Oct 31, 2006 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
None of the East Syracuse-Minoa football players were born the last time the Spartans appeared in the Carrier Dome with a Section III championship on the line, way back in 1984.
But history has not been on ESM’s mind too much — except for the history it will attempt to make Friday night, when it meets Nottingham for the Class A title at 8 p.m.
The Spartans took a last, emphatic step toward that final last Friday night, at Henninger High School’s Sunnycrest Field, where it flattened Mexico 34-0 by pushing the Tigers around and making all the crucial plays.
“We’re getting better each week,” said head coach Kevin DeParde, adding that the team has saved its best performances for the post-season.
The numbers bear this out, as in wins over Carthage and Mexico, the Spartans have not allowed a touchdown, outscoring their foes 67-3. Since losing to Geneva in the Sept. 1 opener, ESM has claimed eight victories in a row.
This was the second time ESM had played Mexico this fall. They had first met Sept. 22, when the Spartans exploited four Tiger turnovers and won big, 34-7. Since then, Mexico had won four straight games, and the rematch figured to be closer.
For much of the first quarter, the two sides ran at each other with little success, and with each play, the lines seemed to contract.
Sensing it was time to go outside, ESM called an option pitch on third down late in the period. As the Tigers’ defense ran to the middle to quarterback Mick Letcher, who pitched it to Matt Cushing — and watched Cushing go 65 yards down the right sideline, nearly untouched to the end zone.
This was the first of three big plays that ended Mexico’s challenge. The second of them came right after Cushing’s TD, and did even more long-term damage.
Faced with a third-down-and-22 from the Tigers’ 45, Cushing executed a perfect quick kick, the ball rolling to the one-yard line. DeParde said the team had practiced this all season, but hadn’t used it until now.
It put Mexico in a bad possession situation — something it would stay in throughout the second quarter, when ESM scored 21 unanswered points to take charge.
Mixing up Dayne Bennett’s speed with Cushing’s power, the Spartans made it 14-0 when Cushing went 10 yards and stretched the ball across the goal line.
On its next possession, ESM really applied a dagger. From the Tigers’ 42, Cushing took a pitch and stopped to throw, but the Tigers weren’t fooled and rushed him hard.
Somehow, Cushing escaped two sacks to throw a wobbling deep pass — but Jon Kravetz made the correction, came back and caught it, and found the end zone, making it 21-0.
“He (Cushing) just made a great play,” said DeParde.
Bennett, back in a full-time role in the offense to spell Cushing, would have both of ESM’s final touchdowns, on runs of 13 and five yards.
All the while, the Spartans’ front line blocked to perfection. Corey Marko, Keith Norton, Emmitt Baggett, Jeff Lamphier and Brett Adams controlled the line of scrimmage, allowing Cushing to push through the middle and Bennett to sprint outside with knowledge that they could gain big yards each time.
Meanwhile, ESM’s defense flattened Mexico at every turn, preserving its shutout long after the starters had gone to the bench. Will Gillard and Pat Honors each had timely interceptions.
Now, only the Nottingham Bulldogs, who knocked off Jamesville-DeWitt 32-8 in its semifinal game, stands between the Spartans and its first-ever sectional championship.
While ESM has specialized in fast starts, Nottingham has been strong in the late stages of games. Against J-D, for example, it scored all 32 points of its points in the second half to break a 0-0 deadlock.
Amid the rain last Friday, the Spartans did not wildly celebrate its first trip to the finals in 22 years — and for good reason.
“We haven’t reached the top yet,” said Cushing.
DeParde agreed. “It’s been a great run,” he said. “But the guys aren’t satisfied.”