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BY Brian Fees
Southern Tier Sports Report
HORSEHEADS — Vestal had driven inside the 10-yard line, looking to strike first in Friday’s season opener.

The Horseheads defense had other ideas. They hit the Vestal quarterback and Max Johnston picked up the fumble, holding it up for the Rowdies Raiders crowd to see as they went wild.

The defense set the tone early, and Riley Loomis went beast mode running the ball late as Horseheads opened their new stadium in style with a 20-0 shutout win.

“It was definitely a team effort today,” Loomis said. “The defense put up a zero against them, that’s a pretty good day I’d say.

“Last Saturday we had a scrimmage and it wasn’t the best. This week in practice we really turned it up and I think that’s what helped to secure the tackles and the fumbles.”

Every time Vestal looked like they were going to get something going, the defense came up big.

“They kept us in the game really defensively,” coach Kevin Hillman said. “Offensively we moved the ball here and there, but we had some hiccups. Turned the ball over toward the end of the half, made some mistakes with penalties, jumping offsides. So credit to our defense, they kept us in the game and those guys were outstanding.

“They made plays. They got turnovers, interceptions, fumble recoveries. Anytime they started to get any momentum they shut it down. Offensively I thought even in the first half we moved the ball great, we just couldn’t get in the end zone. We made some mistakes there. But, credit to our guys, they kept battling and the offensive line did a good job.”

In the first half alone the Horseheads defense ended a drive with a fumble recovery, another with an interception and two with big tackles for losses.

“It was great, everybody did their job,” Johnston said. “Everyone did their responsibility. Four turnovers helped to. That’s just us doing our jobs.

“We didn’t want them to score, we wanted that big old goose egg up on the scoreboard, we wanted to score and not let them score.”

While the defense dominated in the first half, Loomis put on a show in the second half.

The senior back carried the ball 31 times for 211 yards and scored all three Blue Raiders touchdowns in the victory.

“It’s great, especially when there is a huge hole,” Loomis said of getting the ball so much. “A team effort today and I’m glad we could come away with the win.”

Down the stretch the ball was in Loomis’ hands nearly every play, and the line was able to open up big holes as he dominated in the fourth quarter.

“We definitely were more conditioned,” he said. “They seemed to be getting tired, even in the third, so we had to keep pushing.”

For Hillman it was special to see how his offensive line got better as the game went on.

“We have a lot of guys that go both ways and for them to get better as the game went on is a credit to them and how hard they worked in the offseason,” Hillman said. “I also think it’s a big shoutout to the Rowdie Raiders and the crowd, because those guys fed off them.”

After both teams traded three-and-out drives to start the game, the Blue Raiders one to work on their second possession.

Loomis gained 22 yards on three carries to start the drive, but a sack on fourth down ended the drive, turning the ball back to Vestal.

Vestal picked up three first downs on their next possession, a drive that ended with the fumble recovery by Johnston.

After recovering the fumble the Blue Raiders moved the ball inside the Vestal 30, but the Gold Bears kept them from getting any closer.

The next Vestal drive ended with a sack by Horseheads. The Golden Bears were set to punt, but there was a bad snap and Horseheads forced a 16-yard loss, taking over at the Vestal five-yard line.

A bad snap had put Horseheads deep into Vestal territory, but a bad snap quickly backed the Blue Raiders up, and the Golden Bears defense kept them out of the end zone.

After Horseheads made the stop on defense, they took over on offense, but the first play of the drive was picked off by Vestal’s Braden Strahley.

Vestal took over at their own 28, but the Blue Raiders defense quickly responded with a big play of their own as KaHill Scharborough picked off Vestal to end the threat.

An 18-yard-run by Loomis set up Loomis from six-yards out to put Horseheads on the board with 51 seconds left in the half. Ben Massengale made the extra point and the Blue Raiders led 7-0 at the half.

After a defensive stand by Horseheads to start the second half, Loomis went to work.

The Blue Raiders senior had a 19-yard run and a 10-yard run. After a 14-yard run by quarterback Alex Chrisman, Loomis had a seven-yard run, before Chrisman added a nine-yard run. An 11-yard run by Loomis had the Blue Raiders inside the Vestal 20 at the 16-yard-line. However, a false start and two incompletions ended the threat.

Vestal got the ball back and Liam Nealy went to work, gaining 22 yards on the next drive and a pass by Camden Schaffer to Alden Brunetti put the Golden Bears at the 22-yard-line of the Blue Raiders with a chance to tie the game.

However, the Blue Raiders defense was again up to the task as Casey Klossner recovered a fumble to end the threat.

“We put in the work to be ready for this entire season,” Johnston said.

With the ball back, the Blue Raiders turned to Loomis. The back carried the ball 10 times on the drive, capping it off with a two-yard score with 6:02 left. The drive covered 75 yards and the senior back had 66 yards on the drive. Massengale made the kick and it was 14-0 Horseheads.

“He did a great job,” Hillman said of Loomis. “He basically wanted the ball and Alex (Chrisman) was kind of a counter option for him, so every once in a while we could run our quarterback and he was doing a good job. It was an outstanding job all the way around.”

For Loomis it was special getting the ball so much late, and even more special as he heard the packed crowd go crazy cheering him on.

“Especially with the Rowdie Raider crowd over there, that kicked it up a little bit,” Loomis said.

With the lead, Horseheads kicked an onside kick and Nate Levey dove on top of it to give the Blue Raiders the ball back.

With the ball at the 36, it was all Loomis, as he carried the ball five straight times, and ended the drive with a six-yard run with 2:54 left. The kick failed and it marked the final score of 20-0.

While Loomis had 15 carries on the final two drives alone, he still had energy to go. On Vestal’s final possession a Golden Bears back ran toward the sideline and Loomis came flying in to lay a huge hit to stop the run.

“The one thing that gets lost on it is his play on the defensive side of the ball at safety,” Hillman said of Loomis. “If he gets his reads right he can be another linebacker and he can come up and hit guys hard. He did an outstanding job.”

Loomis led all players with 12 tackles on defense, along with one of the three sacks by the Blue Raiders.

For the Horseheads players it was special being the first team to play on the new field.

“It’s crazy cool, I love it,” Johnston said. “It’s great, super special, so grateful for this opportunity.”

The players for a long time have looked over at the stadium, waiting for the day they could play there.

“The practice Friday was amazing,” Loomis said. “We had like 10 minutes of just walking around the field, but it’s great. The past like two weeks, we walked through the school right there, so we couldn’t wait to get out there.”

“Ever since we saw the stadium the first time, as soon as it was finished, I wanted to get out here,” Johnston said.

The whole experience was special for the team.

“We were talking before the game, it’s a night game and it almost felt like it wasn’t a home game because we aren’t used to it,” Hillman said. “But, it’s a special feeling, special moment and this crowd just made it special.”

And, the turf just helped guys like Loomis be even more explosive.

“I think that definitely helps his speed playing on the turf field and not the grass,” Hillman said. “It’s nice, great field, great facility, and I have to give a shoutout to the facilities crew and all the work they did to get this ready. We couldn’t have done it without those guys as well.”

Along with the 211 yards from Loomis, the Blue Raiders got 42 yards on five carries from Chrisman, who completed two passes.

Johnston had nine tackles for the Blue Raiders.

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