Sunday, July 16, 2006
Zephyrs breeze to win over St. Lawrence Valley
Zephyrs breeze to win over St. Lawrence Valley
By ERIC FONTES, The Leader-Herald
The Leader-Herald/James A. Ellis
Amsterdam Zephyrs linebacker Bob Oddy (33) and Jorge Rodriquez (22) wrap up St. Lawrence Valley quarterback Christopher Tom in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s Empire Football League contest. Also in on the pursuit is Alex McKinsey (95).
AMSTERDAM — Eric Johnson called it picture perfect.
One week after yelling at his offensive linemen for their lack of protection, the Amsterdam Zephyrs quarterback couldn’t ask for a better opening drive.
The offensive line opened gaping holes for running backs Jared Brown and Tim Stewart. It gave Johnson ample time to throw a 16-yard dart on third-and-long for one of four first downs on the opening drive, matching the Zephyrs’ entire total from last week’s 37-7 loss.
Once in the red zone, Johnson lofted a 13-yard touchdown pass to Mike Herrington.
After the extra point, the Zephyrs didn’t need any more points, but the opening-drive production continued throughout Saturday night’s Empire Football League game at Lynch Middle School. A rested Amsterdam defense did the rest, as it all came together for the Zephyrs in their 19-6 victory over St. Lawrence Valley.
“The adjustments that were made by coach [Dave] Nicosia and coach [Mike] Finocchi were tremendous,” Amsterdam coach Dom Ruggeri said. “That won us the game. The offensive line won the game because they kept the defense fresh. And when this defense is fresh, we’re the best defense in the league. I don’t care what anybody says.”
That Amsterdam defense showed its teeth, allowing just 47 total yards and knocking SLV quarterback David Currier out of the game on a punishing blindside hit by Rick Hulett. Currier finished the day with 56 yards on 4-of-14 passing, while SLV running back James Compeau finished with minus-3 yards on seven rushes.
Meanwhile, the Zephyrs (1-1) ran up 301 yards of total offense. Johnson threw for two touchdowns and 119 yards on 7-of-12 passing. Tailback Brown rushed for 61 yards, and fullback Stewart motored for 99 yards on 12 attempts.
The reason for that production started right up front with new center Ed Bauman, Ruggeri said, who transferred from the Glove Cities Colonials and has thrived for the Zephyrs. Along with Ralph Nicosia, who also rushed for 23 yards on two attempts, Bob VanHoesen, Jay Garvey and Chad Crandall filling out the front five, the offense moved the chains for 14 first downs and totaled 41 minutes of possession to the Trailblazers’ (0-2) four first downs and 19 minutes of possession.
“These guys got up on the line and fired off the ball instead of hitting their guy and stopping,” Ruggeri said. “This week they drove their guy downfield and there were lanes. There were holes that were all over the place. Once they did that, it was just a matter of time before Eric got in a rhythm. Eric picked them apart and had a tremendous game.”
Although the scoring pace slowed after Johnson’s opening-drive touchdown pass, Amsterdam’s dominance did not. The Zephyrs still put points on the board after their first punt.
SLV returnman Lamont Lane tried fielding the punt at the 1-yard line, recovered it in the end zone, but Jeremiah Newborn tackled him for a safety.
“I was stunned,” SLV coach Mike Britton said. “For a seasoned veteran — he was an all-league defensive back and returnman for Watertown — it’s not a good football play.”
Other than committing double-digit offensive penalties, the Zephyrs didn’t make many mistakes, Ruggeri said.
Even when linemen weren’t in front of Brown on a harmless 2-yard screen pass at midfield, the Zephyrs made something happen.
With linebacker Ricky Delaney charging at him, the Zephyrs’ tailback swiftly eluded the tackle. He then ran up the left side and cut back toward the middle of the field, burning safety Gregory Roberson for a 50-yard touchdown to make it 16-0 with six minutes left in the first half.
“As soon as I threw it to him, and I saw him cut back across the field, I walked off the field,” Johnson said. “I had that much confidence in him. He’s small. He’s fast. He’s quick.”
Johnson’s only hiccup came on a broken play with 21 seconds left in the half. Facing third-and-9 at Amsterdam’s own 29, Johnson audibled to a short slant, but receiver Charlie Castro didn’t hear it and ran up the sideline while SLV’s Brendan Harris returned the interception to the 2-yard line.
One play later, Compeau snuck through the line to make it 16-6, but the Trailblazers wouldn’t reach pay dirt again.
The defensive line clogged the middle, allowing negative rushing yards. The Zephyrs constantly pressured Currier with blitzes from all angles, and when he did get a pass off, the defensive backs batted it down.
“We really went after them [on defense],” Ruggeri said. “I called a much more aggressive game and let them play to their abilities this week. I didn’t put the reins on them. I told them before the game, ‘I’m going to let you loose.’”
Ruggeri said the Zephyrs still have some kinks to work out, such as limiting the illegal procedures and holding penalties that limited the Zephyrs to just one second-half field goal despite getting inside the 10-yard line three times.
There was very little to complain about Saturday.
Johnson certainly wasn’t. He loved what his offensive linemen provided him — right from the “picture-perfect” start.
“It was real nice to take my drop, look around and see what’s there,” Johnson said. “It feels good to win, but it feels even better to know that our team is coming around. This is just a stepping stone now. We are getting to the point where we know our faults and our strengths. Now we know what we’re capable of.”