CLYDE — Red Jacket and Clyde-Savannah ooze small-school football tradition, even if the limelight has shifted away from them over the past decade.
Well, the Indians and Golden Eagles returned to center stage Friday under the bright lights of Nicholas DerCola Field. With a combined 10-0 record and Finger Lakes West title implications at stake, they put on a show worthy of their rich gridiron histories.
Hard-hitting Red Jacket held Clyde-Savannah’s high-powered offense scoreless in the second half, and the Indians produced two third-quarter scores to rally for a 34-27 victory.
The Tribe clinched no worse than a share of the league championship with the win. To many, it has been an unexpected rise for a team that finished 2-5 a season ago. One of those wins came against Clyde-Savannah, 28-14, in the regular-season finale.
"When I was hired,” first-year head coach Marc Vitticore explained, “I met the kids in January and we made a promise to each other that we were going to do whatever we could, to work as hard as we could ... to try to bring back Red Jacket football to where it should be. We made a promise to each other, and they’ve lived up to it.”
Vitticore admitted that he has no idea when the Indians last captured league honors. It’s highly probable it came when his father, Dom Vitticore, coached at RJ for a long, long time through 2000.
“We had more people show up in the offseason than I’ve ever had in my career as an assistant or a head coach,” Marc Vitticore said. “When you get that, by the time you make it to this stage you’re all family, because you’ve spent so much time together. Had I just been hired in July or August, I don’t think we’d have this kind of experience.”
Conversely, the Golden Eagles were reeling from the disappointing loss. They no longer control their own destiny in terms of winning the West. The only way Clyde-Savannah (5-1 overall, 5-1 league) can earn part of the crown is if Red Jacket (6-0 overall, 5-0 league) loses to Marcus Whitman next week.
"It hurts, it hurts a lot,” Golden Eagles coach Nick DerCola Jr. described. “The kids are hurt, the coaching staff is hurt. I truly expected to win the ballgame tonight.
“We made uncharacteristic mistakes, mistakes we haven’t made all year,” continued DerCola, whose team committed three turnovers and surrendered four sacks. “I’ve got to give Red Jacket credit, they came after us. They controlled the line of scrimmage and that was a big deal in tonight’s game.”
Especially in the second half.
Red Jacket rushed 21 times for 111 yards in the opening 24 minutes. Over that same period, the Indians yielded just 31 rushing yards on 15 attempts (includes one sack for negative-11 yards). The Golden Eagles were stuffed for no gain or a loss on eight of those 15 attempts. In the third and fourth quarters, the Tribe totaled 114 rushing yards on 27 carries (excludes three kneeldowns to end the game).
Clyde-Savannah managed just 38 yards from scrimmage after intermission. Red Jacket sacked Tom Molisani three times for negative-40 yards following the break. Of the 25 plays in which Clyde-Savannah did not record an official pass attempt, the Indians stopped the Golden Eagles for two or fewer yards a whopping 17 times.
“The key factor was, all throughout the season watching game tape, nobody put pressure on their quarterback,” Vitticore assessed. “I said, ‘Fellas, we have to find a way to put pressure on him.’ It may not be perfect pressure, because they’re an outstanding line, but we have to do something.”
Said DerCola: “That was definitely the best defensive team we’ve faced.”
Red Jacket pressured Molisani into five errant throws in the first half. Still, he connected on a pair scoring strikes to Patrick Harper (14, 23 yards) and Joemaine Bogan (55) to put Clyde-Savannah ahead, 27-20. Todd Romano returned a fumble 35 yards for the Golden Eagles’ other score.
Red Jacket turned a lateral-pass fumble recovery into points 1:41 into the game. Two plays later, Andrew Ogrodowski blew through the center of the line for a 12-yard TD run, and Tyler Liberty passed to Colby Cuthbertson for the two-point conversion. Leading 8-7, Kory Fogarty crossed the goal line from a yard out and Cyrus Baker returned a shanked punt 31 yards to paydirt.
It stood 20-7 just 72 ticks into the second quarter. Clyde-Savannah scored three unanswered TDs to close the half.
“We gave them 14 points that they really didn’t have to work for,” lamented DerCola, referring to the lateral-pass giveaway and miskick on the punt. “We had things open, it was just a matter of executing. You have to thread the needle, you have to make that block that holds off that defender a half-second longer, and we weren’t doing that tonight.”
On Clyde-Savannah’s first series in the third quarter, Baker sacked Molisani and forced a fumble, recovered by Torrance Coleman. The Indians drove 26 yards on six plays, capped by Fogarty’s nine-yard run with 5:50 remaining.
Ogrodowski stretched the ball over the goal line for the two-pointer, making it 28-27. A short time later, Red Jacket stopped the Golden Eagles on fourth-and-1. Six plays forward, Liberty tossed to Baker on a sweep left on fourth-and-9. Baker appeared to be stopped well short of a first down, but he emerged on his feet and burst into the end zone for a 25-yard score.
“Plays like that show how much time and effort he put into the offseason, and how much heart he has,” Vitticore beamed.
Clyde-Savannah got the ball back four more times with a chance to tie or win the game. Liberty came up with a great catch on an interception to thwart one drive.
“The pressure on Tom, he had it all night,” said DerCola, whose QB finished 10-of-26 for 223 yards. “You start running a little bit early when you do have protection. It threw the timing off on our passing game.”
Vitticore emphasized the havoc caused by his two down defensive linemen, Coleman and Aaron Livermore.
“They really drilled that into our heads in practice, that we had to get that pressure on the quarterback,” an elated Coleman said.
Fogarty rushed 23 times for 112 yards to lead Red Jacket. Baker added 67 yards on 11 totes. The Indians outgained Clyde-Savannah 255-222.
Six separate plays accounted for 182 of the Golden Eagles’ total. Bogan caught four passes for 134 yards. Harper collected three receptions for 56 yards.