Slovakian exchange student hits game-winning FG in OT to lift Middletown to win in Erie Bell game
By Justin Rodriguez
Section 9 Football Insider
Port Jervis — Middletown coach Tim Strenfel thought Sam Ziak was a college student when he showed up unannounced to a practice during the first week of camp.
Turns out, Ziak was an exchange student from Slovakia who had never played football, but told Strenfel that he wanted to kick for the Bears. Wearing jeans, Ziak was given a tryout on the spot, and his leg strength impressed the coach enough for him to put him on the roster.
Who would have known that the kid in the skinny jeans would be the hero of the Erie Bell game. Ziak’s 18-yard field goal in overtime gave Middletown a thrilling 24-21 win over rival Port Jervis on Saturday at Glennette Field. The Bears have won four in a row against the Raiders and lead the all-time series that dates back to 1897 74-58-7.
Middletown played on Saturday without seven injured starters, including five who play on both sides of the ball.
“When I came here, I wanted to try something new and the guys accepted me very quickly,” said Ziak, who grew up playing soccer. “I heard about football before, but I had never played. I saw them practicing and I just asked the coach if I could kick the ball. I had tight jeans on and sneakers. I kicked the ball and guys started jumping around me and they were impressed.”
As for his big Erie Bell field goal, Ziak said: “This is crazy with all of this great atmosphere. The people cheering from Middletown and Port Jervis was just wonderful.”
Ziak’s field goal capped a wild in game in front of approximately 2,500 fans. Middletown led 21-0 entering the fourth quarter, but Port Jervis (4-2) sent the game to overtime by scoring 21 unanswered points. The Bears (3-3) opened the scoring 4:45 into the game on a 9-yard pass from Noriel Brown to Evan Roberts.
Brown made it 14-0 on a 6-yard run and Darnell Kornegay’s 4-yard run midway through the third quarter seemed to put the game out of reach. Seemingly finished, Port Jervis rallied for three touchdowns during 7:30 span during the fourth quarter. Quarterback Branden Roesch scored on a 28-yard with 9:00 left in the game and Shameik Washington added a 72-yard touchdown just 1:32 later.
Trailing 21-13 with 1:30 remaining, Roesch hit Washington for a 20-yard touchdown on a fourth-and-10. The Raiders tied the game on Roesch’s two-point conversion to tie the game at 21 apiece.
“At first, I was a little nervous when they tied the game,” Brown said. “One of my coaches just told me to forget everything that happened. It was a new game. Good things and bad things happen in sports. We just had one goal and that was to win the game.”
As per overtime rules, each team was given a chance to score, starting its series at its opponents’ 20-yard line. The Raiders’ drive stalled, ending on a fourth-and-35 play at Middletown’s 45-yard line. Middletown’s drive was much more effective with Brown nearly scoring on third-and-goal at the Raiders 1-yard line, but he was stopped short of the goal line.
That set the stage for Ziak, who said he asked someone on the Middletown sideline for a pack of Skittles to calm him down while preparing for the game-winning field goal. He nailed the chip shot, sending Middletown sprinting to the Erie Bell, which was situated outside the north end zone at Glennette. Ziak had the Skittles tucked into the front of his pants after the game. The overtime field goal served as the first of Ziak’s career.
“I didn’t even know who the kid was, but everyone told me that he could kick far,” Brown said. “I had never seen him in my life. He kicked the ball 40 or 50 yards in jeans. I was amazed. We are just really happy to have him. This is a huge win for us and we will remember it for the rest of our lives.”
Middletown's Sam Ziak
Follow Justin Rodriguez on Twitter at jrodsportshs