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Deerfield avenges loss to Stratford, returns to state title game

Deerfield senior all-around star KE'Marvin Pitts didn't find the end zone Friday night in the Knights' 24-17 win against Stratford Academy, but he was just one of many players who played key roles on defense and offense to propel DWS to the state title game next week against Heritage. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

Deerfield senior all-around star KE'Marvin Pitts didn't find the end zone Friday night in the Knights' 24-17 win against Stratford Academy, but he was just one of many players who played key roles on defense and offense to propel DWS to the state title game next week against Heritage. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

By Timothy Threadcraft

SPECIAL TO THE HERALD

ALBANY - Deerfield fed Stratford a taste of its own medicine Friday — and it will be the Knights going to the GISA Class AAA state title game this time around.

In a playoff rematch of rivals with a tense recent history, Deerfield rolled to a 24-17 victory Friday night at Webb Memorial in a game that wasn't nearly as close as the final score.

Last year in the state semifinals, Stratford ran over Deerfield to the tune of 372 yards rushing --- ending the Knights' season --- then earlier this year, the Knights responded with a 45-27 win behind a 176-yard effort of senior Kh’Ron McClain, a Herald Dynamite Dozen selection.

Well, Friday was no different. Only this time, McClain wanted to show off his entire arsenal.

After ending the Eagles’ first drive prematurely with a crucial tackle for loss on third down, McClain burst through the line of scrimmage to block the punt on the next play, setting the tone for the rest of the half.

“I just saw a big play ahead of me, and took it," said the senior star, who finished with 136 total yards and two scores in the win.

With the great field position off the special teams miscue by Stratford, the Knights wasted no time. On third down, Knights QB Dallas Margeson found Rich Fallaw in the left corner of the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown to strike first and go up early, 7-0, on a Harry Vidibill PAT.

After the Eagles cut into the lead with a field goal, McClain took the ensuing kickoff 44 yards to the Stratford 49-yard line.

Two plays later, Margeson found Fallaw once again streaking down the sidelines for a 43-yard gain. McClain then punched the ball in from three yards out to extend the Deerfield lead to 14-3 with 11 minutes left in the half. DWS would take a 17-3 lead into the locker room on a 27-yard Vildibill field goal.

“We came out to play. Offense was on key all night, everybody was blocking great, running great,” McClain said.

But McClain wasn’t the only Knight making his presence felt Friday on both sides of the ball.

Senior Sam Shellhaas churned out 58 tough rushing yards to go with 2 1/2 tackles for loss.

The Knights came out and added to their lead in the second right right away when McClain finished off a five-minute drive from six yards out as DWS took a commanding lead, 24-3.

Revenge was so close they could taste it.

“Well, going into the game, we knew this could be our last chance running the ball together. We had to take advantage of these opportunities,” said Shellhaas said.

The Eagles got desperate from there -- and it paid off.

After a pass interference call kept a long drive going late in the third with 1:24 left, Eagles QB John Mitchell found Johnathan Hefner in the back corner of the end zone --- on fourth-and-goal --- to cut the deficit to 14. On the next Deerfield possession, the Knights were stuffed three times in a row and looked to be on their heels.

Enter Davis Hines.

Hines, the senior leader who had already stunted one Eagles drive early in the game with a pick of Mitchell, then brought down another, ending Stratford's threat as quickly as it began.

The Knights began milking the clock and eventually turned the ball over on downs deep in Stratford territory, and the Eagles needed a miracle with a little under four minutes to play.

They almost got it.

After an illegal chop block left them with 2nd-and-24, two quick completions to Hefner and Sean Grossnickle gave the Eagles the ball and the first down at the Deerfield 33-yard line. Mitchell stepped back and fired a quick pass to Quintez Cephus, who beat the defenders to the edge, threw a stiff-arm and crossed the plane to make it a one-possession game with 1:19 left to play.

And just like that, a game that seemed like a cakewalk from the second quarter was coming down to an onside kick. Luckily for Deerfield, Coleman Butler dove onto the ball, preserving a date with Heritage Academy on their home field for all the marbles. Heritage beat Westfield on Friday in the other semifinal.

After the win, Shellhaas said the Knights proved a point.

"Not to sound cocky, but we know we’re the best defense in the state," he said. "We were just like, ‘This isn’t happening. Especially not in our place.' ”

Even though Stratford gave them a bit of a scare, Deerfield's seniors managed to keep their composure and stay focused on the task at hand.

“Defense started out a little slower than we’d like,” Fallaw began, “but they did a great job coming back in the end. We just have to put this one behind us and get ready for next week. This is our ultimate goal, we’ve just got to finish the drill.”

DWS coach Allen Lowe, who earned his 100th career win earlier this season and got No. 107 on Friday, is ready to add more to that total.

“By this time of the year, if they can’t motivate themselves to play for a state title, there’s nothing I can say,” Lowe said of next week's game. “It was a tough game (Friday night), and we needed it. I’m proud of us for pulling through.”