MIDDLETOWN – After James I. O’Neill’s 22-16 Section 9 Class C semifinal playoff win over Millbrook on Friday night, O’Neill coach Anthony Finochio joking jabbed at me, stating “You wrote our obituary in the paper today.”
I picked a Millbrook win which, of course, meant O’Neill was in good shape. Because we all know J-Rod’s picks aren’t always golden.
Anyway, here’s to O’Neill, one win away from its third straight Class C title.
Coming into this game, the Raiders had lost three of four games, including a 28-21 defeat to Millbrook (8-1) on Oct. 4. The difference in the rematch was a 10-yard touchdown run by quarterback Keegan West with 11.7 seconds left in the third quarter. Malik Chambers added the two-point conversion to give O’Neill its margin of victory.
O’Neill will play John S. Burke Catholic for the Class C championship at 3 p.m. on Nov. 9 at Dietz Stadium in Kingston. Burke Catholic defeated Liberty 24-19 in the other Class C semifinal on Friday at Dietz. The Eagles defeated O’Neill 36-21 on Oct. 11.
Millbrook, from Dutchess County, entered Friday as the favorite. Not only were the Blazers undefeated, they had outscored opponents 368-147 this season, piling up blowouts. Not only was O’Neill slumping, especially by its standards, but West was nursing a broken left thumb.
He wore a big cast during the Millbrook game, his first action since sustaining the injury in a 36-21 loss to Burke Catholic on Oct. 11. Entering the Millbrook showdown, West and Finochio called him a “game time” decision. You figured West would play and he did.
Running back Malik Chambers had 146 yards rushing and picked off a pass by Millbrook quarterback DeVon Jackson at the O’Neill 10 with 2:17 remaining, returning it to midfield, to seal the big win. Great job, O’Neill.
“The key was our will to win,” Chambers said. “In our hearts, we wanted it, because we lost to Millbrook earlier in the season. We just wanted to make a statement to Section 9. We are coming for the Section 9 championship, it’s been our championship. Tonight, we wanted to play a heck of a game, and we did.”