GENEVA — It became apparent quite quickly that scoring was not going to be easy as sheets of rain doused Geneva High School’s Loman Field throughout the Panthers regular season Finger Lakes East finale with Newark Saturday.
Mud puddles quickly multiplied throughout the contest, not only turning the Reds pearly white jersey’s a shallow brown but increasingly deteriorating ball possession and footing.
However, it was an early Desmond Reese burst before conditions worsened that ultimately earned Geneva a share of their first league title since 2007.
Reese charged up the middle for an 85-yard touchdown dash 2:07 into the rain-drenched battle. The early score would stand up in the Panthers 7-6 triumph.
Geneva (6-1), who has won four straight contests, claimed a share of the league crown with Wayne. The Panthers last division title came in 2007 when they won the Finger Lakes Central I.
“You take the season step by step in goals and your first goal is obviously a league championship and I told the kids they can never take that away,” Geneva coach Mike Pane said.
Reese carried the rain-soaked pigskin 20 times for 190 yards and his long TD scamper. Geneva finished with 273 total yards, 258 on the wet ground.
“Once we saw the forecast all week long, we figured we had to get some two-back stuff ready and we do have that set but we really emphasized it the last couple days of practice knowing that we were probably going to have to go to it,” Pane remarked.
“We got some very capable running backs and I think we showed that tonight. We just told the kids that we’re going to get out on that field and however bad it is, it’s going to be something we have to go to and we have to do it. We adjusted to it and we were fortunate enough to have kids that were capable of making adjustments like that.”
Fellow Geneva tailbacks James Truley and Kyle Cosentino combined for 60 rushing yards.
Newark (5-2) managed a 68-yard fourth quarter drive through the treacherous surface to nearly tie the game.
The Reds relied on QB Phil Tack and running back Nelson Betances to carry the load during the important series.
Betances delivered 36 of his 83 rushing yards on the drive, including a 25-yard run. Tack recorded 16 yards on the ground, capped by a one-yard TD plunge on fourth and goal. Tack ended with 32 rushing yards and Newark accumulated 140 total.
With 5:42 remaining, Newark coach Mike McGavisk was faced with a tough decision on whether to attempt an extra point in the muddy conditions or test the Panthers defense and go for a two-point conversion and the lead.
The Reds decided to kick the extra-point that missed.
“We have a kicker, we have a lot of confidence in Jake (Shear) and certainly the weather conditions weren’t great but we kept bringing in dry balls and Geneva kicked one earlier in the game and they were successful,” McGavisk commented.
“I’ve been in those situations as a coach before and I just told the team that I’ve kicked myself when we have a kicker and we go for two and come up short and say, ‘Jeez, why didn’t I kick it and go to overtime. We work on that and it was just a muddy situation and it was a high snap that we got down, it just didn’t go.”
Newark forced a three and out on the Panthers next possession but was called for a roughing the kicker penalty on Geneva’s punt that extended the drive and ultimately ended the game.
“They scored a touchdown, we scored a touchdown and I thought it was a hard fought game that could have gone either way,” McGavisk noted.
“The game is never about one play. We win as a team and we lose as a team. It was a hard fought game, there is nothing to be ashamed of. I’m proud of their efforts, we just came up short.”
The weather played a factor from the outset of the game when each team committed a turnover on back-to-back plays in the first quarter.
The Panthers’ fumble was the first of five fumbles lost. The Reds were intercepted, the first of two. Newark also fumbled once.
Reese capitalized on the Reds turnover by taking the very next snap to the end zone for the eventual game-winning score.
“Desmond just played a terrific game,” Pane said. “He had a lot of big runs and he made some tremendous cuts on this field. I couldn’t even walk on it after the game and he made some cuts that were unbelievable.
“We kind of emphasized that whoever scores early is going to have an advantage in this game. To their credit, they came down and scored late but getting that first score was so important and him being able to take it like that was huge for us.”