By Perry L. Novak
Photos – Bob Critser
Herkimer – Holland Patent and Herkimer entered Friday’s football contest with identical records. They ended the game on a fourth-and-inches play near midfield that showed how little separates them.
Needing a first down to run out the clock, HP quarterback Devin Franco did exactly that to enable his team to clinch a 21-18 victory.
“It was a great game,” HP coach Brian Briggs said after Franco’s half-foot quarterback sneak helped his team improve to 2-1 in the league and 5-1 overall. “The kids worked hard (for this) all week.”
As did Herkimer (1-2, 4-2), especially coming off the previous week’s loss at league leader Utica Notre Dame. Coach Alan Steele’s team electrified the Homecoming crowd with Antonio Aceto’s 84-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to start play. The junior made a good cut near midfield to break away from the Golden Knights defense and ran untouched the last 50 yards for a score.
The conversion run failed, though, so the hosts had to settle for a 6-0 lead. It didn’t take long for the Magicians to increase their lead as they used the strong wind at their back to bottle up the visitors. HP managed a first down, but Matt Cano and Mitchell Scherer made good plays defensively moments later to force a punt that went just seven yards for HP.
The teams traded brief possessions then Scherer, Herkimer’s All-State quarterback, drove his team 29 yards in five plays for another TD. Aceto ran for 20 yards on the first play to key the drive and Scherer capped it with a 5-yard TD run. The conversion run with 4:41 left in the first quarter failed, so Herkimer settled for a 12-0 lead.
HP responded with a 60-yard drive that ended with an 8-yard run on the first play of the second quarter. That TD was set up mostly with strong running by Kyle LaPointe, a transfer student finally eligible for his first game. LaPointe’s TD run was followed by a PAT kick by Austin Benoit that cut Herkimer’s lead to 12-7.
A good tackle by Jondre Snyder on Scherer on third down helped HP get the ball back minutes later then solid running by Franco, LaPointe and Hunter Richard, and a pass from Franco to Nico Ramos, had HP close to Herkimer’s goal line. Herkimer’s Andrew Grube came up with a fumble recovery at his team’s 1-yard line, but HP’s defense held tough on the next three plays to force a punt. HP then drove 37 yards in six plays for the go-ahead score. LaPointe had a 19-yard run to the left side in the drive for the biggest gain and scored from nine yards out with 2:15 left in the half. The kick failed, but HP still led 13-12.
Herkimer almost regained the lead before halftime, but a penalty nullified a TD pass from Scherer to Aceto and Dakota Allen had an interception to end Herkimer’s last hope.
The teams traded brief possessions to begin the third period then HP executed a 61-yard drive for an insurance score. Richard, LaPointe, Franco and Alex Herringshaw did all the running and Franco had one pass to Dylan Allen to keep Herkimer on the defensive. Richard capped the drive with a 19-yard TD run. It was his best effort of the game as he went to the right then cut inside to split the defenders. LaPointe’s conversion run with 3:47 left in the period put HP up 21-18.
Herkimer responded like a champion. Scherer’s running sparked a 62-yard drive and Aceto scored on a 9-yard run early in the fourth period to end it. The conversion run failed again, so Herkimer trailed 21-18 with 11:10 to play.
HP earned three first downs before turning the ball over to Herkimer with 5:20 to play. The hosts hurt themselves with three penalties during their drive but still managed to get inside the HP 40. Steele’s team came up just short on a fourth down play with 2:46 to play, so HP simply needed to make a first down to secure the win.
It wasn’t simple at all. Herringshaw was stopped for no gain on the first play by a handful of tacklers then LaPointe ran for nine yards on second down. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound senior fumbled at the end of the run, but a teammate recovered it a yard short of a first down. Herringshaw was then stopped for no gain, leaving Briggs with the decision of going for it on fourth and inches at his 45 yard line with 1:18 to play or punting into the wind and taking the chance on a bad snap in the windy and rain-slickened conditions. The young coach gambled and won when Franco earned the first down by inches on a quarterback sneak. HP ran out the clock from there.
“It was a great game,” Briggs said. “We needed this for the playoffs.”
LaPointe led HP in rushing with 21 carries for 143 yards. Scherer led Herkimer with 25 carries for 110 yards.
HP 0 13 8 0 – 21
Herkimer 12 0 0 6 – 18
Herk: Antonio Aceto 84 kickoff ret. (run failed)
Herk: Mitchell Scherer 5 run (run failed)
HP: Kyle LaPointe 8 run (Austin Benoit kick)
HP: LaPointe 9 run (kick failed)
HP: Hunter Richard 19 run (LaPointe run)
Herk: Aceto 9 run (run failed)
Records: HP 2-1, 5-1; Herkimer 1-2, 4-2.