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High school football: Herkimer topples Sandy Creek in Class D title game

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SYRACUSE — Too much Austin Mills and four turnovers combined to end Sandy Creek’s dream of repeating as Section 3 Class D football champions on Saturday.

Mills, Herkimer’s talented 6-foot-1, 223-pound senior quarterback, rushed for three scores and passed for two more to lead third-seeded Herkimer to a 43-14 win over the fifth-seeded Comets in the title game at the Carrier Dome.

Sandy Creek (8-2) lost two crucial fumbles and had two passes intercepted as the Comets fell behind 14-0, rallied to tie the game at 14-all and then watched the Magicians (9-1) score the final 29 points to win going away.

“We played just OK today,’’ Sandy Creek senior John Shirley said. “We needed to play great to beat that team.’’

Mills connected with Brennen Thompson on a 63-yard touchdown pass on Herkimer’s first play from scrimmage.

He also hit Eric Johnston for a 27-yard score in the third quarter and scored himself on runs of 6 yards in the first quarter, 9 yards in the third quarter and 9 yards in the final quarter.

“They had a lot of offensive talent, and we didn’t do a good enough job of slowing them down,’’ Sandy Creek coach Mike Stevens said. “It was a game where we made critical mistakes at key times.’’

Mills said it was important the Magicians “set the tone early and got ahead. And then when they tied it, we just got together and said we need to push one in, and we did.’’

Sandy Creek nearly recovered the opening kickoff before Herkimer finally fell on a loose ball. Thompson then easily got behind the Sandy Creek secondary for a long score to put the Comets in an early hole.

“That’s something that you just can’t give up,’’ Stevens said.

After a Sandy Creek fumble, Mills sprinted six yards for a second Herkimer score, and Matt Borek’s PAT made it 14-0.

A 46-yard Kyle Fayette-to-Cameron Hall pass set up Sandy Creek’s first score, a 17-yard sprint around the end by Hall. Tyler Swarthout converted, and the Comets had answered.

After forcing two Herkimer punts, Sandy Creek went 64 yards in seven plays to tie it on Fayette’s 14-yard keeper and Swarthout’s PAT with 4:52 left in the second quarter.

But the Magicians needed only four plays to regain the momentum, with Mills again going the final 16 yards for the touchdown.

“That’s when we needed to make a defensive stand,’’ Shirley said. “But we missed too many tackles and our pass coverage was not up to par today.’’

Hall, Sandy Creek’s leading rusher, was carried off the field with three minutes left in the first half with a leg injury. He did not return, forcing the Comets to play without one of their main two-way standouts .

“To lose Cameron was big,’’ Shirley said. “But everybody else didn’t do enough to pick him up.’’

Mills hit Johnston for a 27-yard score on Herkimer’s first possession of the second half. The senior then tacked on a couple more scores, and Borek concluded the scoring with a 34-yard field goal.

Sandy Creek managed just three first downs the second half, and just didn’t have enough weapons to forge a comeback.

“You’ll forget this in a little bit, and realize how great the last couple years have been,’’ Stevens told his team afterward. “And that what we’ve accomplished is pretty cool.’’

Sandy Creek’s Grace Wallace, who became the second female to a score a touchdown in a Section 3 high school football game earlier this season, caught a 27-yard pass from Swarthout on the game’s third-to-last play for the Comets.

Herkimer will play Section 4 champion Tioga in the state quarterfinals at 5 p.m. Friday at Union-Endicott High School.

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