Eden (4-0, 3-0) held off a second-half rally by Dunkirk (2-2, 2-2) at Karl Hoeppner Field Friday night, en route to a 35-21 win in Class B South football action.
"We said it at the beginning of the week, that if the worst thing happens and we lose, we were going to have to claw and fight, and that's what this team will do," Dunkirk head coach Rob Genco said. "We'll claw and fight our way into the playoffs."
After Eden began the second half with a nine-play, 53-yard drive, that was highlighted by a 21-yard touchdown by Alex Smythe on 4th-and-1 from the Dunkirk 21-yard line, the Marauders began to pick up their intensity on both sides of the ball.
OBSERVER?Photo by Roger Coda
Dunkirk’s Kevin Burns runs for a touchdown during Friday’s Class B?high school football game against Eden.
"I give Dunkirk a lot of credit," Eden head coach Chuck Tilley said. "We were rolling them down the field at the start of the second half. We went up 27-7 and I thought that was it. I thought they were ready to lay down and die, but they shoved it down our throat and stuck (the ball) in the end zone. I think (Genco's) doing a nice job with those kids."
Following the Smythe touchdown, the Marauders went on an eight-play, 73-yard scoring drive of their own. Zach Torrain did most of the work, chewing up 25 yards on four carries, before Kevin Burns found Marquel Ruiz down the left sideline for a 23-yard touchdown, helping the Marauders cut the Raiders' lead to 27-14, with 3:07 left in the third quarter.
"They adjusted, and we went with a little bit better (defensive) front and we were able to hold them," Genco said. "We were able to get a couple of stops and we were able to get our offense going."
The Marauders forced the Raiders to punt on their next drive, and as he did last week against East Aurora, Edwin Gomez got to the punter for the block, setting Dunkirk up with a drive-start at the Eden 16-yard line. Four plays later, Burns found his way into the end zone from five yards out. After Ruiz converted the extra point, Dunkirk had cut Eden's lead to 27-21.
"I think it was more of an emotional thing," Tilley said of what led to Dunkirk's comeback. "I think our kids thought they were going to lay down on us and they didn't."
Dunkirk had a chance to take the lead, as Burns intercepted a Matt Bialy pass in Dunkirk territory, but a penalty on the return, as well as fumbled snap and another penalty when the Marauders started their drive took the wind out of their sail.
"Even with the officiating, not one of our guys said anything to the officials," Genco said. "And I'm proud, with the game being called the way it was, that our guys didn't focus on that. They stayed the course and worked."
Dunkirk was forced to punt and with 6:43 left in the game, and Eden was able to put the game away as Smythe busted off a 61-yard touchdown run, helping the Raiders take a 14-point lead with 5:27 left in the fourth quarter.
"They had all the momentum in the world," Tilley said. "And it was 27-21 and we finally drove the ball and busted one. That's what I really liked, because we could have folded and we didn't."
The Marauders' final drive of the game ended with an interception by Nick Sarratori, the son of former Dunkirk head coach Mike Sarratori. With the loss, Dunkirk's chances of making the playoffs got a lot harder, as it will likely have to win the remaining Class B South games on its schedule.
"This is on us now to fix it," Genco said. "These kids are doing what we're asking them to do, so it's on us now. We need to do a better job."
The Marauders began the game with a bang, as Nick Barlette took a handoff from Burns on the first play 68 yards to paydirt. However, Eden responded with a Smythe 3-yard score. A failed extra point attempt left the score at 7-6, in favor of the Marauders.
"Nick's a kid that is the fastest kid on the team," Genco said. "He's not the best runner on the team, but he's the fastest kid on the team and he's a nice weapon to have."
After forcing a three-and-out early in the second quarter, Eden was able to take the lead with 4:49 left in the first half, as Garrett DiStefano scored the first of his two touchdowns on the night, this one a 1-yard plunge into the end zone.
"It's a hard offense to stop for all the reasons we said at the beginning of the week," Genco said. "That's why they're 4-0."
The Raiders padded their lead before half time, taking over on their own 2-yard line with 2:36 left to go, needing seven plays before DiStefano found the end zone again, this time from three yards out. The point after was good and with 26 seconds left to go in the first half, the Raiders had built a 20-7 lead.
"Other than that first play, we really couldn't get it going and (Eden) controlled the ball and did what they do ... Just grind the clock and leave us searching for answers," Genco said.
As a team, Eden rushed for 312 yards while Dunkirk finished with 144 yards.
"It's so well coached," Genco said of Eden's offense. "They fire out fast and hard and they just don't make mistakes. And that's a credit to their coaching staff. (Tilley's) kids are buying what he's selling, just like our kids our buying what we're selling."
Torrain led the Marauders with 74 yards on 11 rushes while adding a team-high 14 tackles, including an interception, on defense. Gomez finished with 10 tackles, a fumble recovery and the blocked punt.
"He's been playing great football," Genco said of Gomez. "He's been working hard and he's a great kid.
"If one thing goes our way, we win this game," Genco said. "I'm proud of the way they reacted, but we're 2-2 now and by no means is it the end of the season."