By Rob Potter
KINGSTON When the Livingston Manor/Roscoe Devilcats and Chester Hambletonians met on Sept. 24 in a Section IX Class D football game, Chester had to overcome a 14-point halftime deficit en route to a 49-34 victory.
When the teams met again on Friday night in the Section IX Class D championship game at Dietz Stadium in Kingston, Chester wasn’t interested in any comeback heroics. After forcing the Devilcats to punt on the opening possession of the game, Chester (10-0) took over near midfield. On its first play from scrimmage, senior running back Saxon Smith took a handoff and ran to his left. Seeing several LMR defenders in front of him, Smith cut back and sprinted down the right sideline for a 49-yard touchdown.
Andrew Lakis made the extra-point kick, which gave the Hambletonians a 7-0 lead with 10:04 remaining in the first quarter. And, that was just the beginning.
Chester continued to score touchdowns, pushing its lead to 28-0 at halftime and 41-0 at the end of the third quarter on its way to a 41-8 win over the Devilcats.
The Hambletonians will face the Section I champion, either Haldane or Tuckahoe, in an opening-round game in the state playoffs at 5 p.m. this Friday, Nov. 11 at Mahopac High School.
Remembering the halftime deficit in the first meeting with LMR, Chester Coach Ron Stover wanted his team to be prepared for Friday night’s title contest.
“We took them too lightly the last time, but we were much more focused tonight,” he said, noting that Smith’s opening-drive touchdown set the tempo for the game.
“We knew we had to be more prepared and stay focused. LMR has a good team. With [Troy] Correa and [Mike] Mills, they have guys who can score anytime they have the football.”
With 4:58 remaining in the first quarter, Smith scored his second touchdown on a 2-yard run. He added a 53-yard TD run in the second quarter and a 56-yard TD run in the third quarter.
Chester’s other two touchdowns were a 20-yard pass from quarterback Anthony Ognibene to wide receiver Justin Delgado in the second quarter and a 5-yard run by senior fullback Michael Pia in the third quarter.
“Saxon is a great running back and our line did an excellent job of blocking for him,” Stover said.
The veteran coach noted that the 5 foot 7 inch Smith is one of the fastest players he has ever coached. Stover said that another player he coached who is Smith’s equal in terms of size and speed is Trevor Dimmie, whom Stover coached at Sleepy Hollow High School in the late 1990s. Dimmie went to become Hofstrs University’s all-time career rushing rushing leader.
Smith carried the ball 23 times for 297 yards to set a new Section IX Class D championship game rushing record. The old record was held by Livingston Manor’s George Thomas, who ran 44 times for 227 yards in 2002.
For his efforts, Smith was named the Most Valuable Offensive Player of the Game.
“My line is the best,” Smith said. “The blocking is the best I have ever had.”
Asked about his running, Smith noted that he takes advantage of being able to change directions quickly.
“When I see defenders coming up into the hole, I am able to make some cuts and get into the open field,” he explained.
LMR (5-5) finally got on the scoreboard with 8:06 left in the fourth quarter. On fourth-and-goal, senior fullback Joe Fredenburg ran up the middle for a 2-yard touchdown. Mike Mills then threw the two-point conversion pass to Troy Correa as the Devilcats cut the Hambletonians’ lead to 41-8.
LMR Co-Coach Kevin Clifford noted that the team had films of several Chester games this season. He and Co-Coach Fred Ahart and Assistant Coach Dave Eggleton watched those films carefully in designing their game plan for Friday night.
“We tried some different fronts and looks on defense tonight,” Clifford said moments after the title game. “But Chester is a very good team.”
Clifford also praised Smith on his performance.
“He is a very fast running back and he’s quick with his cuts,” Clifford commented. “A couple of times tonight, our guys were right there to tackle him. But he took the hit and popped out into the open field for a big gain.”
“All of the credit goes to Chester tonight,” Ahart said. “Chester is a very good football team. Saxon Smith is an outstanding running back.”
Ahart and Clifford praised the LMR seniors Troy Correa, Joe Fredenburg, Kenny Fisk, Mike Mills, Brandon Pagan, Chad Rosario, Trever Taggart and Jordan Tallman for their hard work and dedication to the team this autumn and in past seasons.
“This is the sixth year these seniors have been in our football program,” Ahart said. “They helped turn the program around. We have played in the Class D championship game for two years in a row. All of these seniors will be missed next year, but hopefully the success will continue.”
One of those seniors, Mills, noted that even though he and his teammates tried their best, the Hambletonians are very talented.
“Chester is very good,” he said. “Their line blocks well and Saxon Smith is a great running back. I hope they do well in the state playoffs.”
Like his coaches, Mills noted that he and his fellow seniors have had a great experience the past six seasons.
“We started out playing together as seventh-graders and the two communities really supported us,” Mills said. “It’s a good feeling to be part of the team which got the Livingston Manor and Roscoe communities really excited about football and coming out to our games.”
With his 297 yards, Smith has now gained 2,528 yards this season, second all-time in Section IX to Delaware Valley’s Fred Riullano (2,833 in 1998). Smith could break Riullano’s record this week in an opening round state playoff game or possibly the following week should Chester advance...Smith is likely to attend prep school next year before moving on to college ball. At 5 feet 7 inches and 160 pounds, he may be on the small side for Division 1, though some schools have looked at him.
Rushing: Saxon Smith, 23 carries for 297 yards, Michael Pia, 11-63 yards
Passing: Anthony Ognibene 20-yard TD pass to Justin Delgado
Rushing: Troy Correa, 9-37 yards; Mike Mills, 7-20 yards; Joe Fredenburg, 4-9 yards
Passing: Mike Mills completed 7 passes for 43 yards; Troy Correa completed one pass for 14 yards
Receiving: Kenny Fisk, 2-22 yards; Andrew Cummings 1-8 yards.