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Kelly's touchdown catch enables North to win overtime thriller over Clarence

Dylan Kelly says he blacked out on the game-winning play, that he didn’t really know what just happened.

It’s understandable. The Williamsville North senior was probably a little exhausted at that moment like the rest of his teammates.

The Spartans (2-0) withstood a late wave of haymaking big plays from Clarence (1-1) only to find the resolve to deliver the one that ended a thoroughly entertaining high school football game Friday night between the Section VI Class AA contenders.

A quick refresher: Kelly crossed the goal line after snagging a 34-yard touchdown pass from Joe Nusall that enabled Williamsville North to walk off the field with a 41-35 overtime victory over the Red Devils.

An estimated crowd of more than 1,500 at Clarence High School went from anticipating a great comeback victory by the ninth-ranked Red Devils to seeing Nusall use his scrambling ability to keep a third-and-28 play alive. The senior then lofted a deep throw for Kelly to run down, which he did to spark a huge celebration and sigh of relief from the News’ third-ranked large school.

“I just kind of blacked out at the end,” said Kelly, who caught five passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns and made countless tackles on defense. “The ball just landed in my hands. ... It was a hard-fought game. We came out strong. They came out strong it was just a race of emotions. Great throw by my quarterback (there at the end).”

The North win spoiled an attention-getting effort by a Clarence team whose goal this season is to be a contender for the postseason championship.

Normally, offensive efforts with a sprinkle of timely big defensive stops that happened Friday lead to better results than an overtime loss -- unless your opponent does the same thing.

“Kid scrambles, you can’t cover kids for that long,” Clarence coach Paul Burgio said of the game-winning play. “I told my kids keep your head up. We just played one of the best teams in Western New York. I think we’re one of them too.”

North looked pretty much unstoppable on offense through three-plus quarters. Running back Dylan Mann gashed the Clarence defense (189 yards on 21 carries, two touchdowns, one touchdown pass), as did Scott Hopkins (four rushes, 27 yards, 1 TD) when the Spartans turned to the wildcat. Mix in Nusall making some big-time throws (nine completions, 182 yards, two TDs) and it’s understandable why Clarence tried two onside kicks (recovering one) in hopes of blunting the momentum.

Clarence figured things out on defense, which proved to be bad news for the Spartans as they had issues corralling senior quarterback Jack Putney (15 for 27, for 255 yards three TDs, one interception; 17 rushes, 130 yards). He made countless big plays with his arm and legs in leading Clarence back from a 14-point second-half deficit into a 35-35 tie with 3:25 left in regulation.

The Red Devils tied it on Zachary Norton’s 1-yard run on fourth and goal. On their previous possession, Putney and Jon Stevens hooked up for a 16-yard touchdown.

Stevens made six catches for 128 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for a 1-yard TD. He also made a sensational interception with a minute left in the end zone to thwart the Spartans and give his side a chance at the 'W' against last year's Section VI Class AA runner-up.

But Mann picked off a tipped pass on Clarence’s overtime possession to set up the wild finish, which was made even wilder by a bad snap on first down that put North seemingly in a spot to just protect the ball and go to a second overtime.

That is until Nusall and Kelly found the perfect capper to a game filled with big plays.

“This was just an outstanding high school game,” North coach Mike Mammoliti said. “I think the people who paid admission got their money’s worth.”

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