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  • Writer's picturetgardner1167

Late two-point conversion lifts Iroquois over Southwestern

The Iroquois Chiefs’ last game prior to their season opener on Saturday night was a heartbreaking double overtime loss to Maritime/Health Sciences that saw them unable to get one yard at the goal line, thus losing their chance to earn the crown of Class B in Section VI.

Just under four months later, Iroquois found themselves in a similar spot, needing two yards on a two-point try to secure their first win of the 2021 season at home. In that moment, with nine seconds on the clock, one thing crossed Chiefs coach Rob Pitzonka’s mind.

“I told myself, if I’m going to be in that spot again, if this team is, we’re putting it in Trey [Kleitz]’s hands,” he said.

It seems he made the right decision.

The Iroquois quarterback scored a late two-point conversion in dramatic fashion, extending the ball just beyond the goal line, which secured the Chiefs a 22-21 nonleague victory over Class C powerhouse Southwestern.

“I told coach [Pitzonka], ‘give me the ball if I’m on the 2-yard line, I’m going to get this in,'” Kleitz said. “He did it, ran a power right up the middle, and got it in.”

In a game that saw a variety of momentum shifts, there was one certainty: Trey Kleitz to Nate McGoldrick.

The quarterback-tight end duo connected on all three Chiefs (1-0) touchdowns on the night, including the most important one with 14 seconds to play. Needing a score to potentially tie or win the game, on third-and-goal, Kleitz took the snap and found a wide open McGoldrick on a leak, and the junior tight end strolled into the endzone untouched.

“During COVID, Trey and [McGoldrick] were in meetings with me three times a week, learning the offense,” Pitzonka said. “Those two really started getting a great connection over the summer … you could just see that it blossomed, just the trust.”

After Southwestern (0-1) took the lead in the first quarter off a 1-yard rush from senior Eddie Gibbon, the Chiefs tied it up off the first Kleitz-McGoldrick connection of the day, as McGoldrick collected a swing pass, made a couple defenders miss, and took it 37 yards to the endzone. The game would stay 7-7 at halftime after a defensively sound and penalty-filled second quarter from both sides.

Out of the break, Iroquois went on to take the lead off a similar Kleitz to McGoldrick swing pass and run, 14-7, but the game would shift heavily in the Trojans favor afterwards.

After a 22-yard scramble from Southwestern quarterback Aidan Kennedy tied the game at 14-14, on the ensuing Chiefs drive, Kleitz fumbled the snap on the first play. The loose ball was recovered by the Trojans and gave them a short field, which led to a link-up between Kennedy and tight end Ashton Matthew on a 6-yard score. In a matter of just 1:24, Southwestern went from trailing by seven to leading by that same margin.

However, a failed Trojans fourth down attempt with 4:55 to play while trying to kill the clock gave the ball back to Iroquois and led to the late game heroics. It was a rollercoaster of a game for Southwestern, but coach Jake Burkholder knows things can be tidied up.

“It’s the first of the game of the year and we had some veteran guys make some mental errors, we’ve just got to move on,” he said. “Just situational awareness on some things … it’s stuff that we’ve got to fix.”

One of the bigger draws and storylines of the matchup was the quarterback duel between Kleitz and Kennedy, both of whom are regarded as two of Western New York’s best. The two are great friends off the field and train together, so getting the opportunity to play against one another was nothing short of a great experience.

“He’s a great quarterback, I think he’s probably the best in Western New York,” Kleitz said of Kennedy. “He’s got a great team, winning mentality … it was just a great experience playing him.”

Both teams return to action on Sept. 10 with 7 p.m. kickoffs, as the Chiefs host Tonawanda while Southwestern travels to Salamanca.

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