CORNING - Defense and a timely throw and catch propelled the Corning Hawks to their first Section IV Class AA title since 2014 with a 14-12 victory over Elmira.
"I'm very proud of our seniors and whole team for continuing to trust what we do," Corning head coach George Bacalles said. "Its been a great year. From last year -- a rough finish to this year, an investment in the weight room and working out the summer. Getting better every single day. I'm very proud that they are able to to be sectional champions."
Up 14-12 in the fourth quarter, the Express went on a 14-play drive that started at their own eight-yard-line that put them at Corning's 15-yard-line with under five minutes to go.
Facing a fourth down, Corning's defense bottled up Elmira runner Michael Brown to take over with the lead. The Hawks defense forced three turnover-on-downs from the Express.
"When called upon, the defense always stepped up to make a big play," said Bacalles. "That was huge to be able to get the ball back and run the clock out which we were able to do."
The Hawks completed their first pass of the game with under three minutes to go when Blake VanWoert connected with Max Freeman over the middle on a critical 3rd-and-7 with a 38 yard pass that Freeman had to lay out for that ended any chance of another Elmira drive.
"They knew we were trying to run the ball to get a first down, and we put it in the kids hands," Bacalles said. "We said, 'you want to win, make a play' and Blake gave a catchable ball and Max made a great reception and that allowed us to continue the drive."
The Express jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the first quarter when Elmira blocked a Corning punt and capitalized from the Hawks' 12-yard line scoring in five plays when Nate Latshaw punched it in from one yard away.
Corning fumbled in its own territory the ensuing offense possession, but the Hawks defense forced a turnover on downs with Elmira inside Hawks territory at the 30-yard-line.
"That was a crucial part of the game as they were up," said Bacalles. "It was a great way to shift some momentum towards us. that could have caused some major problems for us."
Joey Ott tied the score for Corning with 11:12 to go in the second quarter when he stepped in front of an Elmira pass and took it back 61 yards for a score.
Elmira came out of the second half on fire scoring on its third play from scrimmage as Latshaw took the ball 60 yards on the ground for a touchdown that gave the Express a 12-6 advantage.
Corning responded with its only touchdown the ensuing drive as Ja'Ovian Fisher broke free for a 26-yard touchdown. Bacalles liked the response after Elmira took the lead the previous drive.
"We just said we need to keep blocking for 12 steps to allow running backs a little bit of a crease," said Bacalles. "Us being able to go down and score as well as convert the 2-point conversion and take the lead was a huge momentum turner."
The 26-yard score was part of Fisher's 153 yard day on 21 touches. Fisher accounted for almost half of Corning's 349 yards of total offense.
"Ja'[Ovian did a great job running the ball especially with the offensive line opening holes," said Bacalles. "The touchdown run was a great cutback. I'm proud of him and how unselfish he's been. Happy that he was able to advance drives and score the last touchdown."
In all, the Hawks defense allowed only 256 yards to Elmira.
The Hawks will move on to the Class AA Regional Final at 6 p.m. Saturday against the winner of Utica-Proctor and Cicero-North Syracuse.