Football: Newburgh Free Academy run comes to abrupt end in state championship

SYRACUSE – Jayden Lewis was three steps into the clear before Newburgh Free Academy had moved beyond the normal pregame jitters that come with a title game appearance.

Touchdown.

Lewis went 77 yards and into the end zone on the opening play of the NYSPHSAA Class AA championship game, sparking a 42-8 win for Bennett on Sunday at the JMA Wireless Dome. The Tigers got some redemption after falling to Carmel a year ago on this stage.

"They obviously prepared for us," Goldbacks standout Deondre Johnson said. "We did the same for them, but they had more bodies. They definitely had more bodies. We made it here, though, and I couldn’t be more proud of my team and these coaches."

Newburgh's Deondre Johnson (81) consoles teammates after Bennett defeated Newburgh in the state Class AA football championship at JMA Wireless Dome in Syracuse Dec. 4, 2022.
Newburgh's Deondre Johnson (81) consoles teammates after Bennett defeated Newburgh in the state Class AA football championship at JMA Wireless Dome in Syracuse Dec. 4, 2022.

NYSPHSAA semifinals: NYSPHSAA semifinals: Newburgh tops CBA, reaches Class AA state final

NFA knew in an instant, this wasn't just another game or just another team.

"They started fast," Goldbacks coach Bill Bianco said. "Give them credit, they came and they hit it. You can see by watching the game, they have athletes everywhere. It is what it is. The kid found a seam and then bounced it. We had nobody there."

And it didn’t get any easier.

Newburgh settled in and created early scoring chances, but an interception in the Red Zone ended the first opportunity. It was only an 8-0 deficit when the first quarter came to a close. A fumble in the backfield ended the next opportunity and Ja’Meer Thomas scooped up the ball in a hurry and went 82 yards for a touchdown.

He was a blur.

Lewis added the conversion run, giving the Tigers a 16-0 lead with 11:42 to go in the second quarter. Newburgh sensed it was in trouble.

"Early on we had the ball on their side of the field and we definitely did not take advantage," Bianco said. "In games like this you don’t get second chances to make plays. The turnovers - fumbles, bad snaps, interceptions – you can’t do that against a team like this. Credit again to them, they created some of those turnovers, but you gotta play clean in a game like this."

Bennett quarterback Antonio Davis hit Thomas and Lewis for TDs in the span of a minute. Another turnover aided the attack. It was a 30-0 cushion before the Goldbacks found the end zone in the closing seconds of the half.

Newburgh's Tajir Walker (4) looks for some running room in the Bennett defense during the state Class AA football championship at JMA Wireless Dome in Syracuse Dec. 4, 2022.
Newburgh's Tajir Walker (4) looks for some running room in the Bennett defense during the state Class AA football championship at JMA Wireless Dome in Syracuse Dec. 4, 2022.

What it means

Newburgh will wish 19 seniors well and go back to work. This was the Goldbacks' third state final appearance, their first since 2014. A new culture has been established.

"We’ve been through a lot at Newburgh and us getting here changes the way people look at us," Johnson said. "They see we obviously have athletes and be positive role models to our young ones."

Player of the game

Lewis was certainly worth the price of admission. He finished with 169 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries. Lewis also caught three passes for 60 yards and one TD.

Newburgh' quarterback Mason Hoover (10) looks for some running room in the Bennett defense during the state Class AA football championship at JMA Wireless Dome in Syracuse Dec. 4, 2022.
Newburgh' quarterback Mason Hoover (10) looks for some running room in the Bennett defense during the state Class AA football championship at JMA Wireless Dome in Syracuse Dec. 4, 2022.

By the numbers

Newburgh (10-3): Tajir Walker bulled in from the 4 with 38 seconds to go in the second quarter to end the shutout bid. He finished with 74 yards on 15 carries. ... Joe Alicea led the Goldbacks with six tackles and Johnson was next with four tackles. ... Mason Hoover completed 17 of 32 passes for 126 yards. He was sacked twice.

Buffalo Bennett (9-3): Shamier Land had 71 yards and one TD on eight carries. ... Davis completed 5 of 13 passes for 92 yards and two TDs. ... The Lions recovered two fumbles and made two interceptions.

They said it

"Today wasn’t our day," Bianco said. "We didn’t play as clean as we did the previous two weeks against Carmel and CBA, but the kids stuck together and were fighting until the end trying to hold these guys. Again, they have a lot of talented kids over there. I’m just proud of the way these guys fought all year."

Big man on campus:Football: Newburgh's Deondre Johnson stands tall on run to states

This article originally appeared on Times Herald-Record: Newburgh falls to Bennett in Class AA state football championship