ONEONTA — It was clear from the outset someone other than Isaiah Zimmer was going to have to beat Oneonta High on Friday.
Chenango Forks quarterback J.C. Sweeney turned out to be the guy.
Sweeney rushed for 195 yards on 14 carries and scored three touchdowns as the Blue Devils cruised to a 41-6 Section Four Football Conference non-division victory on a warm night at Lloyd F. Baker Field.
The Yellowjackets (0-2) dressed 21 healthy bodies and the finished the night with 20 after senior running back Scott Conrade left with a minor back injury in the second quarter.
“I don’t think it’s an issue of having enough athletes or enough linemen,” OHS coach Adam Hoover said of his tiny roster. “I think the issue is we don’t consistently take care of our responsibilities. We showed signs on both sides of the ball that when we take care of our responsibilities, we do a pretty good job.”
One responsibility OHS completely ignored was stopping Sweeney, an athletic junior whose option fakes might have been better than his runs.
Zimmer, a bruising, 190-pound fullback, scored three touchdowns last Saturday in Forks’ 35-6 win over Unatego. Forks’ option offense often centers on Zimmer.
But Oneonta held Zimmer to 38 yards on 11 carries in the first half.
“We wanted (Sweeney) to carry the ball,” Hoover said. “We knew (Sweeney) was good, that’s no slight on him, but we thought if made him keep it, which we did most the time, we were better off than just letting the fullback run free down the field. We didn’t do a great job of pursuit after that.
“The option is tough to stop, especially when you run it well and Forks runs it well every year,” he continued.
With Zimmer lined up about 3 yards behind Sweeney, the quarterback would turn and put the ball in Zimmer’s belly but wouldn’t let go of it. Sweeney often followed Zimmer into the hole before pulling the ball out, bouncing a step or two to the outside before racing into Oneonta’s secondary.
When Sweeney scored on a 13-yard run 2 minutes, 34 seconds before halftime, Oneonta’s James Longo and Taylor Rowe pulled down Zimmer about 3 yards downfield, thinking he had the ball. No one was left to stop Sweeney, who scored standing up into the right corner of the end zone. That score, coupled with Forks kicker Jack Sherwood controlling a poor snap before lofting the two-point pass to Ryan Bronson, gave Forks a 22-6 heading into halftime.
“There’s no question that (Sweeney) was doing some baiting out there,” Forks coach Dave Hogan said. “He enticed the defense pretty well.”
On the Blue Devils’ first possession of the second half, Sweeney scored from 50 yards on an identical play. Again, Zimmer drew multiple defenders before Sweeney pulled it out and raced untouched down the right sideline. Sherwood’s PAT made it 29-6.
Sweeney scored again on a 3-yard keeper at the end of the third quarter and Jake Green tacked on another Forks touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, OHS had almost no success on the ground against the Blue Devils. Twenty-seven rushes netted 12 yards — Conrade had a team-high 27 yards on seven carries before his injury.
Senior quarterback Brendan Lord completed 9 of 21 passes for 117 yards and two interceptions for OHS.
The Yellowjackets’ best play came midway through the second quarter. On fourth-and-2 from the Forks’ 48, Lord dropped back before lofting a pass about 30 yards in the direction of Jonathan Vega, who made an excellent adjustment on the ball, outjumping a Forks defender around the 20 before cruising into the end zone to cut Oneonta’s deficit to 14-6.
“I think there are some positives we can take out of this game,” said Hoover, whose team lost, 45-7, to Sidney in Week 1. “Overall, we played better tonight then we did last week. The score doesn’t indicate the improvements we made. We’re going to (Chenango Valley) next week for our first division game. With a good week of practice, I think we can go out and get our first win of the season.”