Dylan Casey knows what it's like to provide a difference-making play in a rivalry football game, and now so does Maryvale teammate Ray Blackwell.
After Casey provided the spark that opened the door for a Flyers comeback, Blackwell completed it by catching the go-ahead touchdown with 63 seconds left as Maryvale defeated old friend Cleveland Hill, 30-24, on Saturday afternoon.
An estimated 1,000 at Carl J. Kuras Field at Cleve Hill watched Blackwell make a 5-yard catch in the end zone on a low bullet throw from sophomore quarterback Connor Desiderio and then snag the two-point conversion pass as the Flyers scored the final 22 points of the game - all in the fourth quarter - to capture the nonleague contest between friendly town rivals who hope to be playoff contenders in their respective classifications.
Cleve Hill got as far as Maryvale's 28 on its last possession but two passes to the end zone with under 10 seconds remaining and no timeouts left fell incomplete, enabling the Class B-school Flyers to defeat the defending Section VI Class C champion. It's the fourth straight year in which the outcome of the annual game between the teams hasn't been decided until the last play. It's the second year in a row Maryvale earned the right to celebrate when the clock hit zero.
"This is awesome ... I'm just grateful to help my team," said Blackwell, who finished with eight receptions for 126 yards and two touchdowns and also caught a pair of two-point conversions.
"What kind of rivalry have you seen this kind of action?" triumphant coach Jeff Buccieri said. "I really think this is one of the most underrated rivalries in Western New York. It's such a great rivalry that both coaching staffs and the players we all have respect for each other."
They all have much respect for Casey, Blackwell and Desiderio.
Blackwell, the senior better known for exploits on the basketball court, came out for football for the first time since freshman year.
Despite the layoff, Blackwell didn't miss a beat. He proved to be a reliable target in the passing game, including getting open for a 25-yard catch on third-and-27 on the game-winning drive to put the Flyers in position to extend the possession.
"Today he showed he can be a great football player," Buccieri said. "What a difference-maker."
Maryvale got itself in position for the comeback just when it seemed like the Golden Eagles had seized control for good. Casey's 65-yard kick return touchdown with 11 minutes, 38 seconds left kept hope alive, as it came just after Brett Kochanski's 8-yard touchdown run put Maryvale in a 24-8 hole one play into the fourth quarter. Casey later scored on an 18-yard run with 4:34 left to pull the Flyers within two.
"Last year he returned one that was a difference-maker and this year he got us out of that hole and we were able to get rolling from there," Buccieri said.
"It gave us a little energy," said Casey of the kick return.
"Kick returns are always a momentum shifter," Cleveland Hill coach Glen Graham said. "We had our coverage lanes but we just over ran the ball a little bit. Once he got even with us, we lost all of our angles. It was a heck of play by him."
Although Cleve Hill stuffed the game-tying two-point conversion attempt, it couldn't milk enough time off the clock during its possession, going three and out. Rashad Law followed by returning the punt 37 yards to put the Flyers in a spot where they could drive for the go-ahead score.
They did just that but it wasn't easy. They had to overcome the aforementioned third-and-27 and second-and-19 to earn just their fourth win in the past 12 meetings with Cleveland Hill.
Ryan Majerowski's 95-yard pick six and a 31-yard touchdown run by Aaron Wahler in the second quarter enabled the Golden Eagles to go into halftime with a 16-0 lead.
Maryvale got on the board early in the third quarter on a 12-yard TD pass from Desiderio to Blackwell.
Desiderio shook off two interceptions to finish 13 for 27 passing with two touchdowns and 206 yards. Casey rushed seven times for 55 yards and a TD, while Rashad Law had 74 yards on 11 carries. Wahler led Cleveland Hill with 88 yards on 17 carries.
Maryvale returns to action at home Friday against Pioneer in a Class B1 contest, while Cleve Hill hits the road for a Friday game at Class C North rival Wilson.
Both teams believe they are better prepared for the rigors of their respective league seasons because they once again played a dandy nonleaguer on season-opening weekend.
"We look at this as an opportunity to get you better for your regular season," Buccieri said. "We were down, we never gave up. ... We played against one of the best teams in Western New York. This will serve us well going forward."
"Tough (rivalry) game, a little disappointing but the kids played hard and that's what makes it fun," Glen Graham said.
"For us to play Week One against an opponent that good will only help us down the road."