ROCHESTER – Sweet Home has been known for its quickness for years.
On Friday night, the Panthers used some powerful bursts to earn a trip back to the Carrier Dome.
Sweet Home scored two touchdowns in the first 2:35 of the second half to gain control of its Class A state semifinal, and it would never let go as it went on to a 40-22 victory over Union-Endicott before an estimated 900 at Sahlen’s Stadium.
Senior Michael McCoy ran for a 65-yard touchdown on the second half’s first play from scrimmage, and sophomore standout Brad Zaffram’s interception less than a minute later set up Zaffram’s 2-yard score. The two touchdowns flipped Sweet Home’s three-point halftime deficit (22-19) into a 33-22 lead, and the Panthers would shut out the Tigers for the entire second half.
“It’s a great win,” said 27th-year Sweet Home coach John Faller. “I told them at halftime, ‘You’ve got a chance to get to Syracuse, you may never get another chance the rest of your playing career.’ I said, ‘We get the ball in that third quarter, let’s come out and do something.’ And we did.”
Sweet Home (12-0) will play in its third state championship game in five seasons. The Panthers won championships in 2008 and 2009 at Syracuse’s Carrier Dome, and their opponent next week will be a familiar one. Sweet Home will play the team it beat in both of those state finals, Section II (Albany area) champion Burnt Hills, at 3 p.m. next Friday.
Burnt Hills (11-1) scored a 28-13 victory over Section IX champion Cornwall on Friday night in Kingston. This will be Burnt Hills’ fourth trip to the state championship game in five years; it has yet to win a title.
“It’s been a dream since eighth grade,” McCoy said of the trip to the Carrier Dome. “Everybody got a little emotional on the sidelines once time ran out. It’s just a great feeling.”
Union-Endicott (9-2), the champion of Section IV (Binghamton area), took advantage of its interception of Panthers senior quarterback Mike Torrillo (12-21, 174 yards, one TD, two INTs) in the final minute of the second quarter to score a touchdown that gave it a 22-19 lead with nine seconds left in the first half.
The Panthers quickly turned things around after halftime.
On the first play from scrimmage in the second half, McCoy ran an end-around from the right side to the left, gained the corner and sprinted down the left sideline for a 65-yard score 17 seconds after halftime.
“I knew it was coming my way, so I had to make a big play,” McCoy said. “We needed it.”
“I looked right, and looked left, and he’s running down by himself,” Torrillo said of McCoy’s run. “I was like, ‘Wow.’ We knew we were in good shape. Everyone was calm in the locker room. We were down three, we knew we got the ball back – we were just hurting ourselves.”
Zaffram leaped to nab an interception of a pass thrown by junior Joey Orlando (11-35, 204 yards, three TDs, one INT) to set up Sweet Home at the U-E 30. The 6-foot, 205-pound Zaffram, who had a tremendous all-around game (nine tackles and a TD reception), ran in from 2 yards out with 9:25 left in the third quarter.
“He’s a kid that doesn’t come off the field,” said Faller. “He’s 16 years old and he lets his presence be known out there. And he does it in a great football way, he’s a solid kid all the way.”
Sweet Home also scored three touchdowns in the second quarter after it fell behind, 14-0, after the first. The Panthers added a fourth-quarter touchdown in a flash when senior Josh Roe pickpocketed Orlando as he went back to pass, ripping the ball away and returning it 12 yards for a 40-22 Sweet Home lead with 9:09 left.
Section VI is coming off a successful Far West Regional round, where it matched its best performances ever by winning four of five games.
With Randolph winning in Class D, Section VI will send two teams to the state championships next week. Alden (Class B) and Orchard Park (AA) will get their chance today. Section VI won four out of five Far West Regional games from Section V (Rochester area) last week to earn its four spots in the semifinals.
Sweet Home has a 3-0 record in state semifinal games.
“It’s the greatest feeling in the world,” Zaffram said. “The only feeling that could top this is a winning a state championship.”