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Published: November 06, 2009 11:46 pm

HS FOOTBALL: Grand Island's run ends at The Ralph

By Nate Beutel
Niagara Gazette

ORCHARD PARK — Grand Island’s storybook run is over.

Two late interceptions by GI quarterback Joel Klock proved costly Friday night despite a valiant defensive effort as top-seeded Sweet Home, the reigning state champions, escaped Ralph Wilson Stadium with a 20-13 win over the sixth-seeded Vikings.

GI (5-4) had won five straight after losing its first three games. Its two playoff wins avenged earlier losses, but the third proved too difficult a task to handle. The Panthers (9-0) will play in the Class A Far West Regional against Section V champion Aquinas at 8:30 p.m. Friday at Marina Auto Stadium in Rochester.

“If Grand Island were able to win, that would probably be the story of the decade,” Western New York High School Sports Magazine publisher Dick Gallagher said prior to the game.

“It was an unbelievable run,” GI coach Dean Santorio affirmed afterwards. “I’m actually pretty happy with the way we played. I’m just disappointed that our kids couldn’t walk away from here with a sectional championship. I’m proud to say this team battled as much as any other team in Grand Island history has battled.”

With GI holding a 13-6 lead late in the third quarter, the Panthers went on a nine-play drive that ended on the first play of the fourth period when Mike Coleman plunged into the end zone from a yard out. Pat McMahon’s extra point tied the game at 13.

GI went 3-and-out on its next possession and punted to the Panthers, who marched down to the 12-yard line before being held on downs by a stingy Vikings’ defense. But just three plays later, momentum swung in the Panthers’ favor when Klock was picked off by Kyle Luchey.

Luchey, who caught the interception off Ralph Neasman’s deflection, returned the ball all the way back to GI’s 9-yard line. Neasman then scored on the Panthers’ first offensive play to give them their first lead of the game.

The Vikings would respond, though, as Klock completed three passes for first downs to get GI down to the Sweet Home 19-yard line. But his next toss would prove fatal as Neasman stepped in front of Klock’s target and thwarted the threat.

Sweet Home then went to its double wing offense to pound away at the clock. On its second play, Coleman busted one 41 yards to seal the deal.

“With us not being able to run the ball that well in the second half, it hurt us,” Santorio said. “We couldn’t put much together and they capitalized on our mistakes. And sometimes that’s just how it goes.”

Grand Island was the one dictating play in the opening 30 minutes as it got on the board first when Andy LaLonde raced into the end zone from 18 yards out on a key third down late in the first quarter. The Vikings started that drive on the 26-yard line after Joel Klock’s punt went off Sweet Home return man D.J. Nettles and was recovered by GI’s Scott Rogers.

The Panthers came back with a counter score early in the second period when McMahon hooked up with D.J. Nettles on a 16-yard corner pattern. GI came right back with a pretty pitch and catch of its own, though. Klock found a wide-open Pat Gallagher for a 47-yard hook-up less than two minute later to give the Vikings a 13-6 lead.