By Rob Potter
GRAHAMSVILLE Taking advantage of turnovers and a big special teams play helped the visiting James I. O’Neill Raiders defeat the Tri-Valley Bears, 29-15, on Saturday afternoon in a non-league football game in Grahamsville.
O’Neill (5-1) converted one of those Bears’ turnovers into an insurance touchdown in the fourth quarter.
With 1:55 remaining in the third quarter, O’Neill held a 22-15 lead over the Bears, who had just picked up a first down near midfield. But on that first-and-10 play, the ball popped loose and O’Neill linebacker Kyle Kilner recovered it at the T-V 46-yard line.
Junior running back Jerry Nasi capped an 11-play drive with an 8-yard touchdown run. Teammate Jordan Baskerville then made the extra-point kick to give the Raiders a 29-15 lead with 7:41 to go in the game.
The Raiders’ big special teams play was a 40-yard punt return by Amom Gerber with 2:37 left in the second quarter. Nasi then ran for the two-point conversion to give O’Neill a 14-7 advantage at halftime.
However, T-V (1-5) took the lead on its first possession of the third quarter. On a third-and-5 play at their own 38-yard line, junior running back Cody Exner ran left, broke a tackle and sprinted down the sideline for a 62-yard TD.
The Bears then decided to go for the two-point conversion. The attempt was successful as Joe Mickelson ran up the middle and into the end zone, which gave T-V a 15-14 advantage with 10:16 left in the third quarter.
But the Raiders scored the go-ahead touchdown on their subsequent possession. Keegan West threw a 12-yard TD pass to Matt McCarthy.
Nasi ran for the two-point conversion, which gave O’Neill a 22-15 lead with 4:20 to go in the third quarter.
The Raiders grabbed a 6-0 lead with 7:08 remaining in the first quarter when West connected with McCarthy on a 15-yard TD pass.
T-V took a 7-6 lead with 7:44 left in the second quarter when Exner ran for a 2-yard TD and Anthony Beale made the PAT kick.
Nasi ran the ball 26 times for 113 yards to lead the Raiders’ ground game. West completed 4 of 9 passes for 75 yards. McCarthy caught three of those passes for 53 yards.
“He’s a great running back,” O’Neill Coach Anthony Finochioy said of Nasi. “He finds the seams and does a good job. When you have a great running game, it does open up the passing lanes as well.
“Tri-Valley was physical and fast,” Finochioy added. “But we’ve got to get better each week.”
Exner led the T-V offense by rushing seven times for 93 yards. Mickelson had 16 carries for 60 yards and Greg Swarthout ran nine times for 34 yards.
As a team, the Bears rushed 35 times for 196 yards.
Swarthout completed 3 of 5 passes for 32 yards, while Mickelson completed the only pass he attempted for 13 yards.
Exner was the Bears’ top receiver with two catches for 21 yards. Tyler Lopez had one reception for 15 yards and Shatik Smith had one reception for 8 yards.
Mickelson led the T-V defense by making 10 solo tackles. He also had six assisted tackles and a quarterback sack.
Jesus Lozada made nine solo tackles and one assisted tackle, while Brendan Tierney had five solo tackled and four assisted tackles.
“It’s like a broken record,” T-V Coach John Rusin said. “Every week the other team’s coach tells me that we are the toughest team they played all year and that you beat us up and down the field.
“We are turning the ball over way too much,” Rusin added. “Minus three [turnover differential] is the story of this game. We moved the ball on offense and we played good defense. But we can’t keep giving people a short field and we can’t stall drives with turnovers. And a punt return for a touchdown just can’t happen.”
Rusin noted that he is proud of his players, but that they need to improve.
With a 1-2 record in Section IX Class C Division II, the Bears still have a chance to qualify for the Class C playoffs. But they need to defeat division foes Fallsburg and Millbrook to earn a playoff spot. T-V travels to Fallsburg this Friday night and hosts Millbrook in 10 days on Friday, Oct. 21.
“Millbrook is a good football team,” Rusin said. “They are well-coached and have a potent offense.
“But right now our focus is on Fallsburg,” he added. “We have to beat Fallsburg on Friday night.”