KINGSTON, N.Y. – Down 12-7 with less than 10 minutes remaining in the New York State Class B football regional final, Croton’s resilient Tigers stopped a drive deep in their own territory, then drove 71 yards to score the go-ahead touchdown in a nail-biting 15-12 victory over Schalmont at Dietz Stadium Saturday night.
The still unbeaten Tigers (11-0) earned a trip to next Sunday’s Thanksgiving weekend Class B state championship final to be played at the Syracuse University Carrier Dome and avenged last year’s 28-14 loss to Schalmont in the regional final. The Tigers will meet two-time defending state champ Hornell at 3 p.m.
“It’s not just this group of kids,” an emotional Croton coach John Catano said. “Football is so demanding and you become a family through the year. We didn’t play our best game, made mistakes, but we made every play we needed to make to win the game.”
Sophomore Trevor Wolstencroft blasted into the end zone from less than a yard out with 3:34 remaining to finish the long game-winning drive during which the Tigers bulled, slanted, countered and passed their way down the field. Quarterback Jesse Mainiero, who rushed for 66 yards and threw for 70 yards in the game, gained 33 on the game-winning drive and was named the Outstanding Offensive Player.
“We just had to make a defensive play in our end and we came up big against a very good team,” said Tigers linebacker and Defensive Player of the Game Kyle Ricciardi. “This was a team effort in every way. The offense was going to score. They just kept it moving the ball to score and then we stopped them again.”
The Tigers, who have won two consecutive Section 1 Class B titles and three of the last four, opened the scoring in the first quarter on a 6-yard run by Mainiero and added an extra point for 7-0 lead. Schalmont answered in the second quarter with a touchdown but failed on the point after and the Tigers led 7-6 at the half.
Schalmont took a sudden 12-7 lead late in the third quarter on a sweeping 48-yard touchdown run by Devon Willis and it looked as if the Tigers were stunned, but the deficit just inspired and focused the effort. The big defensive stop on their own 29 fired up the offense that had been shut down since the early scoring drive.
“I can’t really describe it right now,” linebacker Matt Gennarelli said. “The first drive and the last drive really showed how strong a team we are. Coming together on that last scoring drive really described the whole season. We have a lot of leadership here and our captains really help us keep our composure. It’s a great group of people, coaches, players, everyone.”
Wolstencroft gained 68 yards and teammate Nick Grous ran for 74 yards to help move the Tigers offense.