Haldane goes for the win but falls just short
The Haldane High School football team’s season ended Nov. 24 when a last-second, two-point conversion failed, leaving the Blue Devils to reflect on a hard-fought 21-20 Class D state semifinal game.
The game, played at Middletown High School in Orange County, ended a season of triumph and tragedy for Haldane, the Section I, Class D champs, who finished with an 8-3 record. The Stillwater Warriors (11-1), the Section II, Class D winners out of Saratoga County, will face Tioga in the title game on Saturday (Dec. 2). Tioga (13-0) has won the last two state championships.
The semifinal game was decided in its final minute, when Haldane quarterback Ryan Van Tassel found Evan Giachinta in the end zone for a 32-yard touchdown. With 18 seconds left and the Warriors ahead 21-20, Haldane had a decision: kick the extra point and tie the game to send it into overtime, or go for two points and the win.
The Blue Devils went for the latter, and moved almost all of their offensive linemen to the left side. The play didn’t fool Stillwater, however, and Van Tassel couldn’t get off a good throw.
The trick play was one that Haldane had been working on all season. “Earlier in the week, we made the decision that we were going to go for two if we were in a situation like that and we were going to play to win the football game,” said Coach Ryan McConville.
When it didn’t work, the Blue Devils tried a last-ditch onside kick, but it was unsuccessful. With possession of the football, Stillwater took a knee and the win.
Haldane had the ball first to start the game, and on the second offensive play, Giachinta burst through a hole and scampered 48 yards for a touchdown, giving the Blue Devils the lead 37 seconds into the game.
Once Stillwater took possession, it became apparent that the team was going to rely on the run game and attempt to wear down the Haldane defense. With 8:04 left in the first quarter, an illegal participation penalty on the Blue Devils rescued the Warriors from a fourth-and-2. Moments later, Stillwater running back Jaxon Mueller took it in from 3 yards out.
Mueller, who is listed at 6-foot-4 and 232 pounds, proved to be a wrecking machine, finishing with 32 carries for 130 yards and three touchdowns. The scoring drive took 6:41 off the clock.
After a three-and-out from Haldane’s offense, the Warriors marched back down the field. The drive, which began at the end of the first quarter, ended with another touchdown by Mueller, giving Stillwater a 14-7 lead with 10:35 left in the half.
The Blue Devils got the ball back and 36 seconds later the game was tied, thanks to Van Tassel’s 53-yard rushing touchdown. But Stillwater would keep pounding and once again was in the red zone when Mueller barreled through for a 4-yard touchdown, making the score 21-14 with three minutes left in the half.
Stillwater started the second half with the ball and used nearly the entire quarter on one drive. With 1:40 left in the third quarter, it was fourth-and-goal from the 3 and the Warriors were lining up for a field goal.
Video by Jeffrey McDaniel
A Haldane defender jumped offside, putting the ball at the 1-yard line. Stillwater gave the ball to Mueller on the fourth-and-goal but the Blue Devils’ defense held.
Haldane then started to move the ball behind Giachinta’s rushing, but the drive was interrupted when a Van Tassel pass was intercepted. After trading possessions, Haldane found itself with the ball at midfield with 1:41 left in the game, but Van Tassel was again picked off on a deep throw.
Haldane had only one timeout remaining, so all Stillwater had to do was run out the clock. But on its first play, a Stillwater fumble was recovered by the Blue Devils. The season wasn’t over yet.
Under pressure with 30 seconds left, Van Tassel found Jake Thomas for a 23-yard gain. After spending the team’s final timeout, he hit Giachinta in the end zone on the next play, setting up the two-point conversion attempt.
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