The Crusaders traveled to Middletown High School to take on the Middies in a key OCIAA Section 9 contest last Friday, March 26.
The teams entered the game with in a three-way tie with Newburgh Free Academy atop the AA division. The winner would walk out of Faller Field with the inside track to the Section 9 Championship game.
The Crusaders and the Middies did not disappoint and, in one of the most exciting games in many years, the Crusaders prevailed in an overtime thriller.
The gusty wind conditions affected the game right off the bat. In the first quarter, the Middies recovered a Crusader fumble on a wind-aided punt and were able to take a 3-0 lead on a 25-yard field goal.
In the second quarter, QB Anthony Campione kept a drive going by hitting Camron Adams with a 22-yard pass on third down from the Crusaders’ 22-yard line. From there the Crusaders power run game took over and ground the ball down to the Middletown 11-yard line before turning the ball over on another fumble.
The Crusader defense rose to the occasion and pinned the Middies deep in their own territory. On fourth down on the Middletown 15-yard line, Crusader Michael Ballinger broke through the line and blocked the punt. Colin Brown picked the ball up and scampered into the end zone.
The Crusaders defense had put the Crusaders up 7-3 at the half.
On the Crusaders’ first possession of the second half with the ball on the Middletown 14-yard line, Campione rolled out to his right and threw back into the middle were Adams made a fantastic catch in a crowd to put the Crusaders up 14-3 with 2:04 left in the third.
The Middies were not done, and QB Dalton Howell and wide receiver Rodney Bell showed why they are among the top passing combos in the division. First Howell and Bell hooked up on a 43-yard pass play to the Crusaders’ four-yard line. And after Jermaine McCray scored on a two-yard run, Howell and Bell hooked up again on a quick slant for a two-point conversion to make the score 14-11 with 5:44 left in the game.
The Middies got the ball right back when they recovered another Crusader fumble and were set on the Crusaders’ 11.
Tied score with 4:30 left
But the Crusaders defense dug in and stopped the Middies and they were forced to settle for a 35-yard field goal to tie the score at 14 with 4:30 left in the game.
At this point Crusader Nick Calderone added some of his magic as he took the Middletown kick off on the far side line, cut to the middle, broke a tackle and turned on the jets as he raced down the sideline to the Middletown 11-yard line.
Crusaders up by seven one minute later
From there Michael Zrelak got behind the right side of the Crusader offensive line and powered his way into the end zone. Edward Fennessy hit his third point after attempt of the game to give the Crusaders a 21-14 with 3:30 left in the game.
Middletown ties the game; here comes overtime
The Middies answered right back. With two minutes left in the game, Middletown QB Howell hit Bell in stride from 39 yards out. With the extra point, the score was tied and the game was heading into overtime.
In OT, Middletown scores first
The Middies took possession of the ball first in overtime. A 22-yard field goal gave them a 24-21 lead.
The winning combination: Campione-Adams
With the game and possibly the playoffs on the line, the Crusaders offense had one last chance. On a third and seven on the Middletown 17-yard line, Campione hit Adams on a route out of the backfield. Adams caught the ball on the three-yard line, broke past the Middletown defender and scored to give the team the victory.
The Crusader celebrated their OT victory but realize that they will have their work cut out for them next week when they face the undefeated Newburgh Goldback team at home on Saturday.