BATAVIA — Leading 14-8 with 5:30 remaining in the fourth quarter of Monday’s NYSPHSAA Class B Far West Regional Final, Batavia’s season had come down to one play. With Iroquois facing a fourth-and-goal from the five-yard line, the Blue Devils needed to come up with one stop to help ensure its advancement to the state semifinal for the second time in program history.
Iroquois quarterback Justus Kleitz called for the shotgun snap, faked a handoff, dropped back and surveyed the field but failed to find an open receiver. He then pulled the ball down to run. Scrambling to the right side, Kleitz put his shoulder down and powered his way toward the end zone, where he was met by Garret Schmidt, who was unable to make the play near the line of scrimmage. The missed tackle allowed the Chiefs’ QB to stretch for the goal line but slowed his momentum enough that Vincent Arroyo and Brendan Burgess were able to stand Kleitz up at the one-yard line, where Aavion Bethel came through like a freight train, delivering the finishing blast to stop Iroquois short of the game-tying score. It was a hit you could’ve probably heard in Elba.
“I saw the quarterback drop back, he rolled, and I just went and got him, “said Bethel. “Big stop in a big game.”
After the critical fourth-down stop, Batavia took over at its own one-yard line and manufactured a couple of first downs to give itself breathing room before it finished the drive with a dagger, an 83-yard throw and catch from McFollins to Carter McFollins-Cramer, who ran wide open behind the Chiefs’ secondary on a third-and-6, made the grab in stride on a well-thrown pass and ran untouched into the end zone to help increase Batavia’s lead to 20-8 with 2:52 remaining. It was a heady play call, as Iroquois sold out to stop the run and got burned by the deep ball from the Blue Devils.
The long score, along with an interception from McFollins-Cramer on the Chiefs’ ensuing drive, helped work the final minutes off the clock, giving the Blue Devils the win and the regional title.
Batavia moves on to face Maine-Endwell in next week’s NYSPHSAA Class B Semifinal, which will be played at 3 p.m. on Saturday at Union-Endicott High School.
“We’ve just got some tough football players,” said Batavia head coach Brennan Briggs. “They’re resilient. We always say bend but don’t break. We went down, but at the end of the day, these guys are tough. They’re not going to hang their heads. They’re going to work for each other and play for each other like one family.”
Batavia fumbled on the opening possession of Monday’s regional win, but the Chiefs’ opening drive stalled inside the Blue Devils’ 20-yard line as Schmidt dropped an Iroquois ball carrier in the backfield on a third-and-3 which led to a Chiefs’ fourth-down failure. Batavia then went three and out before Chiefs’ running back Trevor Barry punched it in from two yards out to help Iroquois take an 8-0 lead with 6:58 remaining in the first quarter.
On the ensuing drive, Ja’Vin McFollins connected with Cole Grazioplene on a 37-yard pitch and catch down the sideline to help set up a three-yard touchdown run from Aidan Anderson, which cut Batavia’s deficit to 8-6 with 11:33 to go in the first half after a failed point-after attempt from Julia Petry.
Iroquois traveled inside the 30-yard line on its next drive before Bethel came up with an interception, thwarting the possession. The two teams then traded punts before McFollins took a quarterback keeper off the right side for a touchdown, leaping over a few downed Chiefs’ defenders en route to paydirt. After a nifty two-point play, Batavia held a 14-8 lead with 2:16 remaining in the first half. That was all the Blue Devils would need, as McFollins-Cramer came up with the late touchdown reception and interception to help seal the deal.
“Why not us? “asked Anderson regarding his team’s chances next week. “We’re going to celebrate tonight, but we still have a job to do.”
In Batavia’s previous appearance in the state semifinal, it won a back-and-forth game over Skaneateles to advance to the NYSPHSAA Class B Final where it fell to Glens Falls.