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Elmira Advances to State Football Semifinals

Posted Monday, November 18, 2013 by Mike Johnston

Elmira advances to state football semifinals

ENDICOTT — Elmira has taken the Express lane to elite status.

In its third season as a combined program, the Express pulled out a 24-18 victory over Syracuse Christian Brothers Academy, the state’s second-ranked team, in a New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class AA football quarterfinal Saturday at Union-Endicott’s Ty Cobb Stadium.

Senior running back Eli Thomas scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 2-yard run with 2 minutes, 28 seconds remaining as the pairing of Elmira Free Academy and Southside athletes moved within two victories of a state title.

The 18th-ranked Express (10-0) will play in face top-ranked Rochester Aquinas (11-0) in a semifinal at 6 p.m. Nov. 23 at Sahlen’s Stadium in Rochester.

“It’s amazing,” Thomas said. “We worked really hard this week and it paid off and we’re going to get back after it next week.”

Said senior quarterback Rasean Brooks: “It feels really good, but we’ve got to keep working. We can’t settle for what we have right now. We’ve got to keep going.”

Thomas ran for 132 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries and also scored on a 47-yard reception. Fellow 1,000-yard rusher Jerry McPeak, a junior, contributed 169 yards on 30 attempts.

Elmira’s defense held CBA (10-1) to two touchdowns and 24 points below its season average.

“With the type of offense we have we can try to control the clock, but there’s going to be some games where we need the defense to step up and make plays,” Elmira head coach Jimmy McCauley said. “This was one of them. They came up with some great plays.”

Elmira outgained Christian Brothers Academy, 393-266, and had a 25-13 edge in first downs. The Express forced three turnovers, including an interception by Brooks on the first play from scrimmage after Thomas’ go-ahead touchdown. CBA quarterback J.R. Zazzara scrambled around as Brooks looked for his shot to make a play.

“I was just waiting for the quarterback to make his decision,” Brooks said. “Kevin Snyder tipped the ball up and it was my ball from there.”


Elmira was stopped on downs at CBA’s 20-yard line and the Brothers took over with just over a minute left. Zazzara hit Johnathan Stackhouse for a 21-yard gain, then followed two incompletions with a 3-yard run. He lofted a fourth-down throw toward Tim Corapi at Elmira’s 40-yard line that was broken up on a perfectly timed play by Thomas.

“The kids play 100 percent,” McCauley said. “They play with passion, they play with effort. We had some stumbles along the way, but they answered the bell. They never once doubted themselves. We never doubted them.”

Neither team led by more than a touchdown in a back-and-forth contest that saw its first points come with 2:53 left in the first quarter on a 4-yard pass from Zazzara to Stackhouse on fourth down.

Thomas scored on an 8-yard run midway through the second quarter, spinning away from one potential tackle and running through a defender near the goal line.

He then made a twisting catch over the middle on a throw from Brooks for a 47-yard touchdown that gave Elmira a 12-7 lead with 1:25 to go in the first half.

It took CBA two plays to respond. Zazzara connected with Andre Dowdell for a 37-yard completion down the sideline, then found him open in the back of the end zone for a 24-yard touchdown. Zazzara’s two-point run gave CBA a 15-12 halftime lead after Elmira’s Darius Ham was wide left on a field goal as the half ended.

Zazzara completed 13 of 27 passes for 183 yards and two interceptions, with Snyder stepping in front of a pass in the first half. Zazzara, who will play at the University at Buffalo, carried even more of the workload than usual with 1,200-yard rusher Deshawn Salter limited to four touches. Salter was banged up in last week’s Section 3 final against Henninger.

On its first drive of the second half, Elmira marched 69 yards and picked up five first downs before Thomas ran in from 1-yard out. The Express missed for the third straight time on a 2-point try and its lead was 18-15.

Nolan Bower kicked a 24-yard field goal with nine minutes remaining to tie the score and Elmira responded with a 13-play, 65-yard drive that Thomas capped with a 2-yard run up the middle.

Thomas carried six times on the drive for 33 yards. McPeak ran five times for 39 yards.

“It’s great when we all work as a team,” said Thomas, who has 28 touchdowns this season. “The line does its job and the backs do our job. It’s easy.”

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