ROTTERDAM — Chatham had been waiting a long time to get another crack at Holy Trinity.
That much was evident on Sunday when the Panthers dominated the state’s No. 4 ranked Class C team on both sides of the ball, posting a 28-18 victory at Mohonasen High School to earn their first trip to the Section II Super Bowl since 2013.
The game was originally scheduled to be played on Saturday at Bishop Gibbons High School but the date and venue were switched because of poor weather and field conditions.
Chatham will next play the No. 1 team in the state, Cambridge/Salem, 7 p.m. on Friday at Lansingburgh High School for the Section II, Class C championship and the right to move on to state regional play.
“It feels good,” Chatham coach Rich Sitzer said. “We put in a good week of practice and were a little frustrated not being able to play Saturday, but I think it gave the guys a little extra to want to come out here and get the W and get back to the Super Bowl.”
A year ago to the day, the Panthers met Holy Trinity in the Class C semifinals and the Pride came away with a 44-0 victory. Sunday, it was the Panthers’ turn.
“It’s unbelievable, I can’t really believe it,” Chatham quarterback Kaleb Taylor said. “It was a year ago they beat us and we all knew it and we were ready for them. We did a great job of preparing all week. The line, I give this win to them today.”
Chatham’s line was impressive on both sides of the ball, whether opening holes for the backs to run through on offense or applying pressure on Trinity quarterback Joe Tortello on defense. The Panthers sacked Tortello four times — two by Sean King and one each for Casey Sitzer and Shane Croke.
“They did great,” Chatham running back Triston Schermerhorn said. “We don’t run up the middle too much, but today it helped us that they were able to step up and let us do that.”
Schermerhorn was the Panthers’ workhorse, carrying the ball 31 times for 156 yards and completing a 33-yard halfback option pass for a touchdown, despite jamming a finger while playing on special teams in the third quarter. Despite the injury, Schermerhorn, who is now just 26 yards away from 1,000 for the season, could not be kept on the sidelines.
“I was just running, I didn’t see the guy and my finger got stuck in his facemask, but I’m fine. No way I was coming out of this game.”
Along with the strong line play, the Chatham secondary also played a key role in the victory.
“Our secondary stepped up,” Sitzer said. “We know they have playmakers on their team and are well-coached. We knew we had to come in, cue our reads and make sure we were doing what we had to do. This was a big win for our program.”
Tortello came into the game with more than 1,700 yards passing and a 66% completion rate. The junior signal caller did finish 11 of 19 passing for 165 yards, but he didn’t complete his first pass until midway through the second quarter and only had two completions go for more than 15 yards and those were after the Panthers were comfortably in front.
Tortello’s favorite receiver, Nacier Hundley came into the contest with the second most catches in Section II, but was effectively shut down, snagging just two receptions for 16 yards.
“It says a lot about the character of the kids we have here,” Sitzer said. “They’ve got each others’ back, we preach family here and we mean it. I love these kids. I couldn’t be prouder of the kids and our coaching staff. They put in a lot of time and I couldn’t be prouder.”
The Panthers put together two impressive drives to start the game, the second one resulting in the game’s first points. Both were ground-oriented drives that not only chewed up time off the clock, but also kept the Pride’s high-powered offense off the field.
Late in the opening quarter, the Panthers drove from their own 41 to the Holy Trinity 33. On the first play of the second quarter, Taylor handed off to Schermerhorn, who threw a perfect pass to Casey Sitzer, who outfought a Trinity defender for the ball near the 10-yard line and then raced into the end zone. The play covered 33 yards and after Pat Knight’s point after kick, the Panthers had a lead they would never relinquish.
Holy Trinity drove into Chatham territory midway through the second quarter, but when faced with a fourth and two from the Chatham 31, Sean King buried Ja-Del Whitefield in the backfield for a three-yard loss, giving the ball back to the Panthers.
After three runs by Schermerhorn brought the ball to the Chatham 47, Taylor hooked up with Hunter Scheriff for a 53-yard touchdown pass. Knight’s extra point made it 14-0 with 2:11 to go in the half.
The Pride looked to seize some momentum going into the intermission, driving down to the Chatham three, but the drive stalled there and Will Lawson was brought in to boot a 20-yard field goal to narrow the deficit to 14-3.
Chatham wasted little time in taking control in the second half, needing just four plays to score its third touchdown. A 55-yard completion from Taylor to Scheriff got the ball to the Pride’s 23. After a four-yard pick up by Schermerhorn, Kastner broke off a 19-yard scoring run. Knight’s PAT boosted the Panthers advantage to 21-3.
Holy Trinity refused to pack it in, though, and had new life when Nelon Priest returned the ensuing kickoff 85 yards to the Chatham seven, breaking several tackles along the way.
Two plays later, Ja-Del Whitfield bulled into the end zone from two yards out. Lawson’s point after kick brough the Pride to within 21-10 with 8:48 to go in the third quarter.
Chatham maintained an 11-point lead until 5:05 remained in the game when Kastner scored on a one-yard run to cap off a seven-play 24-yard drive.
Holy Trinity punched in one more score on a five-yard run by Priest and a two-point conversion pass from Tortello to Noah Foster with 3:05 to go, but it was too little, too late and the Panthers ran out the clock to earn a berth in Friday’s Section II title game.
“It’s a great feeling, especially because they’re a good team, so to come in here and beat a team so highly ranked in the state is great,” Schermerhorn said. “I think our team really came together throughout the season and I think this is more of a family than a team. We all love each other and it keeps us going.”
Kastner added 72 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries to Chatham’s attack. Taylor rushed for 13 yards on six carries and completed 2 of 7 passes for 108 yards and a TD.
Scheriff had two receptions for 108 yards and a touchdown and Casey Sitzer had one reception for 33 yards and a score.
Chatham now has four days to prepare for Cambridge/Salem, which punched its ticket to the championship game with a 35-14 victory over Hoosick Falls on Saturday.
“I think we can do it,” Taylor said. “I know a lot of people will be counting us out, but you better watch out. That’s all I’m going to say.”