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Eden football can’t hold on at end in upset bid of Alden

COMING DOWN WITH IT — Jesse Vondell catches a touchdown pass, as an Alden defender skies through the air, to try to knock it down. Photo by Ron Larson.
Eden seemed to all but wrap up handing Alden it first loss to a Western New York team since the 2009 season. But, in a blink of an eye, the Bulldogs showed the Class B upstart why they are a three-time defending sectional champion.

The Raiders drove down the field on a 13-play drive that ended with a touchdown and then rolled the dice, by converting a two-point pass to take the lead 15 – 14 with 1:41 left in the game, just to see Alden score only three plays after a long kickoff return, to start the ensuing drive at midfield. It took less than a minute for Alden to strike back and avoid the upset with a 22-15 win.

“I just told our boys, ‘Good teams find a way to win.’ When it counted and we needed it, our boys came through,” Alden head coach Rob Currin said. “As a football coach, I couldn’t be more proud of the character they displayed moving down the field. It was gut check time there and our boys came through.”

Getting it done was Alden sophomore Lyle Grant, who scored the winning touchdown on a 13-yard run with 47 seconds left, after putting his team in a good position to start the drive with a 40-yard return, after the Eden kickoff went down to the 10.

“We knew we needed it and we dug down deep [and] fought through it as a team; it wasn’t just me,” said Grant, who finished with 105 yards and two touchdowns on six carries. Obviously, the last couple of years, we’ve been successful, so knowing that we were down, we had to do something.”

Eden had taken the lead on a seven-yard touchdown run from senior quarterback Nick Sarratori, who then hit a wide-open Jesse Vondell on what seemed to be the winning two-point play. At least, that is what Eden’s players had thought.

“We celebrated a victory we had not won yet,” Eden head coach Chuck Tilley said. “We went up [late in the game] and I think the kids felt like it was over. When you’re playing a team that good, you’ve got to play for 48 minutes. We didn’t seal the deal.”

Alden jumped out to a 14 – 0 lead behind a mix of the run and pass. Standout senior quarterback Brian Stoldt hit Dylan Dussault on a 25-yard touchdown pass with 1:09 left in the first quarter. The Bulldogs added a 56-yard touchdown run from Grant a minute into the second quarter.

Typically a running team itself, Eden started to work its way back from 14 – 0 down, using it passing game. Sarratori finished 10 of 15 for 112 yards and lofted a perfect spiral down the left side to Vondell for a 39-yard touchdown 40 seconds before halftime. A Kyle Gibbon extra point cut the lead to 14 – 7 at halftime.

The Raiders were deep inside Alden territory on their first two drives of the second half as well, but both times turned the ball over on downs. Austin Hopcia sealed the win for Alden with an interception of Sarratori, during the final seconds of the game.

“I like the way we responded,” Tilley said. “We were down two touchdowns and we fought our way back into it. We threw the ball well, opened things up and scored a touchdown. In the second half, we had the ball almost the whole half.”

Eden earned Alden’s respect, as Currin and Grant were both complimentary of the Raiders, afterward, and the playoff team the past three seasons proved it was a major player among the Class B field.

“I told our kids they shouldn’t be down or disappointed; they should be angry,” Tilley said. “This was our game. We had it and we allowed them to take it from us. Does it encourage me for the rest of our schedule? Yes.”


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