By Rob Potter
WHITE PLAINS The Eldred Yellowjackets’ football season will continue for at least one more week.
Amid rain showers and a blustery wind, Section IX champion Eldred defeated Section I champion Tuckahoe, 21-14, on Friday evening in a New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) Class D regional game at Loucks Memorial Stadium at White Plains High School.
With the win, Eldred (10-1) will continue the most successful gridiron season in school history by meeting Section VII champion Moriah (8-2) at 4 p.m. this Friday, Nov. 20 at Dietz Stadium in Kingston in the East semifinal game. The winner will advance to meet the winner of the West semifinal in the state Class D championship game at noon on Saturday, Nov. 28 at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.
Facing a 7-0 deficit at halftime of Friday night’s contest, the Yellowjackets came out of the lockerroom focused and determined to play better in the second half.
On the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, Tuckahoe running back Jarett Sommer lost possession of the ball while being tackled. Eldred defensive back Bryan Henry recovered the ball to give his team a first-and-10 at the Tigers’ 33-yard line.
Henry, who is also the Yellowjackets’ QB, then led the team on an eight-play scoring drive. He capped the march by throwing an 8-yard touchdown pass to Matt Balcom.
Bobby Warden then kicked the ball through the uprights to knot the score at 7-7 with 7:39 remaining in the quarter.
The game stayed even until the early moments of the fourth quarter. After the Yellowjackets’ defense forced Tuckahoe (5-4) to punt, Eldred took over at the Tigers’ 48.
The Yellowjackets then unveiled a version of the “Wildcat,” the offensive formation used quite successfully by the Miami Dolphins in the National Football League.
With running back Ian Halloran lined up at QB, Eldred advanced inside the Tuckahoe 20. On a first-and-10, Warden took a handoff from Halloran. As the Yellowjackets’ offensive line gave Warden time to look downfield, he threw the ball to Henry, who got past a Tigers’ defender and caught the ball in stride near the goal line for a 17-yard TD.
Warden’s extra-point kick gave Eldred a 14-7 advantage with 8:20 to play and propelled the loyal Yellowjacket cheerleaders on the sideline and the fans in the bleachers to yell and clap even louder for their team.
On the ensuing Tigers’ possession, Yellowjacket defenders Dylan Kulik and Geno Jones stopped Sommer on a fourth down play near midfield.
Facing a fourth-and-eight at the Tuckahoe 47-yard line with less than six minutes remaining, Warden punted the ball and Balcom downed it at the Tigers’ 14.
Following an incomplete pass, Kulik scored what would become the game-winning TD. From his defensive back position, Kulik stepped in front of the intended Tuckahoe receiver, intercepted the ball and sprinted to the end zone for a 14-yard TD. Warden’s extra point sailed through the uprights to give the Yellowjackets a 21-7 lead with 3:23 to go.
However, Tuckahoe wasn’t done scoring.
With less than two minutes to go and the clock running, the Tigers called a halfback option pass play on a third down at the Eldred 17. Maldonado threw a strike to Dalton Passeri in the end zone. The TD, along with the PAT kick by Bradley Broncati pulled Tuckahoe to within seven points at 21-14 with 1:09 to go.
The Tigers attempted an onsides kick, but they were flagged for being offside. On the rekick, the ball went out of bounds. Eldred accepted the subsequent penalty, which meant a first down at the Tigers’ 43-yard line.
After a run by Halloran on first down, Tuckahoe called its final timeout. Henry then took a knee on the next two plays as the time elapsed and the Eldred players, coaches, cheerleaders and fans began to celebrate.
After the traditional postgame handshake, both teams lined up at midfield. Halloran, who carried the ball 26 times for 104 yards, was named the Outstanding Running Back of the game. Tuckahoe’s Maldonado received the Outstanding Lineman Award.
Eldred Coach Frank Kean and the 12 Yellowjacket seniors then accepted the regional championship plaque.
In his postgame comments to the broadcast and print media, Kean noted that it “had been a rollercoaster of emotions” for his team during the week. The team was elated after its 45-6 victory over Chester to win the Section IX Class D title on Saturday, Nov. 6. But the Eldred Central School students, teachers and staff and the community at large were shocked and saddened by the unfortunate and untimely passing away of an ECS 10th-grade student two days before the regional game.
As for the game, Kean noted that he left his players alone in the lockerroom just before they returned to the field for the second half.
“I’ve never done that before,” he said. “But I wanted them to think and focus on the second half.”
Naturally, Kean, who will be retiring next June, and his players want to keep this season going for as long as they can.
“I’m just elated that we pulled this one out,” he said.
Henry, who ran for 13 yards on seven carries, was happy to be on the receiving end of a TD pass for a change.
“We have been begging coach to call that play and Bobby threw a great pass that hit me on the numbers,” Henry said.
Henry also praised Kulik, who had seven tackles, for his big interception.
“Dylan made a great read on that play and stepped in front of the receiver,” Henry said.
While Halloran, who paced the Yellowjackets’ defense with 11 tackles, was happy to receive the Outstanding Running Back honor, he was more focused on the team goals.
“This is the farthest that an Eldred football team has gone, we’re making history,” Halloran said. “The whole offensive line was great tonight. They blocked very well.”