Nov 26, 2007 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
More than a year ago, the Bishop Ludden football team left the field after dropping a narrow 17-13 decision to Westmoreland in the Section III Class C semifinal with a resolve to go at least one step further in 2007.
To say that the Gaelic Knights met that goal would be a gigantic understatement.
Ludden’s achievement of a state Class C championship is remarkable in many different ways, not the least of which is the fact that, prior to this fall, the school’s football history was nothing much to brag about.
Since the modern Section III playoff format began in 1979, the Gaelic Knights had exactly one sectional title to its credit, achieved in 2000 when Keith Mitchell was setting school records running the ball.
Otherwise, football was something that occupied time in the fall until winter, when the real show — basketball — would begin in the raucous gymnasium in Geddes. A state championship in 1994 would attest to that constant hoops fever.
John Cosgrove coached that title team in 2000, and stuck around through the Gaelic Knights’ brief venture into Class B, where it could not quite reach the level of neighbors like Westhill or Solvay.
By the time Ludden returned to Class C in the middle of this decade, though, the foundation was in place for a magical ride to the top. Mostly, it involved three seniors — Daquan Grobsmith, Connor Sweeney and Wendall Williams.
After seeing two older brothers (Stanley and Michael) star at Solvay, Grobsmith transferred to Ludden in 2005 and quickly became the teams’ primary running back. Though just 5-7 and 145 pounds, Grobsmith had the speed of a sprinter and the toughness to play both ways at full throttle.
At the same time Grobsmith arrived, Sweeney took over at quarterback. In three years as a starter, Sweeney blossomed into a poised and confident leader, and having Williams to throw to only made things easier. With the departure of George Eunice to West Genesee, Williams needed to assume an even greater role — which he did, quite well.
Grobsmith, Sweeney and Williams were experienced senior hands by the time the 2007 season began. The presence of James Braithwaite as a bruising fullback, plus talented sophomore John Rooney at tight end, only made Ludden more potent. Jerry Fentsor, Chris Harding, Steve Barrett, Nate Stewart and Pat Rosanio plowed the way on an underrated offensive line.
Having just 30 players on its varsity roster, many of the starters went both ways, which led to some struggles on defense. However, the mere fact that they could all play at a high level on offense despite the 48-minute workloads was extraordinary enough.
Testing itself to the limit, Ludden began this season Aug. 31 in a shoot-out against Onondaga and its star runner, Latavius Murray. The Tigers pulled out that game, 50-43 — but the Gaelic Knights would not lose again.
Ludden swept through the Class C West division, where its closest encounter was a 27-13 decision over Canastota on Sept. 14. It also beat Fowler (from the Class A ranks) in non-league play, so it was full prepared when the playoffs got underway and bashed Herkimer 49-12 on its home turf in the opening round.
From that point on, though, nothing would be easy.
Amid a soaking rain in the Class C semifinals against Adirondack, Grobsmith had the game of his life — 369 rushing yards and all five of his team’s touchdowns, including a clutch kickoff return in the fourth quarter. All of those points would be needed as Ludden pulled it out, 35-28, fulfilling Cosgrove’s pre-season goal of going one step further.
Eight days later, at Cicero-North Syracuse’s Bragman Stadium, it all looked to be over. Mount Markham threw the Gaelic Knights into a 20-0 hole in the Class C final as Ludden turned the ball over and looked like a team far over its head.
Yet when the final whistle blew, Ludden had pulled out a 41-30 victory. Williams, refusing to let his team’s season end, caught one TD pass in the second half, had a diving catch to set up the go-ahead score, then earned a big interception that set up the clinching score.
Ludden then outscored Unatego 30-21 in the regional finals in Binghamton, setting up a state semifinal against LeRoy in Rochester that few will ever forget.
Tied 27-27 as regulation time wound down, it all looked to be done when LeRoy drove to Ludden’s one-yard line. But the Gaelic Knights made a goal-line stand to force overtime, then won it 34-33 when Stewart blocked a possible tying extra point.
All this led to the state final against Dobbs Ferry in the Carrier Dome, yet another time when Ludden was supposed to be outclassed.
But from the moment Sweeney went deep and found Williams on that 80-yard touchdown pass on the game’s opening play from scrimmage, one could sense that, again, the Gaelic Knights would silence the skeptics.
Now they’ll have to make room on that trophy case for a state championship plaque – maybe hang a banner in the gymnasium, too.
In all, 16 seniors leave, including Grobsmith, Sweeney and Williams. But they depart in the best way possible, knowing that they took a lightly regarded program at a school better known for other sports and took it all the way to the top.