By JOSH HINESDispatch Sports Staff
CANASTOTA — Sam Stagnitti spun into the end zone with 29.7 seconds remaining to lift Canastota to a 21-14 victory over Herkimer on Friday in the Section III Class C playoffs.Stagnitti’s 2-yard touchdown run erased the memories of two fumbles on Canastota’s previous two drives that could have ended its playoff run.
“What a tremendous bunch of guys I got,” Canastota coach Eric Van Slyke said. “A lot of teams would have quit and packed it in.”
Canastota (5-2) needed to drive 83 yards with 3:40 remaining to overcome a 17-14 deficit. The Raiders did it thanks in large part to a Bill Marsh screen pass to Zack Zupan on the right sideline on third-and-seven from their own 31-yard line.Zupan wheeled around the corner and the only thing preventing him from scoring was a holding penalty near Herkimer’s 20-yard line.With the ball placed on Herkimer’s 33-yard line, the Raiders pounded the ball up the middle with Stagnitti’s 5-foot-8, 210-pound frame. An 11-yard run by the bruising back put the ball on Herkimer’s five-yard line. Stagnitti’s scored two plays later, spinning into the end zone.
“It was quite a spin move,” Van Slyke said with a grin. “I didn’t know he had moves like that. I guess maybe we’ll put him on ‘Dancing With The Stars’ next.”
Senior running back Jake LaBarre led Canastota with 142 yards rushing on 21 carries. Stagnitti added 46 yards and two touchdowns.Behind running back John Bellinger, Herkimer (2-5) started the game with a promising drive. On second-and-15 from Canastota’s 32-yard line, Herkimer quarterback Mike Fahy passed to the right sideline but was intercepted by Zupan. The freshman returned the ball 60 yards to Herkimer’s 20-yard line.LaBarre and Stagnitti shared carries on the drive, with Stagnitti punching in a 1-yard run to give Canastota a 7-0 lead with 1:40 remaining in the first quarter.
Herkimer tied the game on a 20-yard touchdown run by Bellinger with 7:36 remaining in the second quarter. Bellinger led the Magicians with 136 yards rushing on 27 carries.Canastota answered on its ensuing drive. LaBarre broke a 57-yard run to Herkimer’s 10-yard line to set himself up for an 8-yard touchdown run two plays later.Jamie Meade’s extra point made it a 14-7 lead.Herkimer cut into the deficit with a 40-yard field goal by Fahy, making it 14-10 at halftime.After a scoreless third quarter, Herkimer took the lead early in the fourth quarter. Fahy found Myles Malta in the back of the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown pass.Fahy’s extra point put the underdog Magicians ahead 17-14 to the delight of their fans.
Canastota’s chances of a comeback dimmed with turnovers on consecutive possessions.Jeff Merrell fumbled on the ensuing kickoff. Marsh pounded his fists on the field after fumbling the ball on the Raiders’ next drive when trying to wrestle away from a tackler.The Raiders, though, kept playoff aspirations alive with an exhilarating 83-yard, 12-play scoring drive in the nick of time.
“Wow, my heart can’t take this anymore,” Van Slyke said with a few laughs.
Herkimer 0 10 0 7 - 17
Canastota 7 7 0 7 - 21
C: Sam Stagnitti 1 run (Jamie Meade kick)
H: John Bellinger 20 run (Mike Fahy kick)
C: Jake LaBarre 8 run (Meade kick)
H: Fahy 40 FGH: Fahy 3 pass to Myles Malta (Fahy kick)
C: Stagnitti 2 run (Meade kick)