UTICA, N.Y. — Herkimer’s Magicians will get a shot at a third straight Section III title.
Senior quarterback Austin Mills ran for three touchdowns, raising his season total to 20, and had three interceptions on defense; junior running back Brennen Thompson rushed for 128 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries; and Herkimer held Westmoreland’s potent option offense in check most of the night as the Magicians advanced with a 29-20 win in Friday’s Section III Class D semifinal at D’Alessandro Stadium.
Mills rushed for 106 yards on 24 carries and was 7 of 15 passing — with completions to five different receivers — for 152 yards.
Herkimer (8-1), the Class C and C-2 champion the last two seasons, plays defending D champ Sandy Creek (8-1) in the Class D final at noon Saturday at the Carrier Dome. The Comets, beaten only by Westmoreland this season, advanced with a 24-12 win over Dolgeville, the only team that has beaten Herkimer.
“This is what we’ve worked for as a program, and we want to keep moving forward,” Herkimer coach Alan Steele said. “Our speed helped tonight. We did a good job of slowing them down and making tackles.
“We could have done a better job of taking advantage of some of the situations we were in (offensively), but for the most part we played well all the way around.”
Class D Central regular-season champion Westmoreland (7-2) had won seven straight games and had not lost to another Class D team this season, but the Bulldogs committed four turnovers and were limited to 115 total yards.
Westmoreland senior tailback Tim Harrison scored his 24th touchdown of the season on an electrifying 79-yard punt return in the third quarter and rushed for 65 yards on 11 carries. Sophomore quarterback Tyler Deveans threw a touchdown pass to Tyler Taverne in the final minute of the first half, but he was sacked four times and picked off on three occasions.
Dan Appley, Matt Borek and Adam Kirkpatrick were in on two sacks each, Isaiah Herron and Josh Lamanna had seven tackles each, and Borek, Kirkpatrick, Appley, Ryan Fahy and Eric Johnston had six tackles each for the Magicians.
“We tried to make something happen offensively and just couldn’t get anything going,” Westmoreland coach Tim Gates said. “Herkimer’s linebackers are fast to the ball, and they were confusing our guys a little up front.
“They are a solid, solid football team. They’re strong. They’re fast. They’re tough. We fought like crazy just to stay in the game.”
Mills’ third touchdown run from two yards out gave Herkimer a 29-14 lead with 3:06 left in the third quarter, and Thompson recovered a Westmoreland fumble moments later. Harrison’s punt return for a touchdown — Taverne’s crushing block sprung him — made it 29-20 with 38 seconds left in the third period and the final quarter was scoreless.
Page 2 of 2 - Westmoreland was missing one of its top players in junior Devon Tophoven, a two-way starting lineman and one of the Bulldogs’ leading tacklers. Gates was told early Friday morning that Tophoven would be out with an illness.
“Not that the outcome would’ve been any different, but we didn’t have him, we didn’t have any time to prepare, and you can’t loose a strong, fast kid like (Tophoven) against Herkimer because they’re big and strong and fast,” said Gates.
Harrison’s 51-yard punt return from his own goal line and Deveans’ 31-yard pass to Jack Acquaviva on third-and-11 led to Deveans’ one-yard sneak and a 7-0 Westmoreland lead, but Mills used a downfield block by Zach Steele to scamper 58 yards for a touchdown on the next play from scrimmage, and Mills’ conversion run gave Herkimer the lead for good.
Thompson’s 32-yard catch and run led to a two-yard touchdown by Mills and Herkimer led 14-7 after one quarter.
Two plays after Mills picked off a third-and-27 pass near midfield, the shifty Thompson zigged and zagged 46 yards for a touchdown, Mills added the two-point run and Herkimer led 22-7.
Mills intercepted another pass at his own 3 late in the second quarter, but the Bulldogs forced a punt and after a holding penalty left them with a third-and-goal from the 14, Deveans threw a strike to Taverne, Westmoreland’s 6-foot-6 tight end, for a touchdown with just 55.5 seconds left in the period and Joe LaLonde’s point-after kick cut Herkimer’s halftime lead to 22-14.
Zach Steele’s 88-yard return of the second-half kickoff was nullified by a penalty, and a fumble that rolled through the end zone cost Herkimer another scoring chance. The Magicians still dominated the third quarter, though, and after turning the ball over on downs at the Westmoreland 4, the defense forced another quick punt and Mills’ two-yard touchdown made it 29-14 with 3:06 left in the third quarter.
Rob Heitzmann led Westmoreland with eight tackles. LaLonde had seven and Eric Hauk and Aric Russell had six teach.
HERKIMER 29, WESTMORELAND 20
Herkimer 14 8 7 0 — 29
Westmoreland 7 7 6 0 — 20
WEST — Tyler Deveans 1 run (Joe LaLonde kick).
HERK — Austin Mills 58 run (Mills run).
HERK — Mills 2 run (kick blocked).
HERK — Brennen Thompson 46 run (Mills run).
WEST — Tyler Taverne 14 pass from Deveans (LaLonde kick).
HERK — Mills 2 run (Matt Borek kick).
WEST — Tim Harrison 79 punt return (kick failed).
Records — Herkimer 8-1; Westmoreland 7-2.