Clutch plays, blocked XP propel Cornwall to Class A state championship game

By Sean Lynch
Section 9 Football Insider Staff

MIDDLETOWN — In the final seconds of the Class A semifinal, freshman Cornwall quarterback Aidan Semo took a knee and pumped his fist in the air following a 21-20 win Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake on Friday night.

It wasn’t just a normal fist-pump, it resembled Kirk Gibson’s gesture in the 1988 World Series after hitting a walk-off home run to win it all. 

It was the type of gesture you make after being crowned the victor in the biggest game in your career.

With the win, Cornwall (11-0) moves on to play West Seneca East for the Class A state championship at 3 p.m. on Friday in the Carrier Dome at Syracuse. West Seneca Eadt defeated Indian River 50-42 in the other semifinal on Friday night.

“This was a great team win for us tonight,” said Semo. “Burnt Hills is a great team, obviously they did some things really well today, but we made plays when we needed to and we’re moving on to the Carrier Dome.

One of those plays came halfway through the fourth quarter. Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake had just scored a potential game-tying touchdown on a 19 yard pass.

Cornwall senior linebacker Shane O’Dea jogged off the field, straight to head coach Eric Holzapple before the extra point.

He went over the gameplan with Holzapple and patiently waited behind the defensive line for the snap.

Per the gameplan, the Cornwall defensive line spread apart as the ball was snapped. A small hole opened up the middle. O’Dea leapt through the hole and deflected the ball sideways. 

He made the play of his life. He blocked the potential game-tying extra point, giving the Dragons a 21-20 lead with six minutes left.

“It was a designed play,” said O’Dea. “We were close to blocking both of the earlier extra points. The third time it worked. “I guess the third time is the charm after all.”

“People neglect special teams, and some say it’s a free point, but that play is what won us the game today,” said Holzapple. “It lost us a state quarterfinal four years ago, but won one for us tonight.”

In 2015, Lourdes blocked a Cornwall extra point and the Dragons lost 21-20 in the state quarterfinal. Tonight, the opposite happened in the Dragons favor.

With 4:13 left, Cornwall faced a fourth-and-one on their own 41-yard-line. After compiling 149 yards so far, junior running back Amin Woods was ready to give his team the boost they needed to keep the drive going.

Cornwall’s offensive line stopped every defender from getting past the line of scrimmage, giving Woods enough room to run to the side for a first down.

“It was a team effort,” said Woods. “We had great intensity through the highs-and-lows of the game, everyone played their hearts out tonight.”

Woods finished with 32 rushes for 174 yards and two touchdowns. 

“Amin said to me before the game, ‘Coach Holzapple, I won’t let you down’ and I trusted him to get us a yard, and he gave us the most important yard of the season.”

Three minutes later, on a fourth-and-one from near midfield, Holzapple went for it again. All Semo had to do was hand the ball off to Woods and let him do the rest. 

Woods did just that. He ran through space at the line of scrimmage, put his head down and ran over a Burnt Hills linebacker, sealing the win for Cornwall.

For Holzapple, it was a pretty easy decision on both fourth down plays. “I said to myself, do I want to give them a chance to win, or do I trust the kids to win it on our side of the field. Our kids have been so clutch this year that I put my faith in them to keep it going.”

Despite the biggest win of their careers, Semo knows there’s still one final game left to play. “Getting to the Carrier Dome in November is what every kid dreams of,” said Semo. “We still have a lot of work to do this week in order to achieve the ultimate goal — to be the best team in Class A.”

Twitter: @SeanLynch845