Last-second field goal lifts Birds
The Enterprise — Jordan J. Michael
Powering through Watervliet’s defensive line is Voorheesville running back Matt Feller, who gained 207 yards on 29 carries last Friday night during a 39-to-36 upset win in Lansingburgh. Feller averaged an amazing 7.1 yards per carry, breaking multiple tackles throughout the evening, and scoring a go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter.
LANSINGBURGH — It was a game of titans. No one play stood out last Friday; both Voorheesville and Watervliet were powerful and full of life.
With such dynamic offenses on display — nine plays of 20 yards or more — something had to give. A defensive play swung the game in Voorheesville’s direction with 1:35 left in the fourth quarter with the score tied at 36 to 36.
Watervliet had lost possession with 2:11 left after a fumble by Armani Parker, recovered by Voorheesville’s Mickey Knight, only to get possession back 25 seconds later, recovering a fumble by Matt Feller. However, Knight intercepted Taylor Dockstader’s first pass after getting the ball back, and Voorheesville was once again staring a winning score in the face.
The Blackbirds drove to the two-yard line, including a spinning run by quarterback Robert Denman for a first down, setting up a 19-yard field goal for Knight, who, earlier in the game, made a kick from 41 yards. Knight’s winning boot was never in doubt, and Voorheesville took home a thrilling 39-to-36 win.
There wasn’t much more Knight could have done for Voorheesville. On top of the kicks and the defensive plays, he caught four passes for 47 yards, including two third-down conversions.
“We played four quarters of very tough football,” Knight said. “Voorheesville football is back in Class C.”
Indeed, the Birds had been dormant for the last few years. It’s been a while since a victory meant this much to Voorheesville, and Head Coach Joe Sapienza couldn’t remember the last time his team posted 39 points on the scoreboard.
“If you’re going to be considered viable, you have to beat a viable program,” Sapienza said. “I’m ecstatic, couldn’t be happier. I’m very excited.”
Voorheesville’s gritty offense was led by Feller, a junior who rushed for 207 yards on 29 carries, averaging an astounding 7.1 yards per rush. He had six runs for over 10 yards, two of those gaining at least 30 yards. Feller was on a mission to punish defenders.
“This was a huge game for us; it really means something,” said Feller, clearly overcome with emotion after the game. “This is a whole other thing. It sets our name in Section 2, showing that we can compete.”
The Blackbirds had been shaken up after Feller’s fumble, but Feller knew that all his teammates had to do was get the ball back. “Obviously, that’s a tragic moment,” he said, “but, if we got the ball back, we would win, and that’s what happened.”
Leading up to last Friday’s game, Sapienza had talked to his team about handling adverse situations. Mistakes happen in football, and Sapienza doesn’t want the Birds to be bothered by them.
“We just have to figure it out, and that’s why this win is special,” said the coach. “I’m more proud of that than the win; they regrouped.”
Voorheesville had an excellent start to the game, going ahead 16 to 0. Denman found Slater Nolan on a slant route up the middle for a 57-yard touchdown, and then on the Birds’ second scoring drive, Denman rolled left, running five yards untouched into the end zone.
But, Watervliet came back in the second quarter with two touchdowns by Parker; one was a 93-yard kickoff return. The Cannoneers threatened again just before halftime, but Denman intercepted a Dockstader pass that was tipped.
Early in the third quarter, Alex Minnick intercepted his second pass of the night for the Blackbirds, setting up the offense with great field position. From there, Denman broke tackles for a 29-yard run, and Scott Roney gave Voorheesville a 22-to-14 lead with a commanding goal line push.
“I think we earned it out there,” said Denman, who threw for 202 yards and rushed for 40 more. “We stepped up, listened exactly to what our coaches told us to do, and overcame.”
Denman showed poise and toughness throughout the game, and his 67-yard touchdown pass to Roney in the fourth quarter was a thing of beauty. His pump fake got the defensive back to hesitate, and Roney was gone.
Sapienza told The Enterprise that the big play was drawn up at halftime. “Watervliet beats you with their pursuit because they’re so quick to the ball and so aggressive,” he said. “We thought we needed something to go against that, so I told Scotty [Roney] to just go if I call the play, and it worked.”
Denman, a junior, is a first-year quarterback. He didn’t play like one last Friday.
“This was his breakout game,” said Sapienza of Denman. “He showed everybody that he’s one of the best in the area. He connected on most of his throws, with pressure, and made key runs.”
Watervliet was 2-0 coming into the game, having beaten Cairo-Durham and Tamarac by a large margin. The Cannoneers gained enough yards to beat the Blackbirds, but some costly turnovers stalled some drives that may have led to points.
With six takeaways, Voorheesville demonstrated its balance of offense and defense.
Will opponents look at the Blackbirds differently now?
“They have to,” Denman said. “A game like that…everyone contributed.”
Since the game had so many big, tense moments, Sapienza puts it on a pedestal. He’s coached for more than 20 years.
“To kick a winning field goal with two seconds left?” he said. “What’s better than that?”
Sapienza had said the Watervliet win made him ecstatic, but all jumping around and cheering was saved for the Blackbird players and fans. Sapienza may be the calmest head coach in Section 2.
“That’s why I have stomach problems; I keep all my excitement inside,” he said.
If Sapienza learned anything from coaching Voorheesville for so long, it’s keeping his composure on the sidelines.
“The kids will follow suit if I don’t keep it,” Sapienza said. “I’ve always made an effort to stay as composed as possible; everybody is going nuts around you, so someone has to be there to be a calming influence and right the ship, because, ultimately, that’s what you need to win a game like this.”
Voorheesville (2-1) will need more of that serenity if it hopes to knock off Class C powerhouse Chatham (3-0) on the road this Friday.