FOOTBALL PREVIEW: VESTAL HOPING TO UTILIZE HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE IN SECTIONAL FINAL
By ANTHONY GOSS
Broome County Sports Report
VESTAL —— Several years ago Jim Crunden began a journey with a group of seventh graders on his modified football team. Years later that group now leads the Vestal Golden Bears into the Class A playoffs with the number-one seed in Section IV.
"There's a core of them six years ago when I was the modified head coach," the current Vestal varsity head coach said. "Here we are six years later and those kids are now seniors. It's pretty cool."
This group has led a 7-1 campaign that has proved an unstoppable force for nearly everyone on its schedule. They are now guaranteed one more home game with the opportunity to clinch the Section IV title Friday night.
"We talk about it daily. Those seniors see it, they see how close they are," Crunden said. "They're driven, they're mature and they understand they got a job to do and they work hard as hell to get it done."
No. 2 Horseheads stands in the way of the Golden Bears, coming off a 37-8 victory against No. 3 Union-Endicott. The Blue Raiders dominant showcase came on Vestal's bye week.
"Horseheads played a sound football game," Crunden said. "There were no surprises."
But the Vestal head coach feels the break benefited the team and gave the players much needed rest.
"We had a nice bye week. The ability to just take a breath was nice," Crunden said. "It was nice to get the physical work in and at the same time give the guys who needed rest the rest they needed."
The Golden Bears hope to replicate their commanding win 28-7 at Horseheads in October. That starts with corralling their opponent's potentially explosive attack.
"They're a quick-strike offense," Crunden said. "They run some stuff that can gash you pretty good if you over-pursue."
Conversely, Crunden emphasized the need for Vestal to establish its run game and a presence at the line of scrimmage.
"Offensively we put together a really sound package. We want to approach it the same way there," Crunden said. "Get the ground game rolling first and see how from there they adjust.
That means involving star running back Liam Nealy early to open up the offense.
"We need to establish the run. The front five need to be physical, create some holes and dent the defense," he said. "It's ground game first and from that what can we do in the air."
With the first matchup coming later on the Golden Bears' schedule, Crunden mentioned the difficulty in finding ways to change or adjust ahead of the second matchup.
"We played them so late in the season it's hard to change anything you did in two to three weeks' time," he said.
If Vestal can earn a win on Friday, the Golden Bears will host another game next week in the regional playoffs. That incentive has sparked an additional sense of motivation throughout the locker room.
"We want to play another game at home," Crunden said. "There's motivation through the roof for our seniors especially to go out there and really will this game to victory."
But that privilege must be earned when the Golden Bears square off with their divisional rival.
"There's no guarantee of anything. Records are aside," Crunden said. "Playoff football is one week at a time."
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