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Elmira Express Rides Off Into The Semifinals After 24-18 Win Over CBA

Posted Monday, November 18, 2013 by Mike Johnston


Endicott, NY -- Rasean Brooks is the starting quarterback for the Elmira Express. He worn not a hint of surprise and barely a trace of satisfaction after his team defeated No. 2 state-ranked Christian Brothers Academy 24-18 on Saturday in a Class AA state quarterfinal high school football game.

It was a stunning end for the Brothers. Apparently not so stunning for the Express.

"We do what we do," Brooks said. "I can't really explain it."

The Express, which is a combined team of players from Elmira Free Academy and Southside High School, used the double wilng offense to chew up and grind down the CBA defense. Eli Thomas rushed for three touchdowns and caught a touchdown pass for Elmira in its victory.

It was a crushing end for the Brothers, who were a battered team physically following their 19-14 win over Henninger in the Section III championship game a week ago.

Star tailback Deshawn Salter managed only a handful of carries before going to the sidelines. Starting defensive end Aaron Donalson didn't even dress out. And starting quarterback J.R. Zazzara, playing on an injured foot, was only about 70 percent.

At one point, the Brothers had none of their three running backs and had to run their offense out of an empty backfield.

There were others missing as well, but the impact was substantial.

"It's a lot to ask of some young kids," said CBA coach Joe Casamento. "It's a lot to ask. I know they always say next man up, but the next guy is not like the guy that's there.

"Our kids played well. They played their (butts) off. That's all you can ask kids to do. We were outgunned. They played very well."


Casamento looked not so much at his team's defensive deficiencies. "I don't think we did a bad job (on defense)," he said. Casamento thought holding Elmira to 24 points was enough to win the game. Instead, it was more about his team's offensive inadequacies.

CBA led 7-0 on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Zazzara to Jonathan Stackhouse in the first quarter. The score came on fourth-and-4. With Nolan Power's kick, the Brothers led 7-0.

Some special teams issues by CBA gave Elmira the short field much of the game. And it helped set up Elmira's first score. The Express drove 54 yards for its opening touchdown, an 8-yard run by Thomas. The conversion failed, leaving CBA on top 7-6.

The Express took its first lead 12-7 on a 47-yard pass from Brooks to Thomas, who had gotten behind the CBA secondary. The Brothers came right back, driving 61 yards in two plays. Zazzara threw his second touchdown pass, this one covered 24 yards to Andre Dowdell with 62 seconds left in the first half and gave CBA a 15-12 lead.

Elmira took its opening possession of the second half and drove 69 yards for a touchdown, a 1-yard run by Thomas. The conversion failed, making it 18-15.

One of the game's critical plays followed. Stackhouse was driving his legs toward the end zone for an apparent touchdown but fumbled near the goal line. Elmira recovered.

The next critical play came on Elmira's ensuing possession. On fourth-and-1 from the Elmira 39, the Express went for it. The Brothers appeared to have Brooks stopped. Instead, he got a favorable spot and picked up a first down by inches. That drive ended in another fumble at the CBA 45. But, the Brothers clearly would've preferred getting the ball at the Express 39.

CBA did use that possession to tie the game at 18 on a 24-yard field goal by Bower with 9 minutes remaining. Bower had to stutter-step his approach after a high snap but still got the kick to limp through the goal posts.

Elmira then drove 65 yards for the winning touchdown, a 3-yard run by Thomas over the left side.

"We believe in each other," said Brooks. "We play as hard as we can. We're close knit. We believe in each other."

Zazzara had one pass tipped and intercepted by Brooks in the ensuing possession. Elmira was uanble to run out the clock after CBA stopped the Express on fourth down. But four incomplete Zazzara passes ended it.

"They were better than what we had on the field," Casamento said.

Elmira coach Jimmy McCauley, who is 28 years old but said he thinks he's 44 after the victory, said he understood the Brothers were missing several critical pieces.

"It's a shame," McCauley said. "It's kind of part of the game. You never want that to happen to a team."

At the same time, there was no awe in their eyes.

"We're very routine," McCauley said. "We do the same things week in and week out. We focus on what we do. What we do will take care of what they do. We focus on us. We feel like we can stand up, match up with anybody in the state."

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