High School Football: Eden’s good fortune runs out in sectionals
Eden had made a season out of winning the close game. Despite being a junior-laden squad, the Raiders found a way to go 6-1 in the regular season, winning three of those games by two or less points and a fourth by six in triple overtime.
But the Raiders good fortune in close games came to a screeching halt in the first round of the playoffs. After Eden dominated for much of the first half but could only manage to take a six-point lead into the break, Springville scored 12 unanswered points to steal a Class B quarterfinal 12-6 at the host Raiders in less than ideal conditions with rainy weather and on a sloppy field Saturday (Oct. 20).
It was Eden’s fourth straight playoff appearance under head coach Chuck Tilley but a third straight opening round exit since moving up into Class B. This was Tilley’s youngest team of the four, but still the Raiders had managed to earn a South Division title.
“This is the difference between a team with a lot of seniors and a team with a lot of juniors and they started wearing us a down a little bit (in the second half),” Tilley said. “We had a couple more opportunities early in the game, where we should have had at least one more score, and we had an opportunity where we did get a field goal, but probably should have gotten a touchdown.”
Close games nearly kept Springville out of the playoffs, but the Griffins rallied from an 0-4 start to win their final three regular season games before capturing a first playoff win since the 1994, playing as the sixth seed at No. 3 Eden.
One of those losses earlier in the season was to Eden in that triple OT game. In that contest, Springville failed to score on a number of drives that ended in Eden territory, while giving up a fourth quarter kick return touchdown to send the game to overtime.
“We’ve dealt with a lot of adversity this year, so I don’t think this was anything particularly new for us,” Springville head coach John Sopko said. “They’ve learned about adversity and how to deal with it over the last three years of rebuilding the program. I’m very proud of the way we played, especially on defense.”
While the defense was a constant throughout the game, holding the Raiders out of the end zone, Springville’s offense came alive in the final two quarters. The Griffins continued to run their triple option offense but opened up some space with two and three receivers split outside.
The results were immediate. Senior fullback Chris Phinney busted a 50-yard run up the middle on only the third play from scrimmage in the second half. He finished with 111 yards on 12 carries, after being held to just three yards in the first half. He also recorded 14 tackles from his linebacker spot on defense.
“It feels awesome. It’s amazing and crazy to think that we finally beat these guys,” said Phinney, who experienced defeating Eden for the first time in four tries in this his third year with the varsity. “Our line just got a better push and we were able to run the ball to the inside and outside a little better (in the second half).”
The game-winning score came with just 3:30 left in the final quarter when Josh Cieslica ran into the end zone from 19 yards out, finishing off an 85-yard drive in just seven plays and less than three minutes. Tyler Conklin added a 29-yard run during the drive.
It was an amazing turn around for Springville, which turned the ball over twice and picked up only one first down in the first half. The Griffins gained 208 yards on the ground in the second half without needing one completed pass from quarterback Billy Dickinson.
“We just played the way we’re capable of, which we didn’t do in the first half,” Sopko said. “I went into the playbook and pulled out the trips formation. The offensive line is the defensive line, so I asked them to play offensively like they were defensively. We ran our offense; we didn’t do anything out of the norm. We spread the field a little more, our quarterback made his dive reads correctly and the fullback is a man, so he ran like a man.”
Eden received field goals from 25 and 23 yards out from junior Kyle Gibbon to get out to a 6-0 halftime lead. Like last week in a game it was able to pull out, 8-7 over Southwestern, Eden was unable to take advantage of a number of opportunities.
The Raiders were deep inside Springville territory on three occasions in the first half and got no points. Once they were intercepted and twice they turned the ball over on downs.
Before the first field goal, which was kicked with 1:29 left in the second quarter, Eden quarterback Mike Sarratori and running back Alex Smythe ran into one another on a botched formation as a receiver ran open in the end zone on third-and-goal.
After Connor Gallivan picked up a fumble on Springville’s ensuing drive, the Raiders had to settle once again for a field goal when they were unable to score on consecutive plays from the Springville eight- and then five-yard-line. Also recovering a first half fumble for Eden was junior linebacker Kyle Wagner, who added two sacks.
“We knew sooner or later that if they kept running their stuff, they would pop a couple and it happened,” Tilley said of Springville’s second half spurt. “Our kids battled. The game was very similar to the first game (the teams played this season). We could have won this football game. We had a our chances, but we didn’t take advantage, at least not enough.”
Smythe did return after missing the last three weeks due to an illness. The junior standout hit a few big runs but many times was stifled by a tough Springville defense which allowed just two rushing scores this entire season. Smythe, who scored one of those TDs in the game earlier this season, rushed for 56 yards on 15 carries Saturday. Junior fullback Garrett DiStefano added 43 yards on nine carries.
Springville’s defensive effort was also led by senior lineman Tyler Studd and junior lineman Brandon Ball, both of whom were in on a number of plays for losses. Nate Wolcott added an interception and sack for Springville, while Ryan Cordova contributed a sack.
Also for Eden, DiStefano and Gallivan shared a sack and Jon Lyndsley made a number of key stops from his linebacker position.
The win was also a bit of redemption for Eden running away with a game over Springville in last year’s season finale in conditions very similar to those of Saturday as both team’s competed for a final playoff spot.
“It was good `ole Eden/Springville football,” Sopko said. “Historically, we’ve had some good head knockers.”
While Springville moves on to play at Cheektowaga, Eden will host a consolation game against Lew-Port next week. The game would have served as a homecoming for Tilley who used to coach at Cheektowaga and still teaches in the district at the high school.