BATAVIA — Justus Kleitz was within five yards of the end zone, and knew a touchdown run could get his team back into the game in the fourth quarter.
Kleitz, a freshman quarterback on the Iroquois football team, thought back to a previous play in the 10-play series. He ran it again, hoping to tie the game for the Chiefs.
The Blue Devils, however, stopped Kleitz two yards short of the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the Batavia 5-yard line, and Carter McFollins-Cramer’s 83-yard touchdown catch with less than three minutes left helped Batavia to a 20-8 win over the Chiefs in a Class B Far West Regional Monday at Daniel A. Van Detta Stadium.
“Prior to that play, the play before that, that was a play I missed on,” said Kleitz, whose team trailed 14-8 at that point. “We called the same play the other way and I made a bad read. I pulled it and it wasn’t open, so I had to run, and I came up short.”
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Batavia (12-0) will face Maine-Endwell of Section IV in a state semifinal game at 3 p.m. Saturday at Union-Endicott High School in Endicott.
“When we had that fourth-down stop by Aavion Bethel, that was just crazy,” said Batavia quarterback Ja’Vin McFollins, who was playing at cornerback when the Blue Devils stopped Kleitz. “It brought all of our energy back. I’d seen him come up, hit (Kleitz) really hard and just make a great play. I felt it, as soon as he stopped him right there, stop him on the goal line, and nothing could stop us.”
The Blue Devils scored a pair of second-quarter touchdowns to rally from an 8-0 deficit and forced Iroquois (11-1) to mix up its offense, 10 days after running back Trevor Barry ran for 272 yards and three touchdowns on 49 carries in an 18-7 win against Pioneer in the Section VI championship game Nov. 11 at Highmark Stadium.
“They were giving us things that we needed to take advantage of,” Iroquois coach Robert Pitzonka said. “If they’re going to load the box up, we’re going to spread it out and get the ball to the perimeter. If they’re guarding the perimeter, we’re going to hit them up the middle. We always preach, we’re going to take what the defense gives us.”
The Blue Devils also kept Barry from busting out with a long run that could change the complexion of the game. Of Barry’s 19 first-half carries, none went any longer than nine yards, while four of his 13 second-half carries went for at least 10 yards.
“We knew that if we could stop him, we had a good chance at winning the game,” McFollins said. “I don’t know how we did it, but we’re relentless, we come down, we like to hit.
“We wanted them to throw the ball a little more because we knew 21 (Barry) was a big runner and if he could break loose, it was going to be hard to stop him.”
On its second possession of the game, the Chiefs ate up more than 5½ minutes on a 15-play drive that ended with Barry’s 1-yard touchdown run and his two-point conversion run, which gave Iroquois an 8-0 lead with 1:27 left in the first quarter.
Getting to the end zone is customary for Barry, who set the Western New York single-season record for rushing touchdowns this season with 43. The previous record was held by Jamestown’s Aaron Leeper, who had 42 rushing touchdowns in 2000.
Aidan Anderson’s 3-yard touchdown run for Batavia cut Iroquois’ lead to 8-6 27 seconds into the second quarter, and the Blue Devils stopped the Chiefs on fourth-and-6 from the Batavia 26 with eight minutes left in the half. Kleitz couldn’t connect with a wide receiver on the throw, the second of four fourth-down stops by Batavia’s defense.
Then, Batavia’s go-ahead touchdown came after the Chiefs lost a fumble on third-and-15. The Blue Devils recovered the ball at the Chiefs 28-yard line and needed five plays to take the lead on McFollins’ 7-yard touchdown run, followed by Vincent Arroyo’s 2-point conversion pass to Cole Grazioplene with 2:16 left in the half.
After a scoreless third quarter in which Batavia ended Iroquois’ 15-play drive that took up nearly 10 minutes, the Blue Devils stopped Kleitz and the Chiefs with less than six minutes left. McFollins-Cramer’s 83-yard touchdown catch opened the lead to 20-8 with 2:52 left.
The Blue Devils then ended any of the Chiefs’ comeback hopes when McFollins-Cramer intercepted Kleitz at midfield on first-and-10 from the Iroquois 43, five plays into the Chiefs’ final drive.
“For the seniors that didn’t make it here last year, we did it for them,” Kleitz said. “For the juniors that didn’t make it here last year, we put our hearts into this game. I couldn’t be more proud of our team. We played amazing. The whole season.”