CARTHAGE General Brown needed a defensive stop it had trouble executing the entire game.
Immaculate Heart Central desperately sought a long, time-consuming drive for what it hoped would be the tying points after a game of offensive frustration.
With the game on the line Saturday for both teams, the Lions and Cavaliers got the job done in the closing minutes of their Section 3 Class C football semifinals.
General Brown stopped a Kevin Warmack 2-point conversion run with 36 seconds left to preserve a 35-33 victory in the first semifinal.
IHC drove 64 yards in 18 plays in the fourth quarter and scored the tying touchdown on a short Mike Marra run with just over a minute left. Luis Janer then booted the winning PAT as the Cavaliers survived in a 13-12 win over Thousand Islands in the second game.
That set up a second General Brown-IHC battle at noon next Sunday in the Carrier Dome for the Section 3 Class C championship. IHC won the first meeting, 28-26, in the last game of the regular season.
GENERAL BROWN 35, NOTRE DAME 33
The Lions defense had chased Warmack, the mercurial Jugglers junior quarterback, all over Comet Field without much success. He accumulated 500 total yards, 254 rushing on 39 carries and two scores, and 246 passing with two more touchdowns.
But General Brown denied Warmack just inches from the goal line on Notre Dames potential game-tying conversion try, sending the Lions back to the Dome for the fifth time in the last 10 years.
Hes by far the best quarterback Ive ever faced, said General Browns Zech Pitre, who was among those in on the final defensive stop. We just had to put everything on that last play and hope our toughness won out.
Said fellow linebacker Rob Pickeral: We pretty much figured Warmack would carry the ball. I thought hed try to get outside because he had been beating us there all game. But when he cut back, we had three or four guys waiting for him.
The referees conferred to determine if Warmacks knee had come down short of the goal line. When the ruling was confirmed, Lions fans and players rejoiced.
You just hope to string out a play like that, and we did, said General Brown coach Steve Fisher. That kid was unbelievable. He cut so quickly and was so smart running the ball. But I think our conditioning really paid off, especially at the end.
Pitre, General Browns junior running back, ran for 162 yards on 26 carries and scored three touchdowns, including the go-ahead 9-yard TD run with 6:23 remaining. Joe Pitre also scored on two short third-quarter runs, and Jacob Wojasinki booted all five PATs for the eventual winning points.
I think we finally wore them down the second half, said Zech Pitre. Once we got a couple of defensive stops, it gave us some momentum.
After Pitres last score, Warmack hit Vincent Loconti for a 20-yard touchdown on a third-and-15 pass play with 36 seconds left. But Warmack said hed like to have that final conversion play back.
Im not sure if I got in or not, he said. But I dont think I ran hard enough, either. Thats a tough loss to swallow.
Warmack scored on runs of 8 yards in the first quarter, 2 yards in the second and 33 yards in the third quarter as the game went back and forth. His other TD pass came on a 79-yard strike to Jerome Brabham in the third quarter.
I dont know how many times we just about had him, but he got away for a big gain, Pickeral said. But I do think he looked a little tired at the end.
Fisher said his club won the way it always does: With determination and guts. We certainly have some defensive adjustments to make before next week. But we just beat a good team with a great player.
IHC 13, THOUSAND ISLANDS 12
Its potent passing game held in check by an aggressive Thousand Islands defense and a game-long drizzle, IHC went back to a tried-and-true formula to head back to the Dome for the first time since losing the Class D title game to Dolgeville in 2008.
Relying on its offensive line, the Cavaliers called 17 running plays on its final drive, which led to Marras short TD plunge and Janers winning kick.
I guess we proved we can still run the ball, said IHC coach Paul Alteri, whose team also had two interceptions and lost two fumbles. Our game plan had to change because of their great defensive scheme. So we asked our line to take charge of the game. And our backs (Marra and Austyn Frechette) really ran hard on the final drive.
Marra, battling a sprained ankle that has been bothering him much of the season, carried 13 times during the drive, gaining 46 tough yards.
When the games on the line, you forget about injuries and just grind it out, Marra said. The line opened up some really nice holes a for us.
IHC converted four third-down plays during the march.
After the score, Janer calmly split the uprights with his winning boot. He had missed his first after converting 33 the first eight games.
Hes just a quiet, nice kid, said Alteri, whose family acts as the host for the foreign exchange student. He had never played football, but I talked him into it.
After the kick, Thousand Islands Tavis Anderson returned the ensuing kickoff to the IHC 44 before Jude Whalen stopped him. On the Vikings first play, coach Joe Gilfus called a gadget play with his line lining up left of the ball and snapped the ball directly to Miles Kearns behind the wall.
IHC seemed to be confused, but drew a break when Kearns fumbled the ball and IHCs Peyton Shorkey recovered.
We practice that play and had used it about six weeks ago, Gilfus said. I think it would have worked well because they looked confused.
Anderson scored on a 10-yard run in the first quarter and a 24-yard run in the fourth for Thousand Islands (5-4). But IHC blocked both extra points.
Frechettes 1-yard TD run in the third quarter accounted for IHCs other score.
Now weve accomplished three of our four goals, said IHC defensive end Cody St. Onge. We won our division, beat General Brown and made it to the Dome. The championship game is going to be epic.
Gilfus said he couldnt be prouder of his kids. Weve come so far, but this hurts, he said. The kids have bought into our system this year and really worked hard. Hopefully, it will mean good things for the future.