BY RYAN COBB Sports writer
HOLLAND PATENT — The Holland Patent football team was in a must-win situation entering Saturday’s pivotal Class B East Division contest against Chittenango, knowing if they didn’t grab the victory, their playoff hopes were over.
The host Golden Knights took that situation to heart, brought their best game to the table and held down Chittenango to pull out a 21-7 triumph to successfully claim a spot in the Section III Class B playoffs on their Senior Day.
Holland Patent secured the spot with not only Chittenango’s loss but also got some help from Vernon-Verona-Sherrill’s victory over Oneida and South Jefferson’s loss to division winner Cazenovia.
With the top four teams in division securing playoff spots, the Golden Knights finished tied for third place in the division with Oneida and Chittenango, all sporting 2-3 records. HP broke the three-team tiebreaker on head-to-head rules by defeating both teams during the season to take the third place spot, while Oneida claimed the fourth spot because of its win over Chittenango.
Holland Patent coach John Hurteau gave credit to his team’s defense in them getting the key victory.
"It was a big win for the program, big win for these guys, the seniors. They’re finishing out their senior careers at Holland Patent, and I’m very proud of them and happy for them," he said.
"We threw down the gauntlet for the defense," he added. "I asked them to step up to the task, and they did. That’s probably the best defensive game we had all year."
Indeed they did, especially on one crucial occasion.
The first in a series of shining moments came with the score tied 7-7 midway through the second quarter when the Bears fought their way inside the host’s 1-yard line on third-and-goal.
The Bears then decided to try to pound the ball up the middle to grab the touchdown with senior running back Nicholas Bacon, but he was stuffed 3 yards behind the line of scrimmage. They tried to get the score one last time on a bootleg play when junior quarterback Devin Christopher ran across the field towards the sideline to cross into the end zone but was drilled out of bounds before he could get to the scoring pylon by two HP defenders, causing a turnover on downs.
The Bears seemingly lost all the momentum that they had and couldn’t get another opportunity like that again, as HP’s offense came to life to start the second half when 5-foot-9, 220-pound senior running back Robert Smith opened with a 27-yard run up the middle which later led to a five minute drive ending with a 1-yard rushing TD score by John Iselo to give HP the lead 14-7.
"Our coach said before we went out there ‘no intensity, no victory,’ so we had to bring that intensity in order to win the game," Smith said. "We wanted to win this. This was our time to win it and we’re going to go on to sectionals."
Smith finished with eight carries for 62 yards on the ground and almost came away with an interception on the Bears’ next possession when the ball slipped right through his hands and over his shoulder but was instead caught by his fellow teammate Dan Mower.
"I wish I had the interception, but I managed to tip it toward Dan Mower, one of our star captains, who made the catch and got the ball back," said Smith. "I was in the right position to make the right play, and I was hoping I could get it."
Iselo finished with 22 carries for 156 yards and also finished off Chittenango with a 61-yard touchdown with 4:47 remaining in the fourth quarter to round out the scoring for the Golden Knights.
"Coach called 19 rocket around the outside, and we knew they were blitzing us from up the middle all day, so I knew I’d have to get to the outside corner," said Iselo. "I had some good blocks and I was just open. We knew if we didn’t win, we’d go home, so we just came out and gave it our all."
Senior quarterback Andy Hurteau had a solid day through the air as well, completing 5-of-8 passes for 66 yards with two interceptions and also had five carries for 16 yards along with a 2-yard TD to tie the score 7-7 in the first quarter.
Mower, Mark Parshall and Ryan Bailey each had six tackles to lead the Golden Knights defense, with a sack also credited to Mower.
"We had a little trouble picking up the blitz at times, and when we picked the blitz up we had some positive things running and passing," said coach Hurteau.
"We got caught a couple times with the blitz and a couple of turnovers and things, but the kids hung together and had a great game."
Holland Patent has earned the fifth seed in the Class B tournament with an overall record of 4-3 and will travel on the road in the tournament’s first round to battle fourth-seeded Marcellus at 7 p.m. on Friday.
"We got to come back harder and more competitive next week," said Iselo. "It’s win or go home and everybody’s record is 0-0, so it doesn’t matter what everyone’s done before and what matters is what you do in sectionals."