CARTHAGE — The Indian River football team withstood a relentless comeback bid by Jamesville-DeWitt on Friday night to gain a spot in the Section 3 Class A championship game and a shot at redemption.
The top-seeded Warriors reclaimed their dominant ground game back and survived a prolific passing performance in the second half to beat the No. 4 Red Rams, 56-42, in the Class A semifinal at Carthage High School.
Indian River improved to 8-1 overall and will play No. 3 Whitesboro (7-2) in the sectional championship game at 8 p.m. next Friday at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.
Two-time defending Whitesboro has won its last five games against Indian River, including a 41-20 victory to close out the regular season last Friday, and a 17-7 win in last year’s Class A final.
“Last year was tough but we realized early we were capable of making it to the Dome again this year,” Indian River senior running back Ronnie Clark said. “Ever since the first week of practice, we kept on saying: ‘Let’s go the Dome, let’s go the Dome.’ So now it’s cool that we’re finally doing it after all the hard work.”
Indian River’s dream of returning to the Dome nearly came unraveled in the second half.
Jamesville-DeWitt quarterback Adam Honis threw for 298 of his 333 yards in the second half, and also tossed four of his five touchdown passes after halftime.
He guided the Red Rams to 21 unanswered points, finishing with a 22-yard touchdown strike to leading receiver Patrick Murad, cutting Indian River’s lead to 48-42 with four minutes and 31 seconds remaining.
“Every 50-50 ball, they won,” Indian River coach Cory Marsell said. “We actually weren’t in bad position a lot of times and they were able to make some plays and we weren’t, so that’s a little bit discouraging. I think that our secondary is one of the strongest points of our team and it didn’t show today.”
The Warriors recovered their fourth straight onside kick after that touchdown, three of which were snagged by senior fullback Brandon Smith, and they sealed the victory with a three-minute scoring drive capped off by a Smith two-yard run to put the Warriors up 56-42 following the extra point.
Indian River, which claimed a 6-0 victory over J-D just two weeks ago, picked up three of its six second-half first downs on its final drive to seal the victory.
“It takes a lot of heart and just keeping our minds focused on staying together,” said Indian River senior linebacker Xavier Bryant, who tallied five tackles and sacked Honis on J-D’s final possession to force a game-sealing turnover on downs. “It’s kind of like coming together like glue. You piece it together sometimes and it gets messed up sometimes, but it’s all about the mind-set for us.”
The Indian River running back trio of Kwazsi Gaddis, Clark, and Smith topped 400 yards for the seventh time in nine games, after being held below that mark in back-to-back weeks.
Gaddis led the way with 266 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries, including a 71-yard sprint on Indian River’s first offensive play of the game, and a 65-yard score on its second play of the third quarter.
Clark added 144 yards and three touchdowns of 7, 8, and 19 yards, while Smith tallied 67 yards and his scoring plunge to seal the victory.
The Warriors’ defense forced and recovered fumbles on two of J-D’s first three possessions in the second half. Will Jones returned the first fumble 50 yards for a touchdown after stripping the J-D ball-carrier standing up, and the Warriors’ offense scored off the second turnover to open a 41-14 lead with five minutes left in the third quarter.
“We’re usually known as a second-half team and we had to come put that statement out there, drive it down and punch them in the mouth,” Bryant said.
Honis completed 22 of 29 passes for 333 yards and his five touchdowns, and Murad led the Red Rams (5-4 overall) with 12 receptions for 220 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
SOUTH LEWIS 26, TUPPER LAKE 20 (OT)
Aquan Moultrie scored from 15 yards out in overtime as the Falcons rallied past the Lumberjacks for a nonleague 8-man victory over the Lumberjacks in Turin.
Molutrie ran it in from two yards out to force overtime as South Lewis (3-3) scored the last 26 points of the game after falling behind 20-0. Brady Vosburgh ran 22 times for 192 yards and ran and threw for a score for the Falcons. Molutrie finished with 15 carries for 92 yards and two touchdowns. Jared Makuch caught four passes for 100 yards and a 32-yard TD pass from Vosburgh.
Skyler Pickering ran for touchdowns of one and six yards for Tupper Lake (0-8), which was playing its first 8-man game in school history.