“Eventful” wasn’t the right word to describe the Section VI Class A football semifinal between defending state champion West Seneca West and Starpoint.
Try “thrilling.” Or use the description “back-and-forth.”
The only apt word in the end for West Seneca West was “relief," especially after the Indians got the final word in a 50-49 playoff win Friday against Starpoint. The Spartans pushed the Indians all the way to the final minutes, and threatened to end West's state championship reign.
Quarterback Maurice Robertson, who played the second half with an injury to his left leg, lifted the Indians when he scooted in for a 2-point conversion run, after Bryan Ball’s second touchdown with 41.3 seconds left in regulation.
About nine seconds later, John Speyer completed his four-touchdown night by intercepting Starpoint quarterback Aaron Chase with 32 seconds left to ensure the Indians' 24th straight win. Speyer’s grab ended a game in which the Spartans rallied from a 21-0 deficit in the first half, and led 49-42 with 3:38 left in the fourth quarter.
“Starpoint caught us off-guard and found our weaknesses,” said Speyer, who ran for 253 yards on 12 carries, including 147 yards in the first half, despite fighting flu symptoms during the week. “They just kept doing it. But we overcame it, and we came back.”
West (9-0), the defending Class A state champion, will face West Seneca East on Thursday at New Era Field for the Section VI Class A championship. The Indians defeated West Seneca East 30-16 on Oct. 12 at East High School Stadium.
“That’s going to be the biggest game of the season, a memorable game,” Speyer said. “Bigger than this one.”
Speyer scored three touchdowns in the first eight minutes – a 21-yard run, a 16-yard run and an 89-yard run - to help the Indians to a 21-0 lead.
Speyer, however, didn’t anticipate the Spartans (7-2) to give in quickly. Starpoint answered Speyer’s third touchdown with Max Bowden’s 63-yard touchdown catch on its first play from scrimmage on the ensuing drive. It then tied the game on two touchdowns by Brendan Gawel, a 35-yard run with 14.4 seconds left in the first, which came one play after the Spartans converted on third-and-8 from the West 43, and a 42-yard run one play after the Spartans recovered a squib kick.
Chase tied the game with 4.2 seconds left in the half on a 4-yard halfback toss from Matthew Spina, which opened the door to a prodigious second half.
“It just says how resilient we are,” said Chase, who threw for 382 yards on 29 of 39 passing, and was intercepted twice. “We were down 21-0 in the first quarter to the state champs, and we never gave up. We persevered. We were leading, a couple times in the game, and it came down to the last minute.”
Ball tied the game for West on a 16-yard touchdown run on the Indians’ first possession, the first of six second-half touchdowns for the Indians and the Spartans. Starpoint took a 41-35 lead with 39.4 seconds left in the third on Chase’s 8-yard touchdown run. The Spartans missed the extra point, which paid dividends for West in the final 3:38, when Starpoint took a 49-42 lead on a 18-play drive that ended with Chase’s 6-yard touchdown pass to Joe Carlson.
West needed 11 plays to reach the Starpoint 10, and after Ball scored his second touchdown, Robertson stretched on his final run to cross the end zone and give the Indians a one-point lead.
“It doesn’t matter what adversity we face, we can overcome it,” Speyer said. “We come together as a group. It’s not a ‘me,’ it’s a ‘we’ and that’s how we can win games, if we compete.”