By Rob Potter
KINGSTON November 7, 2006 After Chester and Eldred split their two games this season, perhaps it was not too surprising that the outcome of Friday afternoon’s Section IX Class D football championship game at Dietz Stadium was in doubt until the final minute.
Chester defensive back Darren Mann cut in front of Eldred receiver Kojo Williams at the goal line to intercept quarterback Nick McCormick’s pass with 1:02 left in the fourth quarter. Mann then returned the ball to the 14-yard line.
With the Yellowjackets out of timeouts, Hambletonian quarterback Joe Salthouse then took a knee on first down and second down to run out the clock on Chester’s 20-14 victory.
“Darren Mann made the play of the game,” Chester Coach Ron Stover said moments after the contest ended as his players celebrated with their parents and family members.
Mann’s interception allowed Chester (7-1) to advance to the Section I vs. Section IX Regional for the second time in three seasons. The Hambletonians will face Section I Class D champion Tuckahoe this Friday, November 10 at Dietz.
Eldred, which captured the Class D regular season title, ended its year with an 8-2 record.
Chester grabbed a 14-0 lead thanks to a pair of second-quarter touchdowns. With 2:49 remaining until halftime, quarterback Joe Salthouse connected with Mann on a 17-yard touchdown pass. Eldred defensive back Tom Compasso tried to break up the pass, but the ball ricocheted off his hands and right to Mann.
Six plays into the ensuing Eldred possession, the Hambletonian defense recovered a fumble at their own 47-yard line. An Eldred penalty and a pass to Mann set Chester up with a first-and-goal at the Yellowjackets’ 1-yard line. Salthouse scored on a quarterback keeper and then ran for the 2-point conversion to give his team a 14-0 advantage.
Chester added to its lead less than two minutes into the second half. Senior running back Mike Schmidlein scored on a 65-yard run to give the Hambletonians a 20-0 lead.
But the Yellowjackets put themselves in position to potentially win the game with a valiant comeback attempt.
Eldred got on the scoreboard with 3:04 left in the third quarter when running back Kevin Prunka swept around left end for a 12-yard touchdown.
The Yellowjackets then pulled to within a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter. The team completed an 11-play, 56-yard drive when McCormick threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Kojo Williams.
Chris Leader scored the 2-point conversion to pull the Yellowjackets to within six points at 20-14.
Stover said that he wasn’t surprised that Eldred came back after being behind by three TDs.
“They are a spirited group and very well-coached,” he said.
Although the Yellowjackets came up short in capturing their second consecutive Class D postseason crown, Coach Frank Kean focused on the positive aspects of the contest.
“What heart,” he said, referring to his players not losing their composure after Schmidlein’s TD run and then battling back until the final seconds of the contest.
“We were 8 and 2 this season and 17 and 4 the past two years,” Kean commented. “We have a great group of kids.”
Notes: Prunka gained 154 yards on 29 carries.
Schmidlein was named the game’s Offensive MVP. He carried the ball 18 times for 117 yards.
On the season, he has 1,933 yards and is just 67 yards shy of becoming the fourth Section IX running back to rush for 2,000 yards in a single season.
Hambletonian linebacker Mike Benison was named the Defensive MVP.