ENDICOTT, N.Y. - Freshman Braden Rice stepped in front of a middle screen with 70 seconds remaining in the game to preserve Waverly's 25-20 win over Newark Valley in the semifinals of the Section IV, Class C playoffs here Saturday afternoon at Ty Cobb Stadium.

Waverly improves to 7-2 with the win and will face state-ranked Chenango Forks, a 46-28 winner over Lansing in the other semifinal, Saturday at 3 p.m. at Alumni Stadium for the Class C title.

"It's a huge win," said Waverly coach Jason Miller. "We did not expect to be in this position."

"It's such a big game to be in the section finals against the third ranked team in the state (Forks)," he said. "We're not suppose to win, which makes it fun."

The Wolverines, who earlier in the fourth quarter stopped the Cardinals on downs at their 16 - thanks in large part to a big tackle in the backfield by Rice, were forced to punt with 1:35 left in the game.

After an 11-yard completion from QB Vinnie Darpino to Larry Kazmarcik moved the ball to the NV 40, Darpino scrambled backward under pressure from Joey Peters and floated a screen pass toward Kazmarcik, but Rice jumped in front of the receiver for the game-sealing interception.

"We came up with some timely, big plays on defense - none bigger than the (Braden Rice) pick on the middle screen, which I saw open up like the Red Sea," said Miller.

Newark Valley ran the ball for 347 yards in the game, led by Darpino, who had 197 yards and a TD on 21 carries and Kazmarcik, who added 99 yards on 10 carries.

"They hit us with mid-line (option) and we weren't quite prepared for it," said Miller. "We thought we'd see triple (option), we weren't expecting the mid-line and hadn't worked on it since we played Chenango Valley, where we did a great job against it.

"They do a lot of things offensively, as they did today, that can hurt you," added Miller. "Newark Valley is a good offensive team."

While Darpino, who also threw a TD pass, had a good day for the Cardinals, sophomore QB Peyton Miller had an even better day for the Wolverines. He completed 18 of 21 passes for 214 yards and a TD, while throwing just his second interception of the season, and ran for 117 yards and two TDs on 23 carries.

In all, the Wolverines ran for 184 yards on 39 carries and had 398 yards in total offense.

"I thought we controlled the line-of-scrimmage when we had the ball and I thought we were pretty accurate with our throws, which gave us a lot of first downs and opportunities to keep the ball moving down the field," said Miller.

Newark Valley moved the ball quickly down the field on its first possession, but an errant option pitch was mishandled and Waverly's Zach Saxon pounced on the loose ball at the Wolverine 8.

Waverly used its short passing game and several QB keepers from Miller to move the ball to midfield, where Miller rolled left and feigned a run, only to step back and find a wide-open Dylan Perry along the home sidelines for a 51-yard TD.

"It was an improvisation," said Jason Miller. It was a called pass play and Peyton scrambled outside and found Dylan (Perry) down the sideline."

Zack Saxon's PAT kick gave Waverly a 7-0 lead with 3:27 left in the first quarter.

Newark Valley answered with a 50-yard TD pass by Darpino to slice the deficit to 7-6 with 9:30 remaining in the first half.

After an exchange of possessions, Darpino busted loose on a 59-yard scoring jaunt with 3:27 remaining in the half. Kazmarcik's run for the conversion gave Newark Valley a 14-7 lead.

The Wolverines took the ensuing kickoff and quickly moved the ball down the field. Miller capped the drive with a QB sneak from 1 yard out to slice the deficit to 14-13 with 31 seconds left in the half.

Waverly may have caught a break two plays later when an apparent shovel pass was ruled a fumble, which Joe Bennett pounced on to give the Wolverines the ball at the Cardinal 44 with 22 seconds remaining.

Miller connected with Tim Sutton on a 17-yard pass to the 27, then quickly spiked he ball to stop the clock.

Miller then found Saxon open down the seam for an apparent TD with 12 seconds remaining, but the Wolverines were flagged for an illegal man down field to nullify the score. The half then ended with an interception.

"Our wide out was on the line-of-scrimmage and covered up the tight end and the tight end released," said Miller. "It's unfortunate because that was a big play, it would have been a huge, huge play before the half."

Zack Gingerich gave Waverly an immediate lift coming out of the locker room to open the second half with a 34-yard kick return to the Newark Valley 40.

"(Zack) Gingerich had another great return, which set us up to start the half at their 40," said Miller. "It was a big lift to start the half."

Over the next six plays, Miller ran for 25 yards, including a 3-yard TD run, on three carries and also connected with Ryan McFarland on an 11-yard pass play. The Wolverines conversion attempt failed and they led 19-14 with 9:27 left in the third quarter.

Darpino quickly led Newark Valley into the red zone with a 42-yard run, but on the next play McFarland stripped him of the ball and recovered it at the Wolverine 8 to end the threat.

Miller then directed a 12-play, 92-yard scoring drive that chewed nearly 5 1/2 minutes off the game clock, increasing the Waverly lead to 25-14 with 1:19 left in the third quarter.

Miller received plenty of help in the drive with McFarland picking up 14 yards on a sweep and also hauling in a 23-yard reception, while Peters ripped off a 10-yard run and capped the drive with a 5-yard TD run.

Two plays after the ensuing kickoff, Kazmarcik broke free on a 63-yard run to the Waverly 5 and Trevor Hoffmeir scored on the next play. The Wolverines stuffed the conversion attempt to keep their lead at 25-20 with 9 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

Waverly's next possession ended quickly with a punt and the Cardinals marched the ball from its 30 to the Waverly 14, taking nearly seven minutes off the clock, but on a third-down play Rice sliced through the offensive line and tripped up Darpino in the backfield to force a fourth-and-9 at the 16.

On fourth down, Darpino's pass attempt was high and fell harmlessly to the turf.

Waverly picked up a quick first down, then faced a 4th-and-1 at its 37.

"I got a little nervous there. I thought abbot going for it, but in my head I heard my dad telling me 'don't be a dummy, punt the ball," laughed Miller.

Newark Valley took over at its 29 and two plays later, Rice sealed the Wolverine victory with his interception.

Perry was Miller's favorite target on the day with nine receptions for 100 yards, while McFarland had four catches for 44 yards and Gingerich added three catches for 24 yards.