on November 17, 2013 - 12:45 AM
, updated November 17, 2013 at 12:47 AM
ROCHESTER — Before every game, Cleveland Hill players bring the “Hammer Totem,” out on to the field. It’s a staff with a blue-and-gold banner at its top, complete with two hammers embroidered into it, and it’s awarded to the player who had the hardest hit in the previous contest.
That Hammer Totem, and this Cleveland Hill team, are going further than any Golden Eagles have gone before.
Senior Brandon Thomas ran for 214 yards and two long touchdowns, senior quarterback Aaron Jackson threw for two scores, and Cleveland Hill got hammer-like impact from every aspect of its team in a 46-20 victory over Wayland-Cohocton in Saturday afternoon’s Class C Far West Regionals.
The victory, witnessed by about 600 at Sahlen’s Stadium, earned the Golden Eagles their first trip to the state semifinals, which will have them back at Sahlen’s next week.
“The hammer totem is basically the heart of our team,” said 5-foot-4, 205-pound senior Josh White, who was carrying it after the postgame celebration. “This is what we strive to be: Hammers. The whole team. That’s what we strive to be, the hardest-hitting team.”
The Golden Eagles (11-0) will face Section IV (Binghamton area) champion Chenango Forks, which beat Section III (Syracuse area) winner General Brown, 35-18, Saturday.
The Class C semifinals are at noon Saturday at Sahlen’s, and the winner will advance to the state championship game at Syracuse’s Carrier Dome at noon on Dec. 1.
“All we keep talking about is playing for each other, and playing together, and that means everybody who gets an opportunity to play,” said 11th-year Cleveland Hill coach Glen Graham. “A lot of guys don’t notice the guy who makes a big play on the kick team who helps make a short field for our offense, or the guy who’s not one of the quote-unquote marquee players but still continuing to make a big play.
“This team has bought into all of that, and that’s why they’re having the success they’re having.”
Cleveland Hill, one of Section VI’s most successful small-school programs, had been 0 for 3 in regional play, including a 27-6 loss to Hornell last year that helped the Golden Eagles understand that they weren’t too far away.
“This is a huge step,” said Graham, “but last year even though we got beat by a great Hornell team, it was a big stepping stone for us.
“That’s because we proved to ourselves that we belong at the regional level and that we had a chance to break through.”
“Because of Hornell, we knew we could come out and execute,” said Jackson. “That’s what we did today. We pulled it off. It’s just a family thing. We’re going to celebrate, then it’s back to it on Monday.”
Jackson, a 5-8 senior, was 7-of-11 passing for 107 yards and his two touchdowns were the first two scores of the game — a 29-yarder to senior Jared Watkins and a 8-yarder to senior Wayne Jones.
“The biggest thing is that we’ve got a lot of momentum and we know we’ll carry it into next week,” said Thomas, a 5-9, 180-pound senior who had his 214 yards on 19 carries, including touchdowns of 80 and 40 yards. “It’s huge for our community and everyone is psyched up about it.”
Cleveland Hill took a 22-0 lead with 9:45 left in the second quarter when senior Keon Crawford, all 6-feet and 305 pounds of him, bounced a run to the outside for a 3-yard score.
The Eagles of Wayland-Cohocton, coming off their first Section V title, made it 22-6 at halftime and were within 22-12 in the third quarter before Clevelane Hill added more big plays.
Thomas’ 80 run was followed by junior Grayson Taylor recovering a muffed punt in the end zone for a 38-12 lead heading to the fourth quarter.
“It’s a fantastic feeling,” said Graham. “We talked all week about all of the work that this team did, all of the things that you do when nobody’s around, lifting weights, the passing leagues, team camps, individual camps. This group has bought in and has done a fantastic job developing themselves and I’m proud to be associated with them.”