By MICHAEL KELLY/Recorder Sports Staff
FONDA — For the second time in as many home games, the Fonda-Fultonville Braves left John G. Boshart Field dazed, stunned and wondering what exactly had just happened.
Playing in front of a Homecoming and Senior Day crowd, the Braves jumped out to a 15-point lead minutes into Saturday’s non-league contest with the Cobleskill-Richmondville Bulldogs.
But when F-F quarterback Russ Williams’ fourth-down pass to Brandon Baker with just more than a minute to play went incomplete, the Braves’ lineup and sideline could do little but exchange stunned looks with one another, as C-R took a pair of knees to finish out its 19-15 victory.
Even C-R (2-4) head coach Ed Hantho could not seem to totally fathom how his team had pulled off the comeback victory. Mired in an injury-plagued season and coming off a 62-0 loss to Schalmont a week ago, the Bulldogs limped into Saturday’s game.
“I don’t know,” said Hantho, with a smile on his face that suggested he didn’t much care, either.
“I mean, we’ve struggled all year long with injuries and just getting in sync,” continued Hantho. “You know, we just decided … that if we were going to play with these guys, with the speed they have, we were going to have to go right at them and that’s what we did.”
In the first quarter, it was F-F (3-2) that took it right to the opposition, as the Braves showed off an embarrassment of riches in the game’s opening minutes. Tailback Pat Hart — who had 143 rushing yards on 29 carries — had a 32-yard run on the Braves’ first play from scrimmage and, just a few plays later, Williams found the 6-foot-7-inch Will Turner in the end zone for a score.
Not content with getting up an early seven points, the Braves executed a trick play on their extra-point attempt, as Jake Sammons flipped a pass to Baker to give F-F an early eight-point lead.
The margin quickly grew, as C-R fumbled away its first possession on its second play from scrimmage, setting up F-F at the Bulldogs’ 20-yard line. Three plays later, Williams found tight end Kevin Twardzik for another touchdown.
Just like that, the Braves were up 15-0 with not even six minutes off the clock.
“We were kind of shell-shocked,” Hantho said.
But, then, something really weird happened. After the two teams traded possessions that ended in punts, C-R’s offense managed to simply keep the F-F offense from touching the ball. From when the Bulldogs got the ball back for their third possession to the end of the game, C-R controlled the football for 25 minutes, 27 seconds; in that same span, F-F had possession for 10 minutes, 23 seconds.
The thing that made that weirder: C-R’s offense did not overwhelm the F-F defense, as the Bulldogs had multiple drives that lasted longer than nine minutes that failed to result in points. Notably, C-R’s third possession took 10 minutes, 25 seconds — but the Bulldogs did not put up any points.
Instead, C-R was able to use a few timely runs and several key short passes to keep the Braves’ offense off the field.
“Our defensive line made some mistakes,” said F-F senior defensive tackle Eric Moyer. “Especially with their screen passes; we should have been able to read those better — but, we didn’t.”
When F-F’s defense was able to get the ball back for its offense, the Braves squandered one opportunity after another. Williams threw two interceptions in the second half, and Hart and Williams combined to fumble away the Braves’ first possession of the third quarter when the two could not connect on a handoff on the drive’s first play.
The Braves’ biggest turnover came early in the fourth quarter. With F-F clinging to a 15-13 lead after touchdown runs from C-R’s Matt Davenport and Marcus Mack in the second half, Williams dropped back and attempted a screen pass to Hart.
The play had worked several times this season for the Braves, but F-F had used the ploy enough times that C-R’s Mike Green was ready for it. The senior intercepted the lofted toss and returned it 27 yards for the go-ahead — and game-winning — touchdown.
“We had seen that (play on film) and we’d yelled out to him, ‘Mike, you got to watch out for that screen, they liked to come to [your] side with it.’ And, sure enough, he saw the way [the Braves] set up in their alignment and he jumped it and made a phenomenal play to get in front of it and take it to the end zone,” Hantho said.
Still, the Braves had two chances to take back the lead. After F-F’s first drive ended on an interception thrown by Williams, Sammons intercepted a pass from C-R quarterback Seth Billington to set the Braves up at their own 45-yard line with more than three minutes to play.
Swiftly, F-F moved down to the C-R 20-yard line. But, then, the Braves’ momentum stalled and they found themselves facing a fourth-and-11. Williams made the right read on the play and found an open Baker at the 7-yard line, but the throw was behind the junior wide receiver. Baker tried to arch back for the ball, but he was unable to corral the pass.
“That was definitely on me,” said Williams, who finished 8-of-15 for 77 yards with a pair of touchdowns and interceptions.
“I had to make a better throw there and, if I do, we get the first down — and possibly the touchdown to win the game,” a glum Williams said.
Both Moyer and Williams described the Braves’ postgame locker room as “dead.”
“There was no talking at all,” said Moyer. “Nobody said a word.”
F-F head coach Tom Carpenter said his team “should be” crushed after Saturday’s lackadaisical effort. But, he said, the Braves will regroup and look to use Saturday’s result as motivation going forwards.
“We’ve got to try and build on this and come together. It can go one of two ways: We can build on it and come together in this next week and play better, or, you know …” Carpenter said, trailing off and opting not to list the negative turn the Braves’ season could take after Saturday’s game.
“We’ve got to get better,” he later said. “We have to play better. That’s the biggest thing.”