Between the yellow flags on the turf and the turnovers handed to the opposition, the West Genesee football team was far from a smooth-running championship unit in last Saturday's Class AA regional final against Union-Endicott at Binghamton's Alumni Stadium.
Yet when the final whistle sounded, the Wildcats were still quite happy with the outcome -- a 21-7 victory over the Tigers that propelled the team to its first-ever state semifinal.
For that, WG can thank its defense, which never let U-E score a point, forced five turnovers and put up two touchdowns of its own to go in front early, and clinch the game in the late stages.
"We stepped up and made some plays when we had to," said head Steve Bush.
That first big play stemmed out of possible discouragement. WG blocked a punt from U-E's star sophomore tailback, Jordan Thomas, in the first quarter, only to have Thomas pick up the ball and run for a first down. When tackled, Thomas sustained a concussion and left the game, not to return.
On the very next play, U-E quarterback Ryan Quinlivan threw to the left -- and reading it perfectly, Jake Fietkiewicz picked it off and took it back 18 yards for a touchdown.
Thus, while the Wildcats did not pick up a first down until the second quarter, it owned a 7-0 lead. Without Thomas, the Tigers' attack sputtered, rarely able to do much more than runs up the middle against WG's back line, which prevented big gains.
Meanwhile, Tim Moran was far from the sharp, poised quarterback that had produced the game-winning drive against Cicero-North Syracuse a week earlier. U-E's strong defense picked off Moran in the second quarter and rushed him at will throughout the game, forcing hurried passes that often fell incomplete.
Adding to the frustration were the penalties, none worse than a questionable holding call that negated Fietkiewicz's spectacular 73-yard punt return for a touchdown late in the second quarter. Though it went to the break still up 7-0, WG had reason to think the margin should have been greater.