There are 48 minutes in a high school football game, but 2 minutes is all Grand Island needed to create the separation it needed to earn another huge victory over a ranked opponent. As a result of doing that, the Vikings have put themselves in position to perhaps earn a share of the Class A North Division crown.
Grand Island played the role of spoiler on Homecoming Night at Sweet Home, leaving Robert P. Barczak Stadium with a 28-0 triumph on Friday.
A crowd of more than 2,000 attended this huge division showdown with playoff implications, with a good number hoping to see the Panthers (4-2, 3-2) continue their resurgence by taking down the team that just last week handed two-time defending Class A North champion Starpoint its first league loss in 17 games.
Instead, the folks saw the Vikings (5-1, 4-1), ranked sixth among area large schools, not only survive the early loss of workhorse running back Thomas Cecere but also make the game-changing plays that enabled them to topple the News' 10th-ranked team.
Junior quarterback Cam Sionko and company kept the offense moving in Cecere's absence, while Grand Island shut down a Sweet Home offense that not only came in averaging 36.0 points per game but also has displayed a knack for scoring in bunches, quickly.
"It was just a great win for our guys to shut out a team that scores points and has some athletes," said Grand Island's Dean Santorio, who earned his 100th career coaching win. "Our defense has done that all year. I think we're the lowest scoring defense in our league. … We won ugly a little bit tonight but we'll take an ugly win and a shutout."
The Vikings took control of this one during the final 2 minutes of the second quarter. It started with a head's up play that extended a possession that ended with a score. In punt formation, Sionko and Santorio noticed that its gunner on the right side was uncovered. That led to Sionko calling an audible, passing instead of punting on fourth-and-8 from the GI 37. Sionko hit an open Easton Speer for the 26-yard gain.
Four plays later, Sionko found Zane Johnson for the 9-yard TD catch with 28.4 left. The same two hook up on the conversion pass to make it 14-0.
Sweet Home still had enough time to march down the field and almost went the entire 57 yards it needed to put points on the board and potentially gain some momentum heading into the intermission. The Panthers got into position to do so on a 36-yard pass play from Joe Torrillo to Dylan McDuffie. McDuffie tried to dive in the end zone but was stopped at the 1 with 1.4 seconds left. Still enough time for the Panthers to run one more play, especially once the Vikings opted to call timeout to get organized. It turned out to be a great move as Nick Anzalone avoided two blockers to stuff the Panthers' running play for no gain.
"They went to their big bird formation," said Anzalone, who finished with a team-high nine tackles. "The guy with the ball tried to jump over me but I grabbed his ankles and pulled him right down. … Hard work and dedication, that's what we put into it."
Sionko completed 12-of-17 passes for 172 yards and a touchdown and rushed for scores of 1 and 11 yards. He was among the many players who made sure the offense didn't miss a beat once Cecere, who averages 7.3 yards per carry and rushed for more than 200 yards and three touchdowns in last week's win over Starpoint, was forced out of the game early in the first quarter after taking a helmet to the knee. Speer rushed for 105 yards on 20 carries and a TD. Anzalone rushed 10 times for 54 yards, while Johnson caught five passes for 67 yards.
Grand Island now has a chance to at least clinch a share of the division title and a top seed for the playoffs should it defeat Williamsville East next Friday at Gene Masters Field. It won't be easy. East was one of five teams in Class A North that began the weekend with just one league loss.
"That's obviously a great feeling," Santorio said. "You hate to have to worry about everyone else. We're just going to get ready to play good football. We can't afford not to."