Sweet Home added an unbelievable chapter to its football program’s vaunted history Friday night, and its resume may have had more than a little to do with ability to do so.
The Panthers seemed to muster up championship drives of the teams that have come before them to earn a stirring, had-to-be-seen-to-be-believed, 28-21 overtime victory over Section V champion Eastridge Friday night before an estimated 2,000 at All High Stadium.
Sweet Home won the Class A Far West Regional game to earn its third trip to the state final four by scoring two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, including a game-tying score with 49.8 seconds left in regulation. It then won the game after one round of overtime -- when senior Michael Torrillo hit senior Michael McCoy on a 19-yard touchdown on a fourth-and-goal.
“What more can you ask from high school kids than to go down and perform like that?” said Sweet Home coach John Faller, whose program won state championships in 2008 and 2009 and has a 60-game win streak against Section VI opponents. “They say a lot about winning, and our streak and everything, but that winning builds success and it breeds success, and it showed here tonight.”
Playing in its sixth straight regional game, in which the Section VI champions meet their counterparts from Section V (Rochester area) for the right to advance to the state final four, Sweet Home rallied despite being outplayed for much of the game and trailing, 21-7, entering the fourth quarter.
“I’ll remember this game for the rest of my life, this team is my family,” said Torrillo, who completed 12 of 19 passes for 141 yards and also ran eight times for 62 yards. “We just all stuck together and found a way to pull it out.”
Sweet Home scored on its first possession in overtime, and in dramatic fashion. It had the ball on offense first, starting on its 20, and earned a first down before getting pushed back by the Eastridge defense. On fourth-and-goal from the 19, Torrillo had time in the pocket and he found a wide-open McCoy on the left side of the end zone.
“When we were in the huddle, he gave me that look and I sort of knew it was coming my way,” said McCoy, who also had an interception on defense.
Eastridge’s first possession of overtime went four plays and out. Sweet Home stopped three runs by senior quarterback Alec Mortillaro, then, on fourth-and-3 from the 13, a pass to the right side of the end zone went incomplete to end the game.
Sweet Home (11-0) will play Section IV (Binghamton area) champion Union-Endicott (9-1) next Friday at 8 p.m. at Sahlen’s Stadium in Rochester. U-E defeated Section III (Syracuse area) champion Nottingham, 34-23, Friday night.
Sweet Home scored the first touchdown of the night, but Eastridge dominated the middle of the game behind the explosive running of 5-foot-9, 185-pound senior Jeremiah Ortiz (124 yards on 28 carries) and dual-threat senior quarterback Alec Mortillaro (20 carries, 73 yards; 4-5, 70 yards passing, two touchdowns).
The Lancers (10-1) took a 13-7 halftime lead which they extended to 21-7 thanks to an impressive second half-opening drive that ended with Mortillaro finding Ortiz for an 18-yard touchdown pass.
Sweet Home made it 21-14 on a run by Jordan Evert and had to punt on its next drive, but it got one last chance when it stopped Eastridge’s fake field-goal attempt on fourth-and-7 at the Panthers’ 12.
The Panthers then drove down the field, reaching the Eastridge 3. Sweet Home then went to its double-wing formation nicknamed “Big Bird” and Evert ran in for his third touchdown of the game.