ENDICOTT — The Lakers are moving on in record-setting fashion with a record-setting quarterback.
Quarterback Patrick Hackler accounted for nine touchdowns as the Skaneateles football team defeated Section VI’s Cleveland Hill 63-56 in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class C semifinal Saturday at Ty Cobb Stadium in Endicott.
With the victory, the Lakers move on to their first state championship game and will face Section II’s Holy Trinity Pride for the title Friday at the Carrier Dome.
Totaling 119 points, Skaneateles and Cleveland Hill set the NYSPHSAA playoff record for most points scored in a game. The previous high of 115 points was reached in a 2004 Class A quarterfinal between Iroquois and Eastridge.
The NYSPHSAA has been sponsoring an official state tournament since 1993.
“It’s definitely a crazy swing of emotions,” Hackler said. “We kind of came out a little flat, but we still scored. We knew we were in a ballgame after (Cleveland Hill’s Javon Thomas) broke three runs in a row and scored back-to-back-to-back. Halftime is the best thing in football. It’s really beneficial, and that really helped us a lot.”
Five of Hackler’s touchdowns came on the ground while four were through the air. He finished 15-for-30 with 312 yards and totaled 384 rushing yards. Nate Wellington caught five passes for 134 yards, Cross Bianchi posted 99 yards and a touchdown on four receptions, Nick Wamp had three receptions for 45 yards and a touchdown, and Jake Nesbitt hauled in a 16-yard touchdown pass.
Running back Areh Boni finished with 76 rushing yards; he added two receptions for 17 yards and a touchdown.
For such a high-scoring game, only 15 total points were scored in the opening quarter as the Eagles led 8-7 after 12 minutes. Both offenses exploded in the second quarter, accounting for 70 total points in the frame.
In Skaneateles’ first seven plays of the second quarter, the Lakers scored three touchdowns and totaled 198 yards.
But Skaneateles’ defense had no answer for the Eagles' Thomas. Thomas, who also scored Cleveland Hill’s first touchdown of the game, reeled off touchdown runs of 60, 74 and 78 yards in the second quarter. The Eagles mixed in a kickoff return for a touchdown to take a 50-35 lead into halftime.
The Lakers’ defense, which had no answer for Thomas in the first half, shut down Cleveland Hill’s offense in the second. The Eagles’ lone touchdown in the final 24 minutes came on an interception return by Aaron Wahler late in the third quarter.
“The defenses in the first half had a hard time catching up to what the other team was doing,” Skaneateles coach Joe Sindoni said. “They made some adjustments to us and we made some adjustments to them. After scoring 50 in the first half, I don’t think they scored an offensive touchdown in the second. It was a great adjustment by our defensive staff at halftime. It became a chess match and we were lucky enough to have one more score at the end. It was a marathon game.”
That turnaround, which included two fumble recoveries, allowed the Lakers offense to catch up on the scoreboard. Midway through the fourth quarter, after Bianchi scooped up a loose ball on defense, Hackler faked a pitch near midfield and galloped for a 54-yard touchdown to give Skaneateles a one-score lead with 4:39 remaining.
Cleveland Hill had two possessions to net a tie and force overtime, but the Lakers forced a punt on the first try and the Eagles ran out of time on the second.
“(We just wanted) to keep them in front of us,” Sindoni said. “We knew that they were going to try to get it to (Thomas) somehow. … Just keep him in front of us and we did a good job of that.”
With their defense struggling in the first half, Sindoni elected for only onside kicks in the second half and the Lakers were able to recover one that later led to a touchdown. Hackler, who is also Skaneateles’ kickoff specialist, said that strategy was heavily discussed at halftime.
“We were kicking the little pooch kick to the right and they were kind of sitting back,” Hackler said. “We had a lot of faith in our defense. Kicking the onsides is just another element of the game and something else they have to cover. It gets them thinking about other stuff and it worked pretty well.”
So what does Hackler, who extended his state record of passing touchdowns in a season to 50, think of being part of one of New York state’s most historic games?
“That’s amazing. People will score left and right, but I’m just happy we won.”