Cole Carpenter realized it was the biggest few minutes of his young football life and that the Immaculate Heart Central Cavaliers were counting on their junior quarterback for leadership and his ability to make plays with the Cavaliers trailing in the fourth quarter Friday night.
Carpenter calmly guided IHC 67 yards in eight plays for the winning score, capping it off with a 6-yard dash around left end with just under seven minutes to play.
The IHC defense then came up with a huge turnover deep in Cavalier territory, and Carpenter hit three clutch passes as IHC was able to hang onto the ball and run out the clock on a scintillating 28-26 Section 3 Class C North win over the Lions.
IHC (6-0 overall, 5-0 conference) not only captured the Class C North crown, the Cavaliers clinched a top three seeding in the Section 3 tournament, and will host a home quarterfinal game next Friday night.
For Carpenter, who threw for 256 yards and three touchdowns, it was a night of early nerves, and then a calmness when IHC needed him the most.
I still cant really believe it happened, Carpenter said afterward. My line gave me great protection, and my receivers made some great catches. All I did was do my job.
IHC coach Paul Alteri reiterated what he has been saying all season. Cole is the best quarterback in the north country. His poise was incredible. He made some great throws into tight windows. And he led us like a great quarterback does.
Carpenter passed to Nick Koelmel (5 receptions, 68 yards) for first-half touchdowns of 26 and 16 yards. He also hit Jude Whalen (6-109) with a huge 15-yard TD right before half to give IHC a 21-14 lead.
Koelmel said Carpenter was throwing with a lot of confidence because he knew our receivers could get open. Those last few passes were right on the money.
With IHCs ground game (71 net yards) stymied by the quick General Brown defense, the Cavaliers took to the air 33 times, completing 17.
You could tell by the first couple of plays they were going to take away our sweeps, Alteri said. So we went to what we do best. Cole has improved so much with his timing, his accuracy and his awareness in the pocket.
General Brown (6-1, 4-1) didnt make it easy for the Cavaliers. The Lions pounded away at the IHC defense for 312 rushing yards.
Junior running back Zech Pitre ground out 152 tough yards on 26 carries, and scored three touchdowns.
But Lions sophomore quarterback Evan Will, who passed for 258 yards last week against Lowville, was 0-for-5 and threw two interceptions.
We probably should have thrown more, said General Brown coach Steve Fisher. Their kid was spectacular. With him in the shot gn like that, it was tough to get pressure on him and he made some great throws.
General Brown scored first on a 4-yard Jared Christoper run, which was set up by a 54-yard sprint by Ryan Cumberbatch. Jacob Wojasinski booted the extra point to make it 7-0 with 5 1/2 minutes gone.
Carpenter and Koelmel hooked up for their first score, a 25-yarder, on IHCs next possession, and Louis Janer tied it at 7-7 with the PAT.
A Pitre 16-yard TD run and PAT made it 14-7 for the Lions on the first play of the second quarter. But Carpenter led a 10-play, 60-yard tying drive, again hitting Koelmel for a 16-yard touchdown.
A Jude Whalen interception set up a Carpenter-to-Whalen 15-yard TD connection with 1:13 left before halftime to give the host Cavaliers a 21-14 edge.
Pitre added a TD run of 3 yards on General Browns first possession of the third quarter. He scored again on a 1-yard run to open the fourth quarter. However, both 2-point conversion runs were unsuccessful.
Carpenter finally got the IHC offense moving again after Pitres third score. Koelmel made a leaping grab for a key 23-yard gain. And after IHC hurt itself with a delay penalty, Carpenter took it himself for the winning points.
General Brown was driving for a potential go-ahead score when Koelmel stripped the ball from Will as he cut back for extra yards and IHC recovered deep in its own territory.
I feel bad for Evan, Fisher said. He was just trying to make a few more yards. But I think both teams really played hard. And we may see them again, you never know.
Needing to run the clock and keep possession, Haden Baker made two leaping catches, and Whalen one as IHC forced General Brown to use its timeouts.
We stopped them just enough on defense, said Alteri. I just cant say enough about this clubs heart and determination.