The emotion of the moment overwhelmed Khalil Edney. Inside his New Rochelle helmet, the quarterback cried.
Edney wandered off alone down the field while his teammates staged one of the wildest celebrations you’ll ever see, basking in a 28-21 win over Shaker in a Class AA state semifinals following a jaw-dropping fourth quarter and an unthinkable final minute. Edney held himself up enough to point to the sky with both arms, paying tribute after the defining moment of his life.
“I thought of my mom,” Edney said. “She passed away around this time. This was very important for me.”
On Saturday night, nearly six years after the death of his mother to breast cancer, Edney rode an emotional football rollercoaster — turning what was nearly the most disastrous of losses into a legendary win.
Edney and tight end Joe Clarke etched their names in New Rochelle football history, connecting on a game-winning 11-yard touchdown with 30 seconds to play. Clarke later made a touchdown-saving tackle on the ensuing kickoff and intercepted a pass in the closing seconds to seal it.
“We had to just stay calm,” said Edney, who threw for 70 yards and ran for 36 in the game. “We had 1:35 left on the clock. We went into our two-minute offense. I’ve been ready for this opportunity my entire life.”
New Rochelle (10-1) booked a trip to the state championship game at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse. The Huguenots will take on defending champion Orchard Park on Saturday, November 24 — a date of special significance for Edney.
“That’s the day my mom died,” Edney said. “This is special for me.”
The head-spinning final minute capped stunning final 12:47 where New Rochelle went from leading 20-0 to down 21-20.
Shaker, the Albany-area Section 2 champion, scored with 47 seconds left in the third quarter and then twice in the final 3:39. The Bison final score, a 49-yard quarterback keeper by Chris Landers, was followed by his two-point conversion pass, putting Shaker ahead 21-20 with 1:35 left.
“Our coaches told us to keep our head up and that’s what we did,” Clarke said. “I put my head down. But coach (assistant Keith Fagan) told me ‘You’re a big time player on this team. You’re a playmaker. You have to make the big play.’ That’s what I did.”
Edney took the field and was incomplete on his first two pass attempts, both deep into Shaker territory. His third down pass to Clarke was also incomplete but the Bison were flagged for pass interference, putting the ball at the 50 with 1:15 to go.
After the automatic first down, Edney ran a draw for 19 yards and then completed a 19-yard pass to Clarke, who made a leaping grab between two defenders. After a short run, Edney dropped back and threw a bullet to Clarke over the middle, who tucked it as he crossed the goal-line for the score.
“I saw the linebacker drift out and I went back in,” Clarke said. “This is the biggest achievement of my life.”
Jason Ceneus, who ran for 80 yards and two touchdowns, ran in the two-point conversion.
New Rochelle had to hold its breath in the final 30 seconds as Shaker returned the kickoff to the Huguenots’ 42. Clarke was all that separated Shaker from the end zone and came up with the saving tackle.
On the next play, Clarke stepped in front of a pass at the 20 to clinch it.
“Shaker is a great team and they didn’t give up,” Edney said. “We had to play a full 48 minutes to win this game.”
The game followed an eerily strange path that New Rochelle’s only loss of the season. In the season finale, the Huguenots led New Jersey power North Bergen 20-0 after three quarters before surrendering three touchdowns in a 21-20 defeat.
“We thought a lot about that,” said New Rochelle linebacker Terrence Holden. “We were not going to let that happen every again in our life. We just kept our heads up and kept working.”
The difference Saturday was the final minutes. While North Bergen recovered an onside kick after taking the lead and never gave the Huguenots the ball back, Shaker left too much time for Edney and Clarke.
New Rochelle now is on its way to the state title game for the fifth time in history, looking for its second title. The Ray Rice and Courtney Greene-led Huguenots of 2003 won the other.
“We are going to go back to practice Monday and get ready for the Dome,” Holden said. “We worked hard for two years for this. We lost last year to North Rockland and that was our drive, to never lose again. We want to make it to the top.”
Email Kevin Devaney Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @MSGVarsityKDJ