DEXTER General Browns season was in severe jeopardy, with 62 yards to go for the winning touchdown and just 35.4 seconds left on the clock.
But Lions quarterback Richard Lagano sensed a calm in the huddle as his club gathered for one last foray to protect their unbeaten record.
Two plays later, after connecting with Colton Erb on a 46-yard catch and run play, Lagano bought some time before spotting David Pitre alone near the sidelines. Pitre made a leaping catch and bulled into the end zone for a 16-yard score with 9.3 seconds left to give third-seeded General Brown an improbable 33-30 Section 3 Class D-1 quarterfinal win over Utica Notre Dame on Friday night at Fisher Field.
General Brown (7-0) will meet second-seeded Skaneateles, a 49-22 winner over Sherburne-Earlville, in the semifinals next weekend at a site and time to be determined.
But it will take the Lions some time to digest what happened Friday, including an hour delay to allow a helicopter to transport Utica Notre Dames Jordan Crobak to a trauma center in Syracuse after suffering a possible concussion early in the fourth quarter.
Thats one of the most emotional games Ive ever been a part of, said General Brown coach Tom Frears, whose club fell behind 17-0 and saw its shutout streak snapped at five games. I feel bad for Notre Dame because they really battled after the kid got hurt. But it also affected my kids. They just kept their heads and were determined not to give up until the final whistle.
After General Brown seized a 26-23 lead on a Zech Pitre 1-yard run with just 1:18 left to play, the Jugglers (4-3) shocked the Lions by regaining the lead with less than a minute to go.
Notre Dame sophomore quarterback Kevin Warmack, who passed for 344 yards and three scores, launched a pass into the end zone that Zane Smith caught between two defenders to put the Jugglers on top 30-26 with only 41.4 ticks left on the clock.
Taking over at their own 38, the Lions were in desperate straights. But Lagano looked as cool as New Englands Tom Brady.
My line has not allowed a sack in seven games, so I had a lot of confidence I could make some plays at the end, said Lagano, who also threw a 24-yard TD pass to Peter Will in the second quarter. The first pass to Colton, he really made a tough run. The TD to David I kind of looked left first then saw him open. Once he caught it, I knew hed get in.
With one last chance from the General Brown 34, Warmack was sacked by Jordan Schofield.
The Lions got a huge game from sophomore running back Zech Pitre, who rushed for 212 yards on 29 tough carries and scored on a 24-yard run. He said the victory was all about our will to win and us never giving up. Thats just not us.
Despite the win, the Lions have a lot to correct, especially on pass defense, before taking on one of the top quarterbacks in the section in Conor Herr of Skaneateles.
Warmack, who reminded Frears of former Westmoreland quarterback Reuben Santiago with his elusiveness and accuracy, completed 17 of 24 passes.
The problem was we didnt put much pressure on him, and he just waited until receivers got open, Frears said. We made a few defensive adjustments and slowed him down a little the second half.
Warmack hit Smith for a 21-yard TD on the fourth play from scrimmage, and Smith booted the PAT and a 27-yard field goal later in the first quarter.
General Brown then yielded a 26-yard Warmack-to-Vincent Sorce touchdown pass early in the second quarter.
General Brown finally broke through with 1:56 left before halftime with Lagano passing 24 yards to Will for a score.
The Lions then went 65 yards in 14 plays for a second score to begin the second half with Erb finishing off the drive on a 1-yard run.
Following a Will interception, General Brown drove 92 yards in 10 plays, and Pitres 24-yard scamper gave the Lions their first lead, 20-17.
Crobak was hurt with 11:07 left in the fourth quarter when he took a hit trying for a reception. When the game resumed, Warmack completed a couple of big passes that set up Sorces 1-yard TD run to make it 23-20.
But Zech Pitre sparked an ensuing 74-yard General Brown march, and his short run made it 26-23, setting up the frantic final minute.
I told the kids if we play like that, Skaneateles will beat us 100-0, Frears joked. It was a sloppy, but well-played game on both sides. Its too bad somebody had to lose.