Fumble return secures Clemens victory over Madison
Only 10 Clemens Buffaloes had ever played in a varsity game before they took the field against Madison at Heroes Stadium on Saturday night.
One of their newcomers – sophomore defensive back Max Didomenico– came up with a backbreaking fumble return for a score that helped secure Clemens’ 23-20 victory in their season opener.
“We have a lot of young kids,” Clemens coach Jared Johnston said. “I was proud of the way they settled down after the first quarter and got used to the lights and the speed of the game because it’s so much faster.”
Didomenico, who played on the freshman team a season ago, snagged Dante Heaggans’ fumble in the air and raced 68 yards the other way untouched that gave the Buffaloes a 23-13 lead with 3:13 remaining in the fourth quarter.
It was a seemingly comfortable lead that nearly vanished.
Madison answered right away when Darien Gill caught a 31-yard scoring pass from Heaggans with 2:28 remaining that pulled the Mavericks to within 23-20. The Mavericks then tried an onside kick, but it went out of bounds. Clemens ran out the clock from there.
“What I was really happy about was our offense, even after Madison scored, was able to get some first downs and run out the clock,” Johnston said.
Johnston added Madison’s quick answer will serve as a lesson for his young team.
“That’s going to be a good coaching point,” Johnston said. “Our defense scores that touchdown, and they are super-excited and all of the sudden, they have to go right back on the field. They have learn to let that go and play football.”
The Buffaloes (1-0) prevailed in their first meeting against Madison (0-1) since 2005.
Vicente Perez had three catches for 71 yards and two scores for Clemens. Teammate Janay Patterson rushed 17 times for 122 yards.
The Buffaloes scored 17 straight points in the second half to rally for the win.Madison was led by Heaggans, who rushed for 119 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.
In the first half, Madison scored on two of its first three drives, including its first that was capped with a 36-yard field goal by Graham Torres.
Torres score, which came at the end of a nine-play drive, put the Mavericks in the lead, 3-0, at the 7:47 mark of the first quarter.
Clemens took a 7-3 lead when quarterback Khaliq Paulette connected with Perez for a 34-yard score late in the first quarter.
“Khaliq did a good job of getting the balls to where I only I could get them,” Perez said.
Madison scored on the ensuing drive with a 3-yard touchdown on a quarterback keeper by Heaggans with 8:50 remaining in the second quarter.
Christian Hernandez provided a key reception and run on the 13-play drive that led to Heaggans’ score. Hernandez had a third-down reception on a screen for 13 yards. Four plays later, he rushed for seven yards on a fourth-and-one.
Madison added to its lead when Torres made a 48-yard field goal on the first series of the third quarter that put the Mavericks in the lead, 13-7.
Clemens tied it when Paulette connected with Perez in the left corner in of the end zone for a 9-yard score late in the third quarter. Madison blocked the extra point.