By Billy Heyen
Special to The News
ENDICOTT – Cheektowaga hung with five-time state champion Chenango Forks for two quarters, trailing by just a touchdown at halftime. But the opening drive of the second half for Chenango Forks lasted 12 plays, all runs, and 6:41 of game clock. At the end of it, a 70-yard drive, Matt McDonald slipped through a tackle in the defensive backfield and scored on an 11-yard touchdown run. The Blue Devils led by two touchdowns at that point and Cheektowaga was unable to work its way back.
“We came out and we weren’t ready to get, you know as they say, punched in the face,” Cheektowaga’s Tommy Zolnowski said. “It kind of like killed us. We’re not used to being down a lot.”
Chenango Forks’ formidable rushing attack was the story of the day on Saturday at Union-Endicott High School, leading the Blue Devils to a 48-28 win over Cheektowaga. After trailing by just six points at halftime, Cheektowaga gave up McDonald’s score to begin the second half and would never bring the deficit back to one score again.
The game began with promise for the Warriors, though. After three-and-outs for each team on their first possessions, it was Cheektowaga that struck first. Junior quarterback KeShone Beal, the centerpiece for the Warriors all game long, started the drive with a 24-yard run, then found Zolnowski for 34 yards and 14 yards through the air. Eventually facing a fourth-and-goal at the 1, Beal powered his way through the line for a touchdown and a 7-0 Cheektowaga lead.
Chenango Forks ran, and ran, and ran some more. The problem for Cheektowaga was stopping it. The Blue Devils threw just seven passes all game, compared to 53 run plays. The main weapon of ground attack for Chenango Forks was Jeremiah Allen. He carried 34 times for 159 yards. His quarterback, Kris Borelli, broke a few long carries to add five runs for 77 yards. Both had a touchdown on the ground. But the true touchdown maker was McDonald, who carried just five times but scored thrice.
“We didn’t get stops on crucial downs, I guess they adjusted better than we did,” Cheektowaga coach Mike Fatta said.
The Warriors trailed, 48-14, at one point in the second half but even in a strong downpour didn’t go down easily. Early in the fourth quarter, Beal lofted a ball about 40 yards down the field, where Zolnowski came down with it. The receiver shed the defensive back on his shoulders and ran in for a 67-yard touchdown.
The last score of Cheektowaga’s season belonged to Michael Gray, who ran the ball in from 3 yards out late in the fourth quarter. When Beal was intercepted on his team’s final possession, Chenango Forks just took two knees to move on to the state final.
“We just didn’t really execute offensively and they jumped on that advantage,” Beal said.
Beal began the game completing eight of his first 13 passes. But as the rain picked up, he struggled to connect with receivers who also dropped a few balls, only completing five of his final 11 throws. It was a potent rushing attack that made Cheektowaga pay for three interceptions and some dropped passes, and it was a potent rushing attack that sent Chenango Forks to the state final and ended Cheektowaga’s season.
“You got no words that work at that moment,” Fatta said. “You tell ’em you love ’em, and you do. A lot of those guys have poured their hearts out for our football program for four years or more. It’s a tough moment.”