Hornell football: Red Raiders mount fourth quarter comeback for 23-21 win in Week 1

Hornell Red Raiders score nine points in five minutes to secure a 23-21 win over Waterloo in Week 1 football action

Sean Curran
The Evening Tribune
Hornell's Rian Buzzard fights through two Waterloo defenders in a win on Saturday evening at Maple City Park.

HORNELL — The Hornell Red Raider scored nine points in the final five minutes of play in order to mount a tough 23-21 comeback victory over visiting Waterloo on Saturday evening at Maple City Park.

Hornell originally took a 14-7 lead in the first half, but Waterloo scored two touchdowns in the third quarter in order to take the 21-14 lead into the fourth quarter. But Hornell’s defense forced a safety and then the offense came through late in order to propel HHS to the slim 23-21 win in week one.

“It was a great win. I don’t think anyone on the sideline ever thought we were out of the game when we got down. Nobody was ready to pack it in at any point,” said HHS Head Coach Erik Werner. “It’s still early, but this team has a good fighting spirit. We’ve been pushing them really hard in practice to get that out of them, but so far I think it’s working.”

Hornell's Dom Nasca takes the snap and looks forward during Saturday's win over Waterloo.

The teams traded possessions early in the first quarter, but then the Red Raiders took over late in the first quarter and slowly worked down the field. The drive started and stopped several times due to miscues and penalties from both teams, but Hornell eventually pushed down deep into Waterloo territory. Dom Nasca then rolled out to the right and found John Mikolajczyk for a 13-yard connection that put Hornell right on the goal line. Rian Buzzard then finished off the drive on the next play as he pushed over the goal line in order to give HHS the early 7-0 lead with just over three minutes left in the first quarter.

The Hornell defense got a stop to end the first quarter, and it looked like the Red Raiders were on their way to put another score on the board early in the second, but Waterloo’s Julian Pehrson intercepted a desperate Nasca passing attempt to avoid the sack and returned it all the way to the house for a touchdown that tied the game at 7-7 early in the second quarter.

But Hornell’s offense got right back onto the field after the turnover and went to work, putting together a huge drive that chewed up over seven minutes of clock. Xzaiver Patrick and Buzzard took turns moving the ball down the field by running around, through and over defenders, eventually leading to a Patrick touchdown from four yards out that put HHS up 14-7 going into the halftime break.

After the intermission, Hornell’s offense once again started to move down the field, but another turnover, this time a fumble, was recovered by Waterloo and returned deep into Hornell territory. Pehrson scored moments later, but the two-point conversion was stopped as Hornell narrowly maintained a 14-13 lead with 9:17 left in the third quarter.

Waterloo’s defense dominated the rest of the third quarter, and then Devin Mulvey-Salemo gave the Indians their first lead of the night with a touchdown pass that put Waterloo up by a 21-14 final at the end of the third quarter.

In the fourth quarter, Hornell’s offense continued to struggle moving the ball down the field, but the Red Raider defense was as impressive as it’s ever been by completely smothering the Waterloo offense in the fourth quarter.

This domination eventually led to the play that changed the game with just over five minutes left to play. Hornell’s defense pushed Waterloo back right up to their own goal line on a big 3rd-and-28 situation. Mulvey-Salemo dropped back to pass, but the defensive line quickly forced him out of the pocket. That’s when Patrick Robords came rushing up the right edge from seemingly out of nowhere and crushed Mulvey-Salemo in the endzone for a safety that cut the lead down to 21-16, meaning that a Hornell touchdown would win the game.

“The defense played tough all night. I loved our pursuit. We were pursuing the ball, getting to the ball and fighting off blocks like some of our really good defenses have in the past. So it’s great to see them doing that in week one,” said Werner. “That play at the end was the difference between having to go to overtime or even losing the game.”

On the ensuing safety kickoff, Griffyn Baker scooped the ball, made two defenders miss and raced all the way down to the 21-yard line to set Hornell up with an extremely short field with only minutes remaining. Two plays later, Xzaiver Patrick ran through a huge hole created by the offensive line and walked untouched into the endzone for a 10-yard score that gave HHS the 23-21 lead with just over three minutes left to play.

“This offensive line has put in a lot of work. We have some injuries so there are some guys playing out of position on the offensive line, but they put in a lot of work. And they did what we wanted. They played tough and physical so that at the end of the game we have a little more left in the tank and can pound,” said Werner. “We didn’t play perfect up front, and there are some things we have to clean up, but I was pleased with the offensive line and all three running backs. Xzavier Patrick, Rian Buzzard and even Mason Drew all got big carries for us.”

Hornell and Waterloo battle in the trenches during Saturday's contest at Maple City Park.

Hornell’s defense then made one final stop, capping off their stellar performance and allowing the Red Raider offense to simply take a knee to end the game and secure the week one victory.

Hornell (1-0) now prepares to host Marcus Whitman/Bloomfield next Friday evening at 7 p.m. in Maple City Park.