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SECTION IV FOOTBALL: BIG PLAYS, DEFENSE CARRY OWEGO PAST WINDSOR IN CLASS B SEMIS (2023-11-03)

By TIM TAYLOR
Tioga County Sports Reports
WINDSOR — A few big plays and a resilient defense helped carry Owego past Windsor for a 21-20 Section IV Class B semifinal victory Friday night.

The Black Knights coughed up the ball on their own three yard line and the River Hawks’ Joseph Palladino scored on the next play to tie the game at 20. Adam Arhbal’s PAT kick gave the visitors a 21-20 edge with 9:24 remaining in the game.

“I am honestly having a hard time finding the words for it,” Owego coach Patton Taylor said. “These boys, they earned this win. It was kind of a culmination of the year, just sticking with it every week, just competing, trying to improve ourselves week by week. It all came together tonight. I couldn't be happier for the fellas.”

“Believe it or not, I don't tell anybody this, I think we had four turnovers the whole year. That's why we were 7-2 coming in,” Windsor coach Tim Hogan said. “And then to have a turnover like that, it was kind of backbreaking, but we still had our chance, getting all the way down here to the 30 and we can't get the first down, so that was a big play on them.”

It was a 50-yard punt by Palladino, a former soccer player, that set the stage for the go-ahead score.

“We asked a lot of him this game,” Taylor said. “We put him in that four back and he came through when we needed him most. His effort, his intensity and focus were through the roof, and he picked us up when we needed it.”

Windsor botched the ensuing kickoff, but recovered the ball back at the 12. Four runs and a 33-yard pass from Ashton Werner to brother Kohen put the ball at the Owego 34, but the Knights would sputter and the Hawks would hold on Ashton Werner’s keeper on 4th-and-1 at the 25 with 4:39 remaining in the game.

Owego proceeded to go backwards then, on 4th-and-19 from the 16, Palladino broke free for a 23-yard gain. The Hawks picked up two more first downs, the latter on an encroachment penalty with 41 seconds left, to secure the upset.

“That was a play we've been working on, we put in this past week,” Taylor said. “We knew they were biting hard on our fullback, because the last time we played them, we were getting to them a little bit with the trap. They were flowing pretty heavily to our fullback, and so again we just put the ball in Joe's hands and he got the job done.

“They made some plays when they had to make them,” Hogan said. “We had the quarterback sneak lined up there. They went in the right gap when they needed to go in the gap and they stopped us there. And then when they needed to get a couple first downs to ice the game, they got their two first downs, so hats off to them. Great-coached team and he's a great guy too.”

Both teams scored on their first possessions of the evening.

Windsor drove 88 yards in six plays in just over 3 1/2 minutes to grab a 6-0 lead. Ashton Werner scored on a 1-yard keeper, but it was his 57-yard dash which highlighted the drive.

The Hawks responded with a 10-play, 65-yard march, capped by Palladino’s 6-yard TD run. Ahrbal’s kick gave Owego a 7-6 edge with 3:21 left in the first quarter.

The Knights responded with another TD on their next possession. Mason McCombs took it in from six yards out, then ran for the PAT to put the home back on top, 14-7, with 21 seconds on the clock.

In one quarter, the teams had already exceeded the total points tallied in Windsor’s 12-7 regular season win — and McCombs already had 100 yards rushing (he ran for 157 total in the previous meeting).

The Knights sandwiched a punt between Owego’s next two possessions, each ending with the Hawks turning the ball over on downs.

The first fizzled at the Windsor 34 and the second came when Ryan Waddell nailed Palladino for a 1-yard loss on 4th-and-goal from the one.

It took the Knights just six plays to score again despite a 96-yard McCombs TD run getting called back on a holding penalty. Three plays after the flag he busted open a 32-yard run, then Ashton Werner scored on a 47-yard keeper on the very next play. The PAT pass failed, but Windsor would have a 20-7 advantage as the half neared.

A solid kick return by Conlan Taylor gave Owego the ball at the 40, then Elijah Lewis took just eight plays to put the Hawks back in the endzone. He went to the air the entire way, completing five passes. The last came when he tossed the rock over the defense to Evan English in the back of the end zone with 42 seconds left in the half. Arhbal’s PAT kick closed the gap to 20-14.

Windsor went into the break with 296 yards on the ground, but ended up punting on two of its four second-half possessions. The others resulted in a turnover on downs and the costly fumble.

McCombs led all rushers with 165 yards on 22 carries and Ashton Werner added 158 more on 17 totes. The QB went 3-for-6 for 44 yards as the Knights rolled up 426 yards offense.

Windsor gained just 130 yards after Owego’s defense made adjustments at the break.

“Our defense, really when things started clicking for them was that first Windsor game,” Taylor said. “We spent the first three, four weeks trying to figure out what our identity was on defense. We want to be 5-2, 4-4? We settled in on one and we've run with it ever since, and the boys, they're executing at a high level right now. Our defense is stingy.”

Speaking of defense, McCombs also seemed to be all over the field on that side of the ball as well, racking up double digits in tackles.

“He had a big day, and then that long one called back,” Hogan said. “It's part of the game. … He is in on every tackle, so that's why he is a returning all-state linebacker.”

Owego had 321 yards offense with Lewis going 21-for-30 for 227 yards through the air.

“Looking at the film, we picked up on stuff that perhaps we missed the first time and we played them,” Taylor said. “For the most part, we did a pretty good job throwing the ball around.”

English caught nine passes for 93 yards and Jack Buchsbaum caught three for an additional 90. Palladino grabbed three throws for 37 yards and ran the ball 20 times for 85.

The Black Knights end the season at 7-3 while Owego (5-4) will face the winner of top-ranked Maine-Endwell and Norwich.

“I'm proud of these guys. That's what I told them all a hundred times,” Hogan said. “We only have six seniors, so that's a big thing. Trying to replace them is going to be a hard thing. Four of them go both ways, so that's eight out of 22 positions, so it'll be hard to replace them. And they're great kids, and most of them do other sports too, and they're really good at that too so we love the three-sport athlete here.”

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IN PHOTO 1: Owego’s Evan English with the stiffarm. ... PHOTOS BY TIM TAYLOR.

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