Nov 20, 2007 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Once Christos Dimkos had taken Orchard Park quarterback Kyle Hoppy down to the turf and the clock ran out Saturday night at Rochester’s Paetec Park, the West Genesee football team found itself in a realm few thought it could ever reach.
Thanks to its 30-27 win over the Section IV champion Quakers in the state Class AA semifinal, the Wildcats will go for its first-ever state football title Sunday at 3 p.m. in the Carrier Dome against Monroe-Woodbury, who is in the final for the third year in a row.
WG traded blows with Orchard Park early, took full control in the middle stages behind Tim Moran’s magnificent passing effort, then saw most of a 17-point lead disappear down the stretch before it could hang on — and breathe again.
Going in, two plot lines dominated the narrative. Moran was seeking to bounce back from an inconsistent effort in the regional final against Union-Endicott that included two interceptions and a lot of other throws off target.
Needless to say, Moran pulled this off. In fact, he was close to perfect, completing 25 of 31 passes for 284 yards and three touchdowns, arguably his best overall effort of the entire season.
On the other side, WG’s defense, which held U-E without a point and returned two of its own interceptions for touchdowns, was looking to shut down Orchard Park running back Jeff Tundo, who had pounded out 368 yards in the Quakers’ regional win over Canandaigua.
Tundo wasn’t shut down — but he was contained after some opening-drive success. He got “only” 113 yards on 23 carries as front-line defenders like Dimkos, Ossama Mere, John Gacek and Dan Kolinski, plus linebackers Luke Cometti, Dave Hildman and Nick Cammuso, put up a strong resistance.
Above all this was the familiarity WG and Orchard Park had with each other in another sport. They had often met in state semifinals in boys lacrosse, with the Wildcats prevailing all but one time (in 2000) — and Gene Tundo coached both the lacrosse and football teams at Orchard Park, adding to the intrigue.
Now, with both teams looking to play in their first-ever state football title game, the Wildcats again would come out on top.
But it didn’t happen right away. Orchard Park took the opening kickoff and mostly relied on Jeff Tundo as he ran six times, the last carry a 10-yard touchdown that pushed the Quakers in front 7-0.
Early in the second quarter, the Wildcats’ offense hits its stride. On a 74-yard march that included four consecutive first downs, Moran drove his team to Orchard Park’s 31, where he threw over the middle and found George Eunice in stride for the tying TD.
It was still 7-7 as the half wound down — but in that last minute of the second quarter, WG would make the game’s crucial move.
Moran started it, deftly moving his team 63 yards through the Quakers’ defense, the last 14 of them on a scoring pass to a wide-open Ben Waldron, giving the Wildcats a 14-7 lead 42 seconds before halftime.
Orchard Park tried to answer quickly — and made a big mistake.
From WG’s 47-yard line, Hoppy threw over the middle and Eunice was waiting for it. He got the interception and returned it all the way to the Quakers’ 19-yard line. This set up Cometti (who missed an earlier field goal), who this time put a 22-yarder through the uprights. The Wildcats flew into the break with a 17-7 advantage.
Moving at will, the Wildcats took the second-half kickoff and went 70 yards this time. Joe Fazio was the key figure here, catching a 13-yard pass on third-and-nine to keep the drive going, then connecting again with Moran on a 25-yard scoring play. Despite a blocked extra point, WG now led 23-7. Fazio was the night’s leading receiver, with nine catches for 126 yards.
When Waldron intercepted a Hoppy pass deep in Wildcat territory late in the third quarter, it looked to be over. But on the very next play, Moran made his only mistake of the night, throwing right to Orchard Park defender Dave Michael at the eight-yard line, and Michael walked into the end zone, slashing the margin to 23-13.
WG stopped the two-point conversion try, though, and Moran shrugged off the mistake with yet another precise drive, mixing up runs and passes. Ryan McConnell scored from three yards out with 10:21 left, and the Wildcats, up 30-13, looked to be safe.
They were not.
Playing with sudden urgency, Orchard Park took just seven plays to march down the field and score, Hoppy hitting Jake Gurtler for a 17-yard TD pass that quickly made it 30-20.
Though it didn’t recover an onside kick and gave up a first down on a penalty, the Quakers’ defense stuffed the Wildcats, reclaimed possession, and took less than three minutes to go 73 yards, mostly through the air. Tundo’s one-yard scoring plunge with 3:19 left cut the margin to just three.
More than ever, WG needed a first down. On third-and-six with 2:31 to play, Moran found Kevin Petrick for that first down, allowing the Wildcats to force Orchard Park to burn its time-outs as the clock wound down.
By the time the Quakers got the ball back at its own 31-yard line, just 23 seconds were left. All Hoppy could do was throw — but two passes fell incomplete, and Dimkos sacked Hoppy on the final play to end the drama.
Thought to be a middle-of-the-pack (at best) team among Section III contenders, WG (10-2) now stands a single victory from a state title. And it will face an opponent that knows the path.
Monroe-Woodbury, from the Section IX ranks, has been the state’s top-ranked team all season and owns a perfect 12-0 mark. The Crusaders have won 36 of its last 37 games — yet remains hungry.
After winning the state championship in 2005, M-W nearly repeated — only to lose the title game in overtime to Auburn, the end of the Maroons’ improbable run. Now, West Genesee, another unlikely Section III representative, seeks to deny the Crusaders any kind of redemption — and bring a gold plaque home to Camillus.