Nov 26, 2007 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
At so many different times this season, the West Genesee football team could have stopped what it was doing, and it would have been just fine. A winning record and a playoff berth were both cause enough for celebration.
So how can anyone explain, or understand, the Wildcats’ incredible ride to the 2007 state Class AA championship? As far as improbable tales ago, it ranks right next to Auburn’s fairy tale of a season ago, in that absolutely no one saw it coming.
WG had not won even a Section III title since 1988, before anyone on the current team was born. A succession of coaches and players had come and gone since that point, finding nothing but frustration as football receded to the shadows long cast by lacrosse and other sports that boomed in Camillus.
Given all that negative history, most folks yawned when, in 2005, Steve Bush took over as the Wildcats’ head coach.
Bush had just served as an assistant at Syracuse University, so it was figured that, with the college experience he brought to the table, Bush would bring enough improvement to make WG a regular playoff visitor. Anything beyond that was never even contemplated.
In Bush’s first season, WG went 5-4, which was nice improvement. But after the Wildcats slipped to 3-6 in 2006, there was even less reason to think that the team would ever win its long bout with mediocrity.
Yet the players that returned for the 2007 season continued to believe in what Bush and his coaching were teaching. What’s more, a solid core of talented players started to mesh together into a strong, cohesive unit.
As with any great team, it started in the trenches. Three seniors — Ben Wysokowski, Steve Pooler and Tony Pedrotti — anchored the offensive line, with juniors Craig Simmons and Stefan Cavedine filling out the other starting spots.
Meanwhile, on the defensive line, Dan Kolinski, John Gacek and Ossama Mere led the way. Add athletic linebackers like Nick Cammuso, Luke Cometti and Jake Fietkiewicz to a secondary that included Dave Hildman and Jeremy Connors, and the Wildcats had a fierce unit that prided itself on hitting hard and forcing turnovers.
At the skill positions, WG was loaded, aided in no small part by the addition of George Eunice, a transfer from Bishop Ludden that would excel on both sides of the ball. Eunice, Fietkiewicz, Joe Fazio, Joe Kesler and Nick Aiken made for a terrific group of receivers, while Cometti worked at tight end and would also kick field goals when the need arose — and it would, quite often.
Ben Waldron was a proven commodity at running back. He would get even better in 2007, made fresher by the help given to him by Ryan McConnell and Jeremy Jones, a pair of juniors whose speed and toughness would prove valuable.
All that was left was to see if Tim Moran, a senior who had never started before this season, could take over at quarterback after Chris Aubertine filled that role the previous three years.
To put it lightly, Moran came through. By the time he was done, Moran had set a school record with 2,505 passing yards. More importantly, his poise and leadership would take the Wildcats to heights that even the most optimistic of fans could hardly have imagined.
Along the way to that summit, WG had a lot of special moments — games that, put together, should have told anyone where this was all heading.
The first milestone came Sept. 7 in front of a packed house on a hot and windy night at Wildcat Stadium. Down 12-0, WG rallied to beat defending state champion Auburn 13-12, showing for the first time the character of a champion.
A week later, at Liverpool, the Wildcats shrugged off a fourth-quarter lightning delay and prevailed, 24-21, when Cometti hit a tie-breaking field goal. He would do the same on Oct. 5 in overtime to beat CBA.
In between, WG committed five turnovers and suffered a 20-15 loss to Utica Proctor, only to turn that around and earn five interceptions to shut out Fayetteville-Manlius 26-0. The Wildcats were finding out that the taste of defeat did not sit well, and that it could respond with an even stronger performance.
All that would really be necessary after the Oct. 12 trip to Cicero-North Syracuse. With the Class AA-1 league title on the line, WG blew a 14-point lead and fell, 30-27, when Andrew Falvey’s field goal wobbled through the uprights as time ran out. Such a bitter defeat would have staggered lesser teams, especially with the playoffs looming.
Instead, the Wildcats rose to a higher level, ripping Henninger 31-6 and taking out Liverpool 31-14 to earn another shot at CNS, this time with the sectional title on the line.
Again, WG burst out in front. Again, the Northstars rallied, going up 21-20 with less than a minute to play, and it looked like the Wildcats’ 19-year championship drought would continue for another year.
Except that Moran, in that short amount of remaining time, authored the defining moment of this magical season. He brought the Wildcats all the way from his 20-yard line to inside the CNS 10, and Cometti hit this third game-winning field goal. That 23-21 win brought the Wildcats its long-awaited sectional banner.
Of course, it didn’t end there. A sparkling defense helped WG get past Union-Endicott 21-7 in the regional finals in Binghamton, and in the state semifinals at Rochester a week later, the Wildcats built a big lead on Orchard Park, then held on at the end to prevail 30-27.
Having gone through so much drama just to make it to the Carrier Dome for the state final against Monroe-Woodbury, WG saved its most complete effort for this ultimate game. Moran’s pinpoint passing, Waldron’s tough running, domination on the interior lines, turnovers caused by the defense — put those things together, and the Crusaders never stood a chance.
Through all this, the “Wildcat Nation” believed, and its numbers grew. The loud contingent that saw WG break through against Auburn had grown to an army of thousands by the time they got to the Carrier Dome — and they were all rewarded by sharing in the glory of a state title.