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SECTION 4 FOOTBALL: CORNING USES DOMINANT RUN GAME TO ROLL IN OPENER (2021-09-10)

BY BRYAN KELLEY
Southern Tier Sports Report
CORNING — This year the motto at Corning-Painted Post High School is “moving forward to normal.” As freshly popped popcorn flowed and the sounds of the Hawks Marching band filled the air at Corning’s Memorial Stadium everyone in attendance enjoyed a little bit of normal — and a 47-7 Corning win over Ithaca — on a gorgeous Friday night as Section IV Varsity football began its 2021 campaign.

Two years have passed since the Ithaca ‘Lil Red varsity football team last came to town to take on the Hawks, and a lot has changed since then. The Hawks began their 2021 campaign under a new head coach in Mike Johnston Jr.. Johnston, a Hawks assistant the past two seasons and former head coach of Corning West High School, assumed his new role a week into the pre-season. Ithaca returned with a bigger roster and steady improvement over the ‘Lil Red teams of recent memory.

Despite a new head coach, Corning’s philosophy has remained the same as the Hawks ground out over five hundred rushing yards evenly spread among its three-man backfield. The Corning rushing attack was led by senior Mason Smith who carried the ball 16 times for a 188 and three touchdowns. The speedster was complemented by the more deliberate; patient running style of first-year arvsity player Logan Booker who carried the ball 15 times for a 147 and two touchdowns. Even as the ‘Lil Red defense attempted to corral the duo of Smith and Booker,senior fullback Dillon Kennedy provided a strong presence up the middle, grinding out a 102 on 18 carries with one touchdown. The Hawks offense kept the Ithaca defense on its heels, scoring on the first five of their six offensive series. After one series of offense and defense in the second half, the Hawks began to work their bench into the game, only scoring one second half touchdown.

The Ithaca ‘Lil Red Varsity program has withstood some tough times in recent years, and though the end result of this Week 1 contest was consistent with past meetings between the two teams, one thing was apparent early on in this game. The 2021 ‘Lil Red have some fight. Despite the final score, Ithaca showed flashes of vast improvement. Of note, Quarterback Chase Sposito showed off an accurate throwing arm and a couple of capable targets including Micah Fiorillo that helped move the chains on their lone scoring drive. Following Corning’s efficient opening drive which resulted in an 8-0 lead, the ‘Lil Red responded. Quarterback Sposito marched his offense down the field as he went 5-for-5 for 57 yards which included a 24 yard touchdown reception by Fiorillo on Ithaca’s first possession bringing the Lil Red to within one point of the Hawks. The ensuing kickoff resulted in a Corning fumble which put Ithaca around mid-field riding high with momentum. Unfortunately Ithaca was unable to convert on fourth down inside of the Corning thirty yard line, and they were unable to keep pace with the Hawks as they responded with a scoring drive of their own. As the game progressed it was evident that the strength of the Hawks offensive and defensive line began to take its toll on the smaller ‘Lil Red team.

When asked after the game about his team’s performance, Coach Johnston heaped praise on the effort of not only his squad, but also to their opponent.

“This Ithaca team has improved and really opened some eyes tonight. They’re a good football team that will win some games this season.”

While satisfied with the outcome, Johnston cited several areas that he hoped his team could improve on moving forward. Of note was his squad’s play on special teams and finishing tackles on defense. When asked what he hoped to see from his team moving forward Johnston said, “The goal is to get better each day. We need to keep working hard and continue to build our strength as a team” He attributed some miscues  to the loss of several key players who were ineligible to practice during a ten-day COVID related protocol that limited his team as they prepared to open the season. As of now, Johnston says, the Hawks will have a week two bye due to restrictions on inter-sectional play imposed by Section V that has cancelled their previously scheduled game against Aquinas. The Hawks will certainly use the extra time to improve on some fundamental aspects of their game as they look towards a week three matchup against the Binghamton Patriots. The ‘Lil Red, meanwhile, will have a short week as they prepare for a week two match up on Thursday against Windsor.

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Corning
Rushing: 64 Carries, 524 Yards
Passing: 0-3, 0 Yards

Notable Players
-Mason Smith:16 Carries, 188 yards, 3 TD
-Logan Booker: 15 Carries, 147 yards, 1 TD
-Dillon Kennedy: 18 Carries, 102 yards, 2 TD
-Lucas Zawko: 11 Tackles (Team High)
-Will Kibler: 2 Interceptions

Ithaca
Rushing: 20 Yards
Passing: 80 Yards

Notable Players
Chase Sposito: 9-16,  80 Yards, 1 TD, 2 INT


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