Iroquois nose tackle Jeff Sley made his feelings known in the locker room with his team trailing at halftime. "Why are we looking at each other? Each one of us needs to make a play," he said.
In an edge-of-your-seat contest loaded with game-changing plays, Sley perhaps made the biggest with 27 seconds left when he stopped Hamburg's two-point conversion that would have won the game.
Instead, it was Iroquois that escaped with a dramatic 20-19 victory in a battle of previously undefeated teams. The Class A game was played on the new turf at Hamburg's Howe Field before a homecoming crowd estimated at 2,100.
Hamburg decided to go for two after Nico Zarcone scored on a 14-yard run. But it was Sley who broke through the line and hit Zarcone immediately as he looked for daylight. "I got blocked, made a swim move over him and hit the quarterback in the backfield," said Sley, a 6-foot-3, 285-pound junior. "All I know is it needed to be done, and someone had to do it on the field."
There was no second-guessing the call by Hamburg.
"I was actually going to go for one [point] originally, but they worked their butts off, and to a man, they all said they wanted to go for two, and I wanted to leave it to them," said Hamburg coach Mike McFadden. "I know the kids are hurting pretty bad right now, but I don't think this is the last time we're going to see them. You can take a lot away from this because we can play with the big boys."
Hamburg, 1-8 a year ago, had the Class A power Chiefs on their heels most of the afternoon. The Bulldogs forced five turnovers, but were able to convert them into six points. Those came when defensive end Chad Ewanic scooped up a fumble and returned it 74 yards for a touchdown.
Gavin Collins and Kyle Kaminski joined Ewanic with fumble recoveries and safety John Haynes intercepted two passes.
Despite the miscues, Iroquois tied the game 13-13 on Jim Kloc's second touchdown of the day, a 39-yard run with 2:02 left in the third quarter. Iroquois increased its lead to 20-13 with 2:14 left when tight end Andrew Wagner caught a 50-yard pass from Calvin Sluberski.
Hamburg got the ball back with 2:03 remaining, but things didn't look good when a sack by Iroquois defensive end Anthony Ward pinned Hamburg back on its 13-yard line. Needing a big play, Zarcone connected with Collins on a 61-yard strike to set up Zarcone's touchdown run in the final seconds.
Sluberski delivered for Iroquois in all phases of the game. He had 150 yards rushing, 148 return yards, 50 passing and nine tackles. Matt Krempholtz had 11 tackles.
Iroquois senior back Russell Yerger-moe suffered a back injury with 4:47 left in the first half. He was carried off the field on a backboard and taken by ambulance to Women & Children's Hospital. Iroquois coach Frank Payne reported later he will be fine.
The Bulldogs were without injured fullback/linebacker Eric Chadderdon (shoulder). Iroquois (4-0) entered the game ranked No. 6 in The Buffalo News' large school poll while Hamburg (3-1) was No. 7.