By Simon Teska
With the clock ticking under three minutes to go in the Class C Bowl game held at Southwestern Central School's Charles A. Lawson Field, Falconer statistician Bob Pickett said it best when he referred to senior quarterback Joe Armeli as a ''human highlight film.''
Falconer’s Joe Armeli dives forward for extra yards after getting tripped up by Salamanca defenders during Thursday’s Class C Bowl game at Charles A. Lawson Field.
See FALCONER, Page C-4
After the Golden Falcons made a big fourth-down stand inside their own 30-yard line, it was going to be up to Armeli and the offense with only one timeout to march down the field and go back to Falconer hoisting the Class C Bowl trophy.
Against the stingy Salamanca defense, it seemed like quite a tall order, even for Armeli.
Every play on the game-winning drive was a special, but a 39-yard pass from the senior leader to Kyle Miller was the big play that set up the Golden Falcons with a third and goal from the 1.
There were four seconds on the clock. Then only three, two and one second left when the ball was snapped.
''I was just thinking, 'Get off a play, get a play off,' '' Falconer coach Mike Ginestre said after the game. ''They did it. They got lined up and snapped the ball. We talked about our next three plays when Salamanca took that timeout with a minute to go.''
Maybe Armeli had time to snap the ball, spike it and stop the clock, but instead he tucked his head behind his offensive line and everyone drove the pile forward.
All 11 players on the field for Falconer gave that one, single play every last ounce of effort and Armeli fell over the goal line for the game-winning touchdown. It was the perfect ending to an exceptional season for the senior quarterback as the Golden Falcons (3-6) won, 20-18.
''He's our senior leader and he's been a great player for us all year,'' Ginestre said. ''But on that last play, there were 11 guys pushing him into the end zone. That's something we can build on for next year, but we want to be playing in the playoffs.''
Win or lose, Thursday night's game was the end of the road and the ending to the 2009 high school football season. The Warriors walked off the field stunned after controlling the clock the entire second half, being up by as many as 12 points in the first half and ahead the entire fourth quarter.
The Golden Falcons, meanwhile, were still celebrating.
''Two weeks ago I had (former Falconer coach) Bill Race come in to talk to the kids,'' Ginestre said. ''He told them that these would be the two most important games you'll ever play. Bringing in a legend like that really got to them.''
Since Race's pep talk, the Golden Falcons have gone 2-0, with an overtime victory over Akron and a last-second win against Salamanca.
There were more of Armeli's heroics in the first half as well.
The game-winning drive would have been a mere after-thought if the final two-minutes of the first half would have gone differently. The Warriors were comfortably in front after Carmen Papa ripped off a 48-yard touchdown run to start the second quarter to make the score 12-0.
The first scoring drive of the night for Falconer looked a lot like the last drive of the night as it started with a defensive stand in Falcon territory. Armeli got a big first down and Miller caught a 27-yard pass to put the offense in business.
With 1:40 left until halftime, Zach Penhollow received the pitch on an option and scored from two yards out.
That's when it got interesting.
The ensuing kickoff was returned by Papa all the way to Falconer's 27-yard line. There was was still plenty of time before the half, but on the first play from scrimmage, Armeli intercepted a pass.
Ginestre spread the field with four wide receivers and called a quarterback draw. Armeli scampered for a 67-yard touchdown and after the two-point conversion, the Golden Falcons were in front 14-12.
''Sometimes it takes a little while for us to wake up,'' Ginestre said. ''Then we got a quick two touchdowns that got us back in the game.''
The Warriors were one tackle away form returning another kick, as Chris LeBlanc returned the next kickoff to Falconer's 23-yard line. An interception quickly ended the threat for the Warriors, but the flurry of momentum-changing plays made everyone take a deep breath in the locker room.
In the second half, Salamanca stuck to the running game, chewing up clock, getting first downs and pounding the Falconer defense. Papa finished with 167 yards and Zach Winship 77. Papa ran for a 24-yard touchdown to start the fourth quarter and the Warriors appeared in control.
Then the magic feet and the magic arm of Armeli pulled off a signature drive that will be remembered in Falconer for quite some time. The senior finished with 150 yards rushing, 88 yards passing and two touchdowns.
The defense deserved some credit as well.
Without the help of his teammates on the big fourth-and-one on the play prior to the game-winning drive, Falconer wouldn't have had much to celebrate.
''It's all about staying low at the line of scrimmage,'' Ginestre said. ''It seems like we were struggling to make a play. Then, all of a sudden, we made one on a key fourth down.''
A cooler of icy water was dumped on Ginestre shortly after the celebratory pileup in the end-zone disengaged. Pictures were taken with the bowl trophy and many memories were made that will help fuel the Golden Falcons come training camp in August of 2010.