Port Byron/Union Springs football completes perfect season with win over Hannibal for NFF title
SYRACUSE — Port Byron/Union Springs checked off its final goal of the 2016 season.
The Panthers offense scored on their first two drives and the defense kept the Warriors off the board until the final seconds, as Port Byron/Union Springs topped Hannibal, 22-6, in the Section III, National Football Foundation League Championship Game at the Carrier Dome Sunday.
“One of the things we tell the boys every single day at practice is ‘You’re part of something bigger than just playing football,’” Panthers head coach Dan Robbins said. “This is a very special team. There were a ton of people from Port Byron and Union Springs here. It’s bigger than just a bunch of kids playing football.
“We brought unity to two communities and we brought the fun back to football in the two districts. It’s a great time to be a Panther fan.”
Right from the first practice, Port Byron/Union Springs’ goal was ‘Dome to Dome.’ One year after going 0-8, the Panthers opened the season with a win over Bishop Grimes in the Carrier Dome and finished their season a perfect 10-0.
“We said at the beginning of the season we want to go ‘Dome to Dome’ and we fulfilled that,” said quarterback Nick Valentino, who was named Port Byron/Union Springs’ most valuable player for the game.
Valentino rushed for 31 yards and two touchdowns, went 7-for-9 passing with 159 yards, and picked off one of the Warriors’ passes.
“Nick is the kind of player who gets better as the season goes on,” Robbins said. “When we needed him against Waterville, he had an amazing game. When we needed him against Hannibal, he made some throws you rarely see him make in practice. He nailed them today. He did an amazing job.”
Davonte House rushed for 113 yards and one touchdown, Jon Atkinson recorded 109 yards receiving, and Chris Hickey and Nick Burns each finished with five tackles.
The Panthers defense made four stops on Warriors drives deep in the Port Byron/Union Springs zone to preserve the lead.
“We didn’t adjust our scheme,” Robbins said of his defense. “We just put some athletes in positions to make plays, and just like always, they played fast and executed when they needed to.”
After a game-opening, six-plus minute Hannibal drive that ended with a turnover on downs, Port Byron/Union Springs answered by marching the ball back down the field. House’s 37-yard run set up a two-yard quarterback keeper for Valentino’s first touchdown of the day in the final seconds of the first quarter.
“I think after we scored that first time, it got everyone’s jitters out,” Valentino said. “We really played team football. Our defense stepped it up and our O line kicked butt.”
The Panthers added to their lead on their next possession in the second quarter. Valentino made three long passes for more than 80 yards, then punched the ball in from the one.
The score remained 14-0 throughout the third, but House broke through for a short touchdown run with 1:04 remaining. The Warriors answered with a quick drive that resulted in a short touchdown pass as time expired.
“We flipped the script from 0-8 to 10-0. That’s a good feeling,” Valentino said. “Hopefully next year it continues.”
While other class champions move onto the state tournament, the NFF Championship Game ends the Port Byron/Union Springs season. The NFF league was set up for programs that are rebuilding, and there is currently no state tournament.
Instead, the Panthers will have to wait until next season for a chance to build on their win streak — in regular Section III, Class C competition.
“It’s the best day of the year and the worst day of the year, because the football season is over,” Robbins said. “We end with a win, but unfortunately it’s our last day. That happens if you win a state championship. The last day of football is a sad day. However, as I said before, the boys know they did something special and I know the next class coming in is going to be bigger and better than what we had this year.”