Aug 24, 2007 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
By most measures, the 2006 edition of the Westhill football team was an unqualified success, from its domination of its own league to its march all the way to the Section III Class B championship game.
Yet head coach Gary Griffo said that, mere days after the season was over, Warrior players wanted to start working on 2007.
Perhaps that was because the ending — a 32-7 loss to Cazenovia in the title tilt at the Carrier Dome — left such a bitter taste, and was a total reversal of everything the Warriors had accomplished to that point.
“The guys didn’t like the way it ended,” said Griffo. “They wanted to go in the weight room the following week. (To say they were) hungry is an understatement.”
More than nine months later, the hunger persists, and Westhill is again among the Class B title favorites, hoping to take that last step — something it did when it won back-to-back sectional championships in 2003 and ’04.
The biggest reason for optimism is the fact that running back Dale Ross is back for his senior season, ready to pile up big numbers.
In ’06, Ross ran for 1,824 yards, the most of any returning back in Central New York, and brings every possible positive attribute to his position.
“He can do it all,” said Griffo. “He’s powerful and hard to tackle when he runs inside, and has the speed and quickness to go outside.”
And on trick plays, said Griffo, Ross can throw the ball — with either hand. No wonder colleges are taking a long look, and opposing teams will center their game plans around trying to contain him. If Ross needs a breather, either Sam Penizotto or Jesse Krell can step in to carry the ball.
To make sure defenses don’t stack the line of scrimmage to go after Ross, Westhill needs quarterback Mike DeCarr to be a worthy successor to Dan Fetter.
Already a superstar on the baseball diamond, DeCarr brings a big arm, but Griffo said that he still needs to work on reading defenses in game situations, something Fetter mastered by the time he graduated.
It helps that DeCarr has a terrific set of receivers to throw to. Jake Burgess caught eight touchdown passes in ’06, and tight end Tom Trendowski is also back as a big and imposing target. Matt Noonan, Pete Law and sophomore Dan Ross bring even more talent to this group.
Westhill has two starters back on the offensive line, in tackle Ben Johnson and guard David Grace. D.J. Eckert slides into the other tackle spot after playing on defense a season ago. Ethan Coco takes over at the other guard spot, while Jack McNall works at center.
Eckert could switch sides because the defensive line was already deep and loaded. Trendowski is close to unstoppable at end, and if offensive lines double-team him, fellow senior Mike Panighetti could get loose to go after quarterbacks. Joe Volcko and Mike Filosi are part of a strong rotation of defensive tackles that also includes Johnson.
David Kurtz is set to start at outside linebacker, flanking Grace in the middle as Penizotto claims the other outside slot.
Noonan, along with Dan Ross, make for a pair of standout safeties, giving the Warriors a chance to use a large set of cornerbacks, though Law and Krell get the starting nods.
If ever an opening game could dictate a season’s tone, Westhill has it Friday night when it plays at Homer, the team that finished second to the Warriors in Class B West in ’07.
That being said, even if Westhill wins, it’s far from safe, as teams like Marcellus and Solvay are also expected to give the defending league champions a serious run.
Still, the success Westhill has enjoyed in recent years has led to big participation (32 varsity and 43 JV players this fall) and big dreams — and thanks to a single painful defeat, the hunger for a sectional championship is still there, too.