Dec. 4—SYRACUSE — The General Brown football team stood only one quarter away from achieving the ultimate goal — a state championship.
The Lions came up short in that bid in a 29-14 loss to James I. O'Neill of Section 9 on Saturday night in the Class C state title game at the JMA Wireless Dome.
General Brown, which trailed at halftime, forged a one-point lead that it carried into the fourth quarter.
But the Raiders, who possess elite speed, especially from their wideouts, had other plans. Junior Marek Arbogast kicked the go-ahead field goal, scored a back-breaking touchdown on an 82-yard pass from quarterback Nick Waugh and then made a key interception — all in the final quarter to seal the triumph.
"We were right there, so it's got to be disappointing for the kids," General Brown coach Doug Black said.
While O'Neill (12-2) won its first state title, it also denied General Brown's attempt to secure its first state crown.
"That was one helluva football game," O'Neill coach David Moskowitz said. "I mean General Brown, all the credit to them, they had us on the ropes, they execute so well, they're tough, tough kids. But our kids just play together and play for each other and that's what they did."
Senior running back Kaleb Natali scored both touchdowns for the Lions, who finished 11-2.
"I'm very happy that we got here, we're the second team in General Brown history to make it here," Natali said, "but it's very tough to go out with a loss like this."
General Brown's defense helped set up Natali's go-ahead score as he sacked Waugh at O'Neill's 4-yard line on the first possession of the first half.
After a short punt and three plays later, Natali hauled in a 27-yard scoring pass from sophomore quarterback Aiden McManaman and the Lions led 14-13 after the run conversion attempt failed.
The lead held up until the fourth quarter, when Arbogast converted on a 29-yard field goal with 10:25 left in regulation for a 16-14 O'Neill advantage.
General Brown countered with a long drive to reach the Raiders' 18, but was turned away on a fourth-down conversion passing attempt.
On the next play, a wide-open Arbogast sped down the middle for his lengthy touchdown catch and O'Neill led 23-14.
"They were quick, their receivers were fast and unfortunately they got away from us," Natali said.
"They were tough," Black said of O'Neill. "(Jordan Thompson), he's a big boy and we were able to kind of contain him in the first half and in the second half he broke some tackles and got open. (Arbogast) he's a fast receiver and he got loose in our secondary there with the game-breaking touchdown.
"So it's little things, but if you slip up even a little bit in state championship game, that's what happens."
Arbogast wasn't finished as he dived to intercept a pass on the Lions' next possession with 4:56 left in the game.
"They got what we gave them," Natali said of O'Neill. "They capitalized on our mistakes and that's what we should have had fixed. But we slipped up and they capitalized."
Thompson broke loose on for a 41-yard touchdown run to cap the scoring for the Raiders with 2:28 left.
"I think this is a lifetime experience," Arbogast said. "Some people don't even get to this point, so this is something to enjoy."
Waugh completed 18 of 25 passes for 256 yards and a pair of scores, with Arbogast totaling 84 yards on three catches, and Jadon Spain finished with 123 receiving yards on five receptions.
"They have really good speed, I honestly thought we were the better conditioned team," McManaman said. "They had to call timeouts because they were just out of breath. We just couldn't execute today."
Thompson rushed for 129 yards on 16 carries to pace the Raiders.
Gabe Malcolm rushed for 78 yards on 13 carries to pace General Brown, while Sheamus Devine ran for 74 yards on 21 carries. Natali carried the ball 18 times for 70 yards.
McManaman completed 4-of-11 passes for 83 yards, but was intercepted twice.
"We really didn't really take them lightly," Arbogast said of General Brown. "And they were really something we had to watch out for and I thought they were a real good team."
"Seeing another team win it, seeing them celebrate gives us a lot of motivation for next year," McManaman said. "To put more work in to get back here."
O'Neill scored on its first two first-half possessions.
After winning the coin toss and deferring to the second half, the Raiders halted the Lions on the first drive. Then on their third play from scrimmage, Waugh connected with a wide open Spain on a 56-yard scoring pass for a 7-0 lead with 7:17 left.
General Brown responded by generating a 75-yard drive in 16 plays, capped by a two-yard scoring run from Natali. Natali ran in the conversion attempt for an 8-6 lead 24 seconds into the second quarter.
The Raiders scored on their next drive, covering 65 yards in 11 plays as Thompson scored on a one-yard run with 8:18 left in the quarter and led 13-8 after Arbogast missed the extra point.
After the Lions drove to the O'Neill 23, they were turned away on a fourth-down attempt.
The Raiders reached the Lions' 46, but Ben Eichhorn intercepted a Waugh pass with 47 seconds left in the half.
General Brown made its first appearance in a state title game in football since 2010.
The Lions had won five consecutive games in the postseason to reach the final, including rallying for a 29-20 win over Section 6's Lackawanna last Saturday in a state semifinal.
"You try to get them to put it in perspective," Black said. "I know they're going to be a little down, but look what they did. They went on a run, they made the state championship game, they upset two No. 1 seeds on the way here. So they've got to be proud of what they accomplished."