2015 PRESS- ASTONISHING: M-E's FOOTBALL STREAK REACHES 55
written by Kevin Stevens
Press Connects 9\25\2015
Maine-Endwell defenders limited Vestal to 2 yards per rush and a night-long total of 141 in a 28-0 Division II football victory that extended the program’s state-record win streak to 55.
The Spartans’ offense wobbled uncharacteristically early on, but their resolute defense assured that M-E would pull even with Massena atop the state’s list of all-time unbeaten streaks. The Section 10 program went 54-0-1 in the 1950’s.
John Cerra rushed for touchdowns of 35 and 28 yards, and Kyle Balmer found Michael Palmer for TD passes of 19 and 47 yards before a substantial gathering at Dick Hoover Stadium. No head count was available, but that $695 take for the holder of 50-50 ticket No. 493168 suggests it was well above the norm.
The outcome left Maine-Endwell, ranked atop New York’s Class A teams, with a 4-0 record. Vestal, assigned a No. 7 ranking to begin play, dropped to 3-1.
With a tad under 10 minutes elapsed, M-E’s first-down total matched its number of fumbles lost: Two. That is neither an every-day nor every-season occurrence for the Spartans, who ordinarily lean decidedly toward efficiency and crisp execution.
Not early in this one, when they gagged up the football on their third and 12th offensive plays.
But enter the defense, stage left.
After the first giveaway, Vestal netted 1 yard before punting. Following the second, the Golden Bears gained 9 yards on five plays and punted once again.
The Spartans’ front four — Cerra, Shane Burcume, Kurt Burdick and Cordell Woolfolk — more than held up their end, and received ample backing by the fellas behind. Woolfolk, who doubles as fullback, exited for the night early in the third quarter when he tweaked a lower leg while being tackled. No cause for concern, coach Matt Gallagher shared.
Vestal limited the Spartans to 60 yards of offense through nearly 16 minutes of play.
“We always have a little bit of a hard time getting started early,” Cerra said. “They were coming right for the ball, they were stripping our running backs, one guy would wrap up and another would come over the top and try to strip. Ball security is a huge thing in a football game like this.”
The initial scoring “drive” required all of three plays, beginning at the Golden Bears’ 47-yard line 3:45 into the second quarter.
One play after Drew Gallagher turned a sweep right into a 10-yard gain to the 35, Cerra accepted a pitch headed the other way, thrust it into high gear and left defenders staring at No. 23 on his back as he crossed the goal line.
Vestal’s ensuing drive brought an incomplete pass, a gain of zero courtesy of Brady Wisniewski and 8 yards worth of backtrack when Cerra contributed a solo sack. A 22-yard punt later, M-E took possession at the hosts’ 32-yard line.
An offside penalty assessed Vestal and an 8-yard rush-and-lunge from Balmer set up first down at the 19, from which point Palmer received a pass just inside the 15 and wasn’t about to be tagged. The difference was 13-0 a bit over five minutes before halftime festivities commenced.
Vestal took its final first-half possession 37 yards to M-E’s 35 before that one fizzled via a penalty and incomplete pass.
Good news for the Golden Bears was that they’d receive the second-half kickoff. Bad news was, that meant renewing acquaintances with M-E defenders.
Vestal went three-and-done, and the Spartans answered by covering 81 yards in seven plays to make it a three-TD gap. Cerra opened the possession by finishing a 14-yard rush in forceful fashion, and Palmer did his gravity-defying thing to make a 24-yard reception along the guests’ sideline to set up first down at Vestal’s 28.
Two snaps later, Cerra took a pitch left and again demonstrated speed that defenders were not up to matching. The 28-yard score was met by chants of “JOHN-ny FOOT-ball” by the Spartans’ student section.
The final TD was result of that Balmer-to-Palmer relationship, though this one something of a gift from the Bears. Something went haywire defensively, Palmer was left to make the reception in plenty of space, and the 47-yard scoring play clearly left a lemony sting in the mouths of observant Vestal coaches.
Balmer closed with 5-for-7 passing efficiency for 110 yards, 100 of those with Palmer so capably receiving.
“We got (Palmer) involved in the game today,” Gallagher said. “It’s tough to stop us as far as the number of weapons we have. And the fact that no one cares who gets the credit and who gets the touchdown and who gets this and who gets that— that’s why it’s so much fun to coach these guys, because they just want to win.”
Vestal quarterback T.J. Wegmann and receiver Rusty Virkler connected six times for 52 yards. Wegmann’s 49 rushing yards were 21 better than the total of any teammate.
On Twitter: @PSBKevin