There’s not many instances where you get a playoff preview of the two best teams in the section in the regular season, but that’s exactly the circumstance when Corning travels to Elmira Saturday in what’s expected to be a heavyweight fight.
Both teams stand 6-1, with Corning representing the up-and-coming challenger amidst its best season since 2014 while the Express represent the old and established veteran having won four of the last six Section IV Class AA titles. The two will duke it out for a No. 1 seed in the Section IV Class AA playoffs.
Elmira has been its usual dominant and consistent self going 5-0 after dropping its first game to Newburgh, 14-10.
Since that game, Elmira has averaged 43 points per game including three games with more than 60 points and a game over 50 points in that stretch.
As has been the norm during the Jimmy McCauley era, the Express like to dominate in the trenches by gutting opponents on the ground with their multitude of talented running backs.
Michael Brown and Nate Latshaw dominate carries for Elmira and routinely go over 100 yards. Jared Alford and Tresean Terwilliger have also crossed the century mark for the Express. Ethan Simpson, one of Elmira’s talented backfield threats, is out for the season with an injury.
Much of the offensive success for Elmira is due to a stout offensive line.
“We have hard working kids,” Elmira head coach Jimmy McCauley said. “Starts with our offensive line. You ask any of our backs - they give credit to our offensive line. We try to work hard and get better each week.”
Corning’s defense has been excellent and will have the task of trying to stop the ground game of the Express. The Hawks have allowed only 16 points per game this season and are preaching wrapping up Elmira backs to prevent big plays.
“Our goal is to be the best tackling team on the field,” Corning head coach George Bacalles said. “We feel like if we do that, we’ll have success.”
While the Elmira offense has been good, the defense has been just as good. The Express only allow 22 points per game. The only two games in which an opponent has put up more than 28 points against Elmira is in a blowout win over Binghamton (35) where the Express put up 65 points on offense and a slug fest with Horseheads where the Blue Raiders’ talented offense put up 28.
The Express are focused on controlling what they can control when it comes to stopping the Hawks’ explosive offense.
“We really focus on us,” said McCauley. “Corning has guys that can make plays - we have to execute our game plan.”
The Elmira defense will face a familiar face this weekend in now Corning offensive coordinator Mike Johnston.
Johnston has been one of the main orchestrators for the renaissance in Corning’s offense that averages almost 44 points per game, up from 25 points last season, when Johnston was Elmira’s OC.
“Our thoughts and our focus is on our guys,” McCauley said. “Getting our guys to understand our game plan. Mike is a great guy, great coach - But we are focused on executing our game plan.”
The winner of this game will be 7-1 and have home field advantage throughout the playoffs.