VVS pulls away late to down rival Oneida

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ONEIDA — Vernon-Verona-Sherrill and Oneida battled to a 7-6 halftime lead for the visiting Red Devils Saturday night, but VVS scored two fourth quarter touchdowns and clamped down even further defensively for a 20-6 win in the Tri-Valley League.

The game was each team’s second of the abbreviated spring season. VVS blanked General Brown 20-0 and Oneida smashed East Rochester 46-14.

VVS head coach Gary Oliver said his defensive game plan was to stop the Oneida run. “We thought that’s what they might try to do.” The defense swarmed to the ball, he said. “We bent and didn’t break.” Getting two interceptions from Bryce Palmer, he said, was “obviously very helpful.”

The Red Devils got the scoring started. Their first drive was short-circuited on the second play of the game when the visitors turned the ball over. Oneida’s Aidan Guy had a strip sack to force the ball loose from VVS quarterback Benjamin Wittman. Spencer Leland grabbed the fumble and Oneida took over on the VVS 32. Their first drive went backward and the team punted. This time VVS took over on its seven and Kyle Burback ripped off a 72-yard run on the first play. Two plays later James Wheeler IV ran the ball in untouched from 19. An extra point kick by Wyatt Falkenmeyer made it 7-0 VVS with 8:05 left in the first quarter.

After an Oneida drive that yielded nothing, the ensuing VVS drive ended when a pass by Wittman to Palmer went for 19 yards from midfield. But Andrew Smith tore the ball out and Jordan Clark grabbed the loose ball out of midair for a turnover. But the defenses continued to stymie both offenses and neither team could put up any points until Oneida took over at the start of the second quarter.

This time it was Oneida that got the big play that led to a touchdown. Clark hit Gavin Sweet for 51 yards straight up the middle to get the hosts to the 8-yard-line. Three plays later it was Clark who faked a handoff left then reversed and sprinted to the right to score from the 1-yard-line. The extra point kick was no good and VVS led 7-6 with 9:12 left in the first half.

That was the score as the teams went to halftime, in part because of the Oneida pass rush. The Indians piled up four first half sacks. VVS’ defense made plenty of plays as well, including an interception by Palmer on a deep ball.

Palmer said the defense “shut down the run play,” forcing Oneida to throw the ball, which is not usually its focus. The win against a rival on their field, said Palmer, a senior, “did feel amazing. It’s been years building up to this.”

The defensive performances continued throughout the third quarter.

VVS finally extended its lead with its second touchdown with 6:47 left in the game. A short punt by Oneida set up the Red Devils at their opponent’s 25. It took them three plays to get into the end zone. Wheeler had two runs, the second a 9-yard power run behind the right side of the line. The kick made it 14-6.

“The yards stacking up helped build confidence,” Wheeler said after the game. The game plan became: “keep running the clock, running the ball. The offensive line did a great job.” He stacked up 93 yards on 14 runs. Burback had 84 yards on 10 runs.

After forcing a turnover on downs, VVS took over on the Oneida 15 and ran the ball six times. Trenton Wong punched the ball in with a 2-yard run up the middle to push the lead to 20-6. There was only 1:50 left on the clock for Oneida but the Indians couldn’t respond.

“They’re pretty big,” Oliver said of the Oneida players. “We’re confident in our offensive line. We’re not small up front.” He said it was key to get the lead then let the defense protect it.

Oneida head coach Jason Fuller was brief in his assessment of the loss: “They were more physical than us.”

VVS is at home against Camden at 2 p.m. Saturday.

Oneida travels to Canastota for a 3 p.m. game Saturday.

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