champion Chester Hambletonians 27-14 at Dietz Stadium in Kingston.
With the win, the Yellowjackets move on to the opening round of the state tournament. They will face the Section I champion at 3 p.m. this Friday at Mahopac High School.
The game hinged on the desire to win of Eldreds Nick McCormick and Jonathan Counts. McCormick, a gutsy junior quarterback, took to the field on a bum ankle and thought he was out of the game in the third quarter in the wake of a hard tackle that reinjured his ankle. Counts, a senior running back, scored a touchdown and rushed for 165 yards on 28 carries.
Last Monday, McCormick figured hed broken his ankle on a training romp in the woods at Eldred Central School. After testing it during practice at Dietz on Tuesday, it held up and McCormick crossed his fingers for Friday.
With the game tied at 14-14 in the third quarter, McCormick was gang-tackled and the ankle blew out. After getting carried off the field, McCormick had it taped up tight while senior Mike Prunka took over at QB and made a couple of handoffs. Moments later, McCormick was back in the gridiron grapple for the title.
Moments before heading off to the locker room in preparation for the opening kickoff, Eldred Coach Frank Kean said, I cant wait until this baby goes
when youre playing the game, youre making history, and when its over, it becomes history.
The word gutsy didnt only apply to the McCormick. With 3:25 left in the opening quarter, Kean nixed a punt on fourth-and-four and decided to go for it. The Yellowjackets stung Chester (8-2) with a first-and-10 at the 39-yard line.
At the 44-second mark, McCormick hooked up with Prunka in the end zone. The PAT was good, and Eldred was up 7-0.
In the second frame, Chester quarterback Bryan Vandermark knocked the socks off Eldred with a fake punt and passed the ball to Kevin Jones.
A couple of snaps later, running back Mike Schmidlein took it down to the Eldred 13-yard line for a first down. On the next play, Eldred was flagged for encroachment, but Schmidlein was stopped at the line of scrimmage.
At 7:34, Schmidlein wasnt to be denied as he crashed through the Yellowjackets defense for a score. An attempted 2-point conversion pass to Ruddie Montalvo came up short as McCormick helped to break it up.
With time running out on the halftime clock and the Yellowjackets holding a slim 7-6 lead, McCormick hooked up with Steven Greiger, giving Eldred a first down at the Hambletonians 36-yard line. With 46 seconds left, McCormick took it around the left down to about the Chester 5-yard line.
As just four seconds remained until halftime, McCormick took it around the right side of the line and into the record book for a 13-6 lead. A successful PAT gave the Yellowjackets a 14-6 lead.
The second half began with the Hambletonians starting what turned out to be their final scoring drive. Punter Joe Salthouse faced a fourth-and-28 from his own 26, but connected with Kevin Jones on a surprise short sideline pass. Jones then took it 30 yards for the first down.
At 9:37 in the third frame, Schmidlein closed out Chesters scoring with a 53-yard TD run. He then ran for the 2-point conversion to tie it up 14-14.
After McCormick limped back into the frenzied fray, he handed off to Patrick Kean for a 1-yard touchdown. The PAT sailed through the uprights to put Elded up 21-14.
At 6:48, Prunkas interception of a Hambletonians pass stood after penalties charged against both teams negated each other.
Counts scored on a run around the right end with 2:34 left on the clock. The PAT kick cleared the uprights, and Eldred had its first sectional football title in school history.
The scores of Eldred fans erupted in cheers. With his face painted bright green and a big yellow E on his right cheek, Dan Smith, the father of the YellowJackets Stan Smith, led the victory celebration.
Kean was carried off the field by his team. But before reaching terra firma again, was soaked by a bucket of ice cold water.
The games outstanding offensive player was Counts, while Schmidlein was named the most defensive player of the contest.
I thought we had our chances in the third period, but its Eldreds year
they outplayed us, Chester Coach Ronald Stover said. Our kids played their hearts out, but [Eldred] got the win they deserved.
McCormicks take on the victory? The whole team has been looking forward to this, he said. It could have gone either way, but we came out on top.
Frank Kean, who has been coaching football for 31 years, and has served as Section IX Class D football chairman for the past several years, it was a sweet win as he didnt have to hand out the plaque to another team.
Its finally paid off, he said, holding back a couple of tears. We got that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.