If football games can be defined on a single sequence, it was one on York Institute’s goal line late in the third quarter that defined the Dragons’ 21-10 at Oneida on Friday.
Clinging to a 14-10 lead, York fumbled the football away with three minutes remaining in the third quarter. Trace Sexton recovered at the Dragons’ nine-yard-line, giving Oneida the ball and a chance to reclaim the lead.
Four plays later, the Indians missed a 26-yard field goal attempt, coming away with no points.
It was the second of two second half turnovers on which Oneida failed to capitalize, while York scored two touchdowns in the third and fourth quarters to escape with its unbeaten record intact.
The Indians (4-2) lead the Dragons (5-0), the state’s No. 9 team in Class 3A, at the half, 10-7. But after Oneida’s offensive line pushed around the Dragons’ defensive front a little in the first half, it was York that won the line of scrimmage in the second half, and that made all the difference.
“I think it had a lot to do with us,” Oneida coach Tony Lambert said of his team’s lack of offensive production in the second half. “They made adjustments. They started sending more pressure with the linebackers, but we just sorta lost at the point of attack a little bit. We were winning that in the first half.”
York limited Oneida to just 25 yards of offense in the second half, after the Indians gained 131 in the first half. In that respect, the game was eerily similar to the Indians’ only other loss this season, which came at Harriman. In that earlier game, the Blue Devils limited Oneida to negative yardage in the second half to turn a 7-7 halftime deadlock into a 19-7 win.
York, though, was no Harriman. The Dragons entered Friday’s game feeling they were under-ranked as the state’s ninth-ranked team, and Lambert pointed out after the game that some feel York is the one team on the eastern side of the state that can compete with Alcoa in the Class 3A postseason. Against Harriman, the game came down to turnovers — five of them by Oneida. The Indians did not turn the ball over against York, but the Dragons’ stout defensive front proved unmovable.
“The bottom line is they won the second half,” Lambert said.
Prior to that late third quarter sequence, it was a defensive stand by Oneida that set the tone. With York up 7-3 and driving, Colby Boyatt came up with a stop in the backfield on fourth-and-short, giving the Indians the ball and setting the stage for a touchdown drive to take the lead into the locker room at halftime.
“It was tremendous,” Lambert said of the play. “It was great penetration by our defensive line and Colby got a good jump off the edge. He’s a big ol’ s strong thing and when he’s on, he’s a special guy on the edge. That was a big play for us.”
A short time later, Bryson Buttram plowed into the end zone from six yards out to give the Indians a 10-7 lead with 4:30 remaining in the half.
Oneida’s defense then got two more stops to end the half, coming away with two sacks to deny York’s passing game.
“I thought our defense rose up and played hard in that first half,” Lambert said. “We were feeling pretty good as far as our competitive nature and where we’re at. We challenged our kids about having courage this week, and I thought they came out and showed courage from the get-go.”
Oneida had begun the game with a 38-yard Rhemci Chitwood field goal after a drive stalled just inside York’s 20-yard-line. York promptly answered, with Cole Cooper scoring on a two-yard run. But the Dragons would not score again until the third quarter.
York took charge immediately out of the locker room in the second half, taking the first possession and marching to the end zone. Quarterback Landrick Leffew broke free for a 49-yard touchdown run to give his team the lead for good.
Oneida had its chances, though. First, Hunter Barnhart recovered a fumble at midfield. Then Sexton recovered a fumble at the nine. Both times, though, York’s defense promptly shut down any hopes of a touchdown by the Indians.
After the missed field goal following the second fumble recovery, York marched 80 yards to essentially put the game out of reach, with Leffew scoring on a three-yard run.
The Indians’ defense did turn in a final stand late in the fourth quarter. After York drove inside the 10-yard-line, Oneida’s defense stiffened its back. Eli Manis made a stop in the backfield on third down, and Jakob Hamilton broke up a pass in the end zone on fourth down, denying York an opportunity to widen the lead.