Nov 07, 2006 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
None of the East Syracuse-Minoa football players were in a hurry to leave the turf of the Carrier Dome.
So they lingered, taking turns holding the Section III Class A championship banner, hugging each other, high-fiving the Spartan fans in the front row, or just letting the weight of the moment sink in.
For the first time in school history, ESM holds a sectional football title, having done it last Friday night in a hard-fought 14-6 victory over the Nottingham Bulldogs.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” said senior Zach Moss, who snagged game MVP honors for his work on defense. “There’s nothing better right now.”
Head coach Kevin DeParde took that sentiment even further, saying the victory culminated a long, arduous climb for his program.
“It’s every emotion you can imagine,” he said. “It’s not just for this season, but for all the teams and coaches in the past here. This group has an enormous amount of heart.”
Every bit of that heart, plus a few strokes of good fortune, would be needed against Nottingham, an opponent trying to atone for last year’s Class A final loss to Whitesboro in the Dome.
DeParde said his team was at a physical disadvantage when compared to the Bulldogs, so it had to stay patient on both ends of the ball and execute in order to succeed.
That patience got tested quickly. Midway through the first quarter, Mick Letcher was sacked and fumbled the ball on his own 41-yard line, and Nottingham’s Demetrius Parker recovered.
Turning to its own power running game, the Bulldogs pounded it in, as Tyshon Goode ran the final four yards for the touchdown to put his team up 6-0.
But Nottingham would not score again. ESM, in its first sectional final since 1984, would bend as Goode ran 32 times for 163 yards, but not give up the big play, allowing the Spartans time to get its own offense in gear.
Good punts helped ESM win the field-position battle and, late in the second quarter, put together a short 35-yard drive that culminated when fullback Cory Gerace ran 12 yards for a TD. Andy Heagle’s successful extra point put the Spartans in front, 7-6, a score that held at halftime.
Early in the third quarter, Nottingham got the ball on its own 18-yard line. With Goode as the main catalyst, it plowed down the field, running all the way and gobbling up more than six minutes of clock as it moved inside ESM’s 10-yard line. Even with its hard work, the Spartans’ defense appeared ready to give up the lead.
Then came the game’s crucial play. Taking a handoff, Goode dropped the ball — and Moss alertly fell on it at the six-yard line. He had already made a series of tackles for losses, and this recovery helped him earn game MVP honors.
What followed was, in DeParde’s mind, emblematic of the team’s blue-collar approach.
ESM would drive 94 yards, consume more than nine minutes of clock, and convert on a series of clutch third and fourth-down runs. Matt Cushing had two of those conversions, and Letcher himself ran 23 yards on a bootleg inside the 10.
Finally, on fourth-down-and-goal, Letcher sneaked the final yard for the TD, building ESM’s lead to eight. When Dayne Bennett intercepted A.J. Menifee’s pass with less than a minute, the Spartans’ first-ever sectional title was sealed.
It was fitting that the Spartans’ senior-laden defense put the game away. Moss and Bennett were just a small part of the story.
Linemen Adam Walsh, Mike Gavenda, Phil Hart, Keith Norton and D.J. Warner gradually gained control of the line of scrimmage, allowing linebackers like Nick Kolod, Paul Lepkowski and Cory Gerace to hit hard and often. Sean Halligan, Jon Kravetz and Will Gillard helped Moss and Bennett in their secondary work.
On the other side of the ball, Cushing had 31 carries for 115 yards, not breaking any big gains, but earning everything, especially on that crucial fourth-quarter drive.
All these parts will need to click again Friday night, when ESM meets state no. 1-ranked Corning East in the Class A regional final at Cicero-North Syracuse’s Bragman Stadium. Game time is 8 p.m.
For a while, though, ESM could savor in its newfound status as champions. Thousands of Spartan fans, students and parents were in the Dome to share this piece of history, and they just might have more to share before this is done.