CANAJOHARIE - The Canajoharie Cougars entered the second half of Friday's Class C South matchup against the state-ranked Cambridge Indians with the football and with momentum.
Four minutes later, they had neither as Cambridge recovered a fumble and blocked a punt for two quick touchdowns and went on to a 41-21 victory that eliminated the Cougars from playoff contention.
"I think they came out ready to go and we were still getting over halftime," Canajoharie coach Ken Sullivan said. "They came out fast and did cause the turnovers. We had missed opportunities, a couple of turnovers and that was it for the half. We just got ourselves in such a deep hole we couldn't get out of it."
Canajoharie’s Dillan Veeder, left, tries to break the tackle attempt by Cambridge’s Ethan English (4) during a Class D South Division football game at Canajoharie High School on Friday. (The Leader-Herald/Mike Zummo)
After the Indians took a 21-7 lead late in the second quarter, the Cougars engineered a drive from their own 35-yard line that ended with Kevin Shannon's 1-yard touchdown run that cut the Indians' lead to 21-13. The Indians got the ball back with 30 seconds to go, but Dillan Veeder intercepted Ethan English's pass to end the drive and the half.
Then, when they came out of halftime, the Indians (7-0 overall, 4-0 Class C South) punched the Cougars in the mouth.
On a third-and-18 on the Canajoharie 27, quarterback Nick Taylor was sacked and the Indians recovered, setting up English's 1-yard touchdown run. Then, Canajoharie went three-and-out and Lucas Motsiff blocked Jordan Griswold's punt and the Indians took over on the Cougars' 20-yard line for the second straight drive.
On the next play, Len Darcy scored on a 20-yard touchdown run, giving the Indians a 34-13 lead.
"We felt a little embarrassed the way played in the first half," Cambridge coach Doug Luke said. "The kids sucked it up and we made adjustments and things just worked out for us. I think they made a couple of mistakes."
With the Cougars reeling and desperately needing an answer, Taylor and Veeder provided it.
After Nathan Ferguson returned the ensuing kickoff to the Canajoharie 40-yard line, Taylor hit Veeder in stride on the left side and the wide receiver ran the ball the rest of the way for the touchdown. Taylor then connected with Veeder on a screen pass for two points, cutting the Indians' lead to 13 points.
"It was huge," Sullivan said. "They were loading the box and Nick threw a perfect ball and Dillan made a great catch. That's football. We saw it and capitalized on it. Then, they stepped up and started countering to take things like that away from us."
But the Cougars wouldn't get any closer and the Indians put the game away with 2:23 left in the fourth quarter on a 1-yard touchdown run by English, which completed an 11-play drive that chewed five minutes off the game clock.
Parmenter carried the load on the drive, running the ball eight times for 51 yards. He finished with 164 yards on 26 carries, but the leading scorer in Section II spent the game setting up his teammates for touchdowns.
"They wore us down," Sullivan said. "They were a quick, physical, fast team and it took its toll on us. We played tough with them at first and I think we had letdowns when we couldn't afford it. When they had it, they capitalized on big plays."
Shannon finished with 100 yards on 26 carries with two touchdowns for Canajoharie (5-2 overall, 2-2 Class C South). Alex Renzi had four carries for 34 before leaving the game at halftime with an injury.
"We lost Renzi in the first half, but [Nathan Ferguson] stepped in and he doesn't know the offense as well as Alex, but he did a good job coming in for him," Sullivan said.
The Indians scored on their first possession, moving the ball from their own 40-yard line to score on Darcy's 5-yard run. The Cougars answered with a drive of their own that went 85 yards on 17 plays and taking about 9 minutes. Shannon finished the drive with a 2-yard plunge into the end zone and Jordan Griswold's extra-point gave the Cougars a 7-6 lead.
Cambridge scored its next two touchdowns on fourth-down plays. With 8:01 to go in the second quarter, the Cougars lost track of Shaeden Mosso in the back of the end zone and English found him for a 14-yard touchdown pass. Then, with 2:30 remaining, Paul Baker scored on a 7-yard reverse on a fourth-and-goal.
"You always save those plays that you think will be important," Luke said. "We have a couple that we worked on and on fourth-and-five, we went back to the things that we do best. We did that and everything worked out for us. I always try to save a play here and a play there when you really need for an important time."
With the loss, the Cougars drop into third place behind Cambridge and Rensselaer, who are both undefeated and will play each other next week for the Class C South championship. The Cougars will face Greenwich for third place in the division.
"This is character time," Sullivan said. "We know where we're at. This knocked us out of the playoffs, which is tough. We still have two more games to play and they could look for any reason under the sun not to step up and play football. Now's the time to show your character. This is what I think football's about. Not just playing the game, but also building character. Show some pride in yourself and work hard this week."
Cambridge 41, Canajoharie 21
Cambridge 6 15 13 7 - 41
Canajoharie0 13 8 0 - 21
Cam - Darcy 5 run (run failed), 8:11
Can - Shannon 2 run (Griswold kick), 11:03
Cam - Mosso 14 pass from English (Parmenter run), 8:01
Cam - Baker 7 run (Parmenter kick), 2:30
Can - Shannon 1 run (kick blocked), :30
Cam - English 1 run (Parmenter kick), 9:37
Cam - Darcy 20 run (pass failed), 8:25
Can - Veeder 60 pass from Taylor (Veeder pass from Taylor), 8:08
Cam - English 1 run (Parmenter kick), 2:23