Bring on Sweet Homeby jmaloni
Vikings beat Iroquois 27-20 to advance to Federation football semifinals
by Larry Austin
Grand Island left no doubt who they wanted to play for the right to advance to the Section VI Class A Football Federation championship at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Following their 27-20 win over Iroquois on Friday night in Elma, the Grand Island Vikings gathered near midfield and chanted "We want ... SWEET HOME!"
They were presented their opportunity after running back Mitch Fachko broke a 20-20 tie when he ripped off a 52-yard touchdown run with just 3:59 left in the game.
"Oh, we would love to face them. Want to tell them that we're going for them, we're going for the win," Fachko said of the Panthers, who haven't lost to a Western New York opponent in several years.
"We relish the opportunity. I would love to play Sweet Home," echoed GI coach Dean Santorio. "You can't ask for a better opportunity. We would never shy away from that game. We've played them tough for years. We love what kind of football we both play against each other, and getting ready and preparing for that game."
GI would "try to be the first team in Western New York that's knocked them off in a while," Santorio said.
Tied at 20-20, GI's T.J. Acker blocked a Chief's field goal attempt, starting GI on the eventual 80-yard drive for the winning score, which Fachko supplied on a draw play straight through the heart of the Chief's defense.
"I got the handoff .. I saw a huge hole. My line did great," Fachko said. "They all fanned them out and there was this huge seam. I took it and I saw two guys pinching in, so I figured the best thing was to hop-step one of the guys that was diving, and I just kept on running."
"It means so much to my team," Fachko said of the win. "We worked so hard. This is what we've been working for all year and in the off-season, and we just can't wait till next week."
GI improved to 7-1 on the year, while the Chiefs ended up 6-2.
The Vikings opened the game with a 17-play scoring drive that culminated in a 6-yard touchdown pass from Paul Sukmanowski to Chris Connors. GI's regular starting QB Quinn Corrao sat out part of the first half after being knocked out in the second quarter the previous week against McKinley. After the Chiefs took the ensuing kickoff for a TD following Connors' first score, Corrao came on and threw a 32-yard TD pass to Connors for a GI 14-6 lead.
"Connors has been big all year. He's playing banged up, but he's battled. He makes big play after big play," Santorio said.
Doubts about who would start under center for GI contributed to pundits calling the Chiefs game favorites.
"We didn't put two thoughts about that, we knew we were going to win, so we just came out, battled tough, and it was a great family effort win," Connors said.
Connors said the team installed the Wildcat offense during practice until Corrao was cleared to play later in the week.
"We were hoping he was coming back, but if he wasn't we were going to be prepared to battle and we were prepared to win," Connors said.
"There was no decision to be made. He was cleared to play," Santorio said. "He was playing regardless, and he did great all week getting himself ready, so there was no real tough decision."
The Chiefs didn't run an offensive play from scrimmage until there were 8 minutes in the second quarter, but their offense scored touchdowns on both of their drives to take a 20-14 lead at halftime.
In the second half, the Vikings found themselves facing fourth-and-14 at the Iroquois 28. They kept the drive alive with a completion from Corrao to Cyle Alcorn of 14 yards. The drive ended with a 1-yard plunge by Corrao. The extra point skidded wide left to tie the game at 20-20.
Santorio said Alcorn had been replaced in the starting defense earlier in the week.
"I can't say enough about kids' character like that, because that's a kid that could've pouted all week because he didn't start on defense tonight, and he comes out and makes some of the biggest plays of the game," Santorio said.
Similarly, Fachko hasn't let disappointment affect his play on the field.
"Mitch Fachko is one of the nicest kids and hardest workers we've had, and he was buried on the depth chart at No. 4 probably before the season," Santorio said. "And I think he just finally said, 'It's my senior year, I've got to make an impact.' And he's been fantastic all year."
"But that didn't stop me from trying my hardest," Fachko said of his early position on the depth chart. "Every day I did everything I could possible just to get up there, and when Coach gave me the chance I did not let it go to waste."
In the first game of the year, Fachko entered after Danny Blocho took a hard shot to the leg and subbed out. Fachko ripped off a big gain on his first touch of the ball in the season.
"It was a draw play, actually the same one," Fachko recalled. "Same play, and I just saw the hole and I just hit it as hard as I can. Mentally, just get upfield, shoulders and hips straight."