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By Brian Fees
Southern Tier Sports Report
The last time the Corning football team saw Cicero North Syracuse they were watching a last-second field goal end their season.

Now, the two teams are set to meet again in the same spot, with the same stakes.

For the Corning players being in the regional final, with a spot at states on the line is special.

“They are excited to see that their hard work has paid off,” Corning coach Mike Johnston Jr. said. “They get the opportunity to play at the state level against really good competition. CNS and Coach (Dave) Kline have really built their program to one of the elite programs in New York State. There are eight teams left, it’s anybody’s ballgame right now, it’s one game at a time.”

The two teams met in the regional final two years ago. Corning led 24-22 with one second to go when CNS hit the game-winning field goal.

While the two teams have history, few players on either team were a part of that showdown. Because of Covid there was no postseason a year ago.

“Without a question these kids are encountering something (new) because they didn’t get to unless they played up as a ninth or 10th grader,” Johnston Jr. said. “They didn’t get a chance to do the road to the State Championship in 2020. Our team was very good last year and I believe we could have played with anybody, but it’s one of those you’ll never know.”

The game will be at 6 p.m. today at Vestal High School.

For Corning, they are led by a senior line with five seniors and the three-headed monster at running back (Mason Smith, Logan Booker and Dillon Kennedy). The three backs have all had their games where they led the team in rushing.

Corning has Landon Burch at quarterback, who has shown the ability to make plays with his arm, and they have a big-play defense with Will Kibler picking off nine passes in nine games this year.

CNS throws the ball more with Jaxon Razmovski throwing for 1207 yards and 11 touchdowns, against three interceptions, on 69-for-101 passing this year.

Jason Bartlett leads the run game with 637 yards and 10 scores on 112 carries, while Jamar Ballard Jr. has run for 402 yards and six scores on 57 carries.

Mason Ellis leads the receiving group with 27 catches for 443 yards and four scores.

Defensively Jerrod Hills has 14 sacks on the year and has 87 tackles, while James Cahill has 77 tackles with 6.5 sacks.

“They are very good,” Johnston Jr. said. “They always dress 55-65 kids. They have six uniforms and three helmets, but you can only play 11 at a time. I have a lot of respect for coach Kline and his staff, what he did at Henninger. They were a perennial team in New York State and now he’s at CNS and they win the league title every year, or a majority of the years. I think they are very good. They have very good skill guys. We have to go out and play the best game we played this year.”

The Hawks know that CNS has some athletes and size.

“They are big, they are strong. Offensively they have a couple 6-6, 6-7 guys that go 350, 360 on the offensive line,” Johnston Jr. said. “They start two brothers, (Vincent and Devin Pisa) who are 6-5, 240 on the defensive line. The defensive end (Hills) has been starting three or four years for them, he’s a senior now. He was MVP in the Section 3 Sectional Championship. They have skilled kids galore all over the field.

“Their quarterback in 2019 Razmovski, his younger brother is one of the quarterbacks. He’s only a sophomore, he’s very skilled. They are good. It’s like watching a college team, what you see on Saturday afternoon is what you see with CNS.”

The Hawks always preach protecting the football.

Two years ago turnovers hurt them against CNS and they know they can’t let that happen again.

“We always have confidence we are going to move the ball,” Johnston Jr. said. “What we do is different. If you don’t see it (it’s tough to defend), like Elmira, they see it, they are familiar with it and they are one of our toughest opponents. Back in 2019 we fumbled as we crossed the goal line and we threw an interception so there’s two scores we should have had in the first half and it’s a tie ball game in the first half.

“We came out in the second half and scored our first two possessions to lead 24-22. They kicked a field goal with one second to go to beat us 25-24 to go to the State Final Four. We are right there. We are firm believers the ball is the program. We have to be able to throw the ball a little bit and decide the tempo you are going to go with. We want to be in control.”

The Hawks know that CNS has big-play ability and they can’t give up the big plays in this matchup.

“No big plays,” Johnston Jr. said. “We have got to tackle correctly and assignment and alignment. Our guys have to make plays, we have to gang tackle. The game comes down to blocking and tackling and eliminating mistakes. The team that does that will win.”

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