Lancaster football coach Eric Rupp said he wouldn’t be surprised if Victor winds up earning the right to be called state champions in two weeks.
If that happens, the Legends can at least take comfort knowing they had a chance at making the trip to Syracuse instead of the top-ranked team in New York.
Oh, what might have been?
Early turnovers and the inability to come up with a defensive stop during the final 5 minutes, 49 seconds foiled Lancaster’s quest of advancing to the state semifinals for the first time as the Blue Devils held on for a 33-27 victory in the Class AA Far West Regional.
An estimated 1,100 watched Victor amassed 61 of its 308 rushing yards on the day during the game’s final possession to close the door on one of the best seasons in the history of Lancaster football. Those fans also watched the unbeaten Blue Devils (11-0) turn two first-quarter turnovers into 14 points to put the Legends (10-1) in catch-up mode.
A Lancaster offense that came into Saturday afternoon’s contest averaging 41.8 points per game almost completed the rally. Victor’s running game killed it, as that prevented a Legends defense that forced four turnovers during last week’s sectional win from coming up with the vital stop to give its offense a chance at stealing a late triumph.
“We stayed in the game as long as we could,” said Max Giordano, who caught three passes for 66 yards, including a 35-yard touchdown that pulled the Legends within 27-20 midway through the third quarter. “The last drive, they did what they needed to do (to secure the win).”
“Their whole team is really strong,” Rupp said. “I’m really proud of my kids. It would’ve been easy to pack it in but they never gave up.”
The Legends battled, pulling within 33-27 with 2 seconds left in the third quarter on Zach Samborski’s 9-yard touchdown run.
Lancaster forced a turnover on downs with just under seven minutes left at its 35 to give itself a chance at completing the rally. The offense went three-and-out. Still, a beautiful punt by Leugim Castillo enabled Lancaster to down the ball at the Devils’ 16.
A great chance at gaining decent field position for a potential final drive for the win except Victor’s big offensive line didn’t let the Legends come up with that crucial defensive stop. The unit kept opening holes for Mitchell Spindler and Zack Estabrooks, keeping Lancaster’s offense off the field.
The duo combined for 286 rushing yards with Spindler finishing with 223 on 34 carries and touchdowns of 9 and 63 yards.
“LG had been punting the ball great,” Rupp said. “I wanted to flip the field, use our two remaining timeouts and get a stop.”
It almost worked but Victor converted third-and-6 and fourth-and-1 plays to earn a state semifinal date with Central Region champion Syracuse CBA of Section III next Saturday at Cicero-North Syracuse High School.
Lancaster, ranked fourth in the state and appearing in regionals for the first time since 1999, seemed poise to score the game’s first points. The Legends marched from their own 23 to Victor’s 13 in nine plays. Kordell Jackson made the first of his two interceptions on the 10th play of the drive as he got a hold of a tipped Ryan Mansell pass and nearly turned it into a pick-six. Samborski made a TD saving tackle at Lancaster’s 9. The Blue Devils scored on the next play as Spindler ran it in from the 9.
Twenty-one seconds later, Ryan Fries recovered an Andrew Hersey fumble at Lancaster’s 31. That set up Estabrooks’ 4-yard touchdown run that made it 14-0.
Castillo proved to be a handful for the Blue Devils but really made his presence felt toward the end of the first and second quarter. Lancaster’s 6-foot-3, 225-pound speedster scored on a 69-yard pass down the left sideline with 52 seconds left in the first to make it 14-7. He returned a kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown before halftime to pull the Legends within 27-14. He finished with five catches for 106 yards and averaged 39 yards on four punts.
Victor kept him and the rest of Lancaster’s skilled offensive players off the field for all but a minute of the fourth quarter.
“We tried to come back,” said Legends linebacker Joe Andreessen, who finished with a game-high 16 tackles. “We just fell short.”