Nov 13, 2006 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
As it flattened 10 consecutive foes and grabbed the Section III Class B championship, the Cazenovia football team developed an aura that every Laker fan felt, a sense that no one was going to keep it from a run to the state title.
All of those good feelings evaporated Saturday night on the rain-soaked turf of Cicero-North Syracuse’s Bragman Stadium, at the hands of an opponent well-schooled in claiming games like this.
Chenango Forks, one of the state’s best-known football powers, fought past the Lakers in a 3-0 Class B regional final where skill was important — but the elements, and the ability to hang on to the ball, proved to be more important.
Noting the downpour that persisted and grew more intense throughout the second half, head coach Tom Neidl said the deluge kept his team from doing all it wanted on offense, especially throwing the ball.
“The conditions didn’t help us,” he said.
Rain or not, Cazenovia knew this would be, by a wide margin, its biggest test of the fall. Forks, a Section IV school, had won 48 of its previous 50 games and had state championships in 2003 and ’04 on its resume.
The Blue Devils’ style of play — grind it out on offense with the running game, then play air-tight defense — had worked so well for so long, and Forks wasn’t going to change here, even in the face of the Lakers’ own vaunted resistance.
Right from the start, the two defenses dominated. Forks moved the ball a bit more than the Lakers did, though, and was able to gain better field position just by picking up a few first downs. It also ate up lots of time, keeping Cazenovia’s offense on the sidelines.
Only once in the first half did either team have a real chance. Forks worked its way to the Lakers’ 20-yard line and when the drive stalled, Dylan Warner attempted a 37-yard field goal that fell just short.
As it went to halftime 0-0, both teams sensed that a single play, or single mistake, could turn it all around. That feeling only intensified when the rain, light and reasonable in the first half, turned heavy as the third quarter got underway.
And it was the Lakers that would make the mistakes — three turnovers, to be exact.
When Coleman Koesterer broke loose for a 46-yard run on the second play of the third quarter, the Lakers had its best chance yet. But on the very next play, Koesterer rushed a throw to the left — and Forks’ Nick Stephens picked it off.
A more costly mistake took place when Forks had to punt midway through the third quarter. Tom Eschen decided to field it on his own 15-yard line, and dropped it when Stephens hit him, allowing the Blue Devils’ Anthony Payne to recover.
Three plays netted four yards, getting Forks close enough for Warner to return. This time, his 29-yard field goal sailed through the uprights, and the Lakers were staring at a deficit for the first time all season.
It rained even harder in the fourth quarter, forcing both teams to stall. Gradually, the Lakers got better field position and, with 1:37 left, it got the ball on its own 34-yard line, with one more opportunity.
Koesterer, on fourth-down-and-four, ran to midfield and had the first down, but again lost grip of the ball in the drenching conditions, and Stephens recovered with 1:04 left to seal the Blue Devils’ victory. Overall, the Lakers had just 140 yards of offense for the night.
In defeat, Cazenovia’s defense again was sensational, as its first unit completed an entire season without giving up a touchdown.
Since the Blue Devils run the ball so much, the Lakers’ linebackers were quite active. Artie Bigsby and Brandon Moyer both finished with 17 tackles, and David Etter excelled on the front line, too, earning team MVP honors for the game.
Still, the Lakers’ dream season ended here, with a 10-1 mark. It outscored opponents 452-39 and was special in every phase of the game, earning unqualified praise from Neidl, who has seen a lot in his Cazenovia tenure.
“Every one of them worked hard,” he said. “I hate to see it end right now. We had more talented teams (before), but in 28 years, I’ve never had a team grow together as much as this team did. I couldn’t be prouder.”
More greatness could be in store in 2007. Eschen, Moyer, Etter, Paddy Adolfi, Jason Jones, Brian Bartlett, Justin Hubbard, Charlie Gregg and James Irwin are a sampling of the terrific seniors who will depart.
However, stars like Koesterer, Bigsby, Aaron Race, Chris Nourse, Ben Dewan, Connor Ryan and Marcus Schokker will be back, still hungry to give Cazenovia another dose of glory.