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Skaneateles rallies to beat Cleve Hill in high-scoring Class C semifinal

ENDICOTT – The overall numbers put up by Cleveland Hill's football team on Saturday were eye-popping and reason to make most teams feel a bit envious.

But the only digits that mattered were the final ones on the scoreboard at Ty Cobb Stadium at Union-Endicott High School when the clock read zero. And those figures were the reason plenty of Cleve Hill players walked off the field with their eyes filled with tears.

A highlight reel of big plays and perhaps the game of Javon Thomas' life were not enough to help the Golden Eagles reach the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association championship game for the first time in their history.

The combination of too many mistakes by Cleve Hill and a highlight-reel of plays from Patrick Hackler opened the door for Skaneateles to overcome a 15-point halftime deficit and secure a wild 63-56 comeback victory in a Class C semifinal.

An estimated 1,000 watched Hackler, a record-setting quarterback, go from relying on his arm to using his legs to scorch the Golden Eagles' defense while having a hand in all nine of his team's touchdowns. His four touchdowns through the air increased his single-season state-record total to 50. He also rushed for scores of 7, 63, 86, 54 and 73 yards to cap a day in which he ran for 353 yards and passed for 309.

Fans saw Thomas, who rushed for five touchdowns, score four of them (60, 78, 74 and 55 yards) during a wild 73-point second quarter in which the Eagles scored 44 points. He ran for 353 of his game-high 418 yards on 18 carries during the opening half.

They also saw a Cleve Hill crew that put up 50 points and amassed 432 yards in the first half give Skaneateles the opening it needed to advance to Friday night's state championship at the Carrier Dome for the first time in its history. It will face Holy Trinity of Section II for the title.

It could've been the Eagles (10-2), who saw their 10-game winning streak come to a stunning end on a crazy day in which the teams combined for 119 points – the most in a state playoff game since 2004 (Iroquois and Eastridge combined for 115 in Far West Regionals).

"They're a powerful offense," Cleveland Hill coach Glen Graham said. "They put it all over the yard. I would've never figured us to have the kind of track meet that we had today.

"Our kids played their tails off so I'm proud of the effort. Of course we just made a couple of errors at the end that gave them the advantage."

While each team made their share of mistakes, the most ill-timed one and biggest came when the Lakers' defense forced reliable running back Aaron Wahler to put the ball on the turf with 5 minutes, 26 seconds left. Cross Bianchi recovered with Skaneateles trailing 56-55.

Two plays later, Hackler faked an option pitch, watched a defender run past him and then bolted through a huge opening to the end zone for the 54-yard score.

"The quarterback can run and throw," Graham said. "He makes you play 11 on 11 and nobody likes to play 11-man defense. … He's just a good football player."

The way this game went, that still seemed like enough time for the teams to put up another touchdown or two. Except Cleve Hill went three and out and punted. When it got the ball back with 27.3 seconds left at its own 15 and no timeouts, even then the Eagles made it interesting by reaching Lakers' 34.

Thomas, who caught the pass, probably should have went down as soon as he caught the pass beyond midfield as the final seconds ticked. Doing so would've stopped the clock briefly as the officials moved the first down sticks, giving the offense perhaps time to quickly lineup for a last-gasp snap. However, two of his touchdown runs he seemed like he was under wraps only to break free. He tried it one more time except this time the Lakers held on for dear life until he was finally taken to the ground by multiple defenders as the clock expired.

Cleve Hill seemed to be on its way to the title game, rallying from a 35-28 deficit by scoring 22 straight points behind Thomas' big-play TD runs and a Ryan Majerowski kick return score. When Wahler returned an interception 70 yards to make it 56-42 late in the third quarter it seemed all was well in Cleve Hill's world.

The Eagles just had no answers for Hackler, who just last week broke Greg Paulus' state record for touchdown passes in a single season. He scored on runs of 73 and 86 yards to pull his team within 56-55. Cleve Hill had a chance to blunt the momentum but fumbled away a chance to increase its lead at Skaneateles' 5 via a botched snap with less than 8 minutes left.

"Our team played their hearts out," Thomas said. "We just came up a little short."

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