In the past two years, the Iroquois Chiefs have had to get help to into the playoffs. But this year, they finally had their fate in their own hands.
On Friday night the Chiefs took control of their destiny with a 30-15 win over the McKinley Macks, clinching a berth in the Class A playoffs for the third year in a row.
The game was essentially and a ‘win and in’ situation for both teams. A Macks win Friday night would’ve meant they would get into the playoffs with a win over Amherst next week and the Chiefs would be out.
“This was the end of the road or the beginning of something new,” CJ Perillo said.
The offenses got off to slow starts, that was until the trick plays were called.
It looked as if the Macks were going to punt after unsuccessfully working the hard count, but McKinley went for the fake punt attempt as DJ Gbaraba ran it to the right side to pick up the first down. On the ensuing play, Taelon Hollamon found Miles Haynes for 33 yards to get the Macks first and goal at the 9-yard line.
McKinley had a false start penalty, but Hollamon connected with Ahmen Lester on a 20-yard dump pass for a the score
Then the light turned on for the Chiefs. Perillo took a carry 5 yards for Chiefs’ first 1st down of the day on the next drive. Perillo, with help from a questionable unsportsmanlike penalty, lead Iroquois down the field on a drive that he capped off with a 9-yard touchdown run.
Perillo lead the Iroquois offense scoring both of their touchdowns in the win.
According to Chiefs’ head coach Robert Pitzonka he is far and away the leader of the team. Perillo put extraordinary work in at the weight room this past offseason gaining more than 35 pounds.
“He’s our heart,” Pitzonka said. “He inspires people by what he does. There’s a picture from December of he and Tyler Tait at 5:30 in the morning sleeping on the gym floor waiting for everybody to get there. School ended up getting canceled that day so I had to go there and get them. That’s the kind of kid he is.
On the ensuing kickoff, McKinley tailback Kaiyer Fields mishandled the kickoff, but he picked it up and returned it a few yards. Unfortunately for the Macks, Fields suffered a lower body injury that took him out of the game.
A few plays, later Parker Valvo came with a ‘pick 6’ giving Iroquois the lead.
The McKinley woes continued on the next drive as Chiefs forced them into a 3-and-out. Joe Current made a heads-up play, blocking the punt and then returning it 25 yards for the score, putting the Chiefs up 20-7 at the half.
The Macks had two promising drives in the second half.
After stopping a second fake punt attempt by the Chiefs, McKinley got the ball back with some momentum.
Haynes took a run for six yards on 4th and short. Later in the drive a Hollamon pass to Cajon Caurthon went for 13 yards. A no call was made as Hollamon threw a pass to his receiver in the end zone who was being drapped back by the defensive back. Haynes made another play taking a swing pass for 10 yards to make it 4th and 2. However, the Hollamon pass was just too high for his receiver.
Perillo lead the Chiefs down the field again, in a drive that ended with a 25-yard field goal from Dylan Giancarlo to give Iroquois the 23-7 lead with nine minutes left in the game.
The Macks finally converted on a long drive early in the fourth quarter. Hollamon lead the way, both with his arm and his feet. The quarterback connected with Caurthon for 11-yard touchdown and a two-point conversion run by Haynes brought the Macks within a score.
The tide almost completely turned when Perillo caught a pass and then fumbled it. Luckily for the Chiefs, Vincenzo Pattacciato landed on it, keeping the ball in the Chiefs’ possession/
The McKinley defense finally made a stop, but the Chiefs punt was returned to the Macks’ 10-yard line with 3:07 left in the game. Hollamon found a wide out open that would’ve taken it for a touchdown but the ball fell through his hands.
Iroquois forced a fumble on 4th down. Two plays later, Perillo took the ball in to seal the victory for the Chiefs.
With the loss McKinley is eliminated from the playoff contention. Head coach Brian Hillery was proud of the fight his team showed.
“It’s hard for these kids who fought hard today to take,” Hillery said. “We had some dropped balls that hurt us, but we had a couple big turnovers that gave them 14 points. That was a game-changer.”
For Pitzonka, the win signifies the program taking the next step.
“We’re always viewed as a team that is really really tough, but not the team at the top,” Pitzonka said. “Frankly, we would have game that would’ve put us over the top and we underwhelmed people. I told the guys, ‘let’s use that as a chip on our shoulder’.”
His players responded with one of the best offseason the program has had in a while.
“We were working at STA performance center four or five days a week this offseason,” Pitzonka said. “It wasn’t just five or six guys coming, it was 27-30 guys there.”