Oct 30, 2007 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
All that the Westhill football team has done for the last 12 months has boiled down to a single game.
Just as in 2006, the Warriors and Cazenovia Lakers both carry 9-0 records and awesome reputations into what could be an epic Section III Class B championship clash Saturday at 5 p.m. at Cicero-North Syracuse’s Bragman Stadium.
Ever since last year’s final, where the Lakers drubbed the Warriors 32-7 in the Carrier Dome, Westhill has devoted most of its waking time to being ready if, as many had anticipated, the two powers would collide again.
And Westhill goes into this final with the hungry aura of a challenger, even though it has outscored nine opponents by a combined margin of 452-56.
Most of all, the Warriors enter this game with Dale Ross, who is coming off the most spectacular night any running back has ever enjoyed in the recorded history of New York State high school football.
In the course of Westhill’s 55-14 victory over Marcellus in last Friday’s Class B semifinal at Corcoran High School, Ross carried the ball 30 times for 569 yards and scored all eight of his team’s touchdowns.
Those 569 yards shattered the single-game state record of 467 yards set by North Babylon’s Jason Gwaltney in 2003. Ironically, Westhill great Marcus Welch held the single-game Section III record (445 yards, done in a 1993 game) before Ross sped past that mark.
The stage for this jaw-dropping performance was first set a month earlier, when Westhill ripped Marcellus 52-7 in a Sept. 21 Class B West division showdown.
Burning to avenge that result, the Mustangs arrived at Corcoran and played with a lot of purpose in the early going, giving Westhill one of its first genuine scares of the season.
After Ross scored on a 39-yard run in the first quarter, Marcellus answered with a 62-yard march, using sophomore quarterback Will Fiacchi’s short passes to negate the Warriors’ pass rush. Fiacchi’s 12-yard TD pass to Jeff Watson tied the game 7-7.
On the ensuing possession, Westhill quarterback Mike DeCarr was flushed out of the pocket and threw near the end zone, where Mike Cornish picked him off. From his own three-yard line, Fiacchi marched the Mustangs 97 yards, many of it gained by Sean Connors on a 42-yard run out of danger.
For a second time, Fiacchi found Watson in the end zone, this time on a 20-yard connection. Westhill was down 14-7, and the Marcellus fans were on their feet, going wild.
At this point, the Warriors realized that throwing the ball carried more risk than it wished for, so it concentrated even more on turning Ross loose.
Needless to say, the plan worked. On the last play of the first quarter, Ross went through a gaping hole in the middle 87 yards for a touchdown. That single play was the game’s pivotal moment, as it all but negated the Mustangs’ great start and forced a 14-14 tie.
From that point forward, Ross owned the night. He scored on runs of three and six yards in the second quarter as Westhill went in front 28-14 before halftime and settled down on defense, putting pressure on Fiacchi and forcing mistakes.
A great night began to turn historic in the third quarter. Twice, Westhill found itself pinned deep in its territory, where any error could put Marcellus back in the game. Both times, Ross used his singular talent to erase that problem, going 86 yards for one TD, then 79 yards for the other, long runs that drained all the spirit out of the Mustangs.
And still he wasn’t done. Knowing that all kinds of record were within reach, Ross stayed in long enough to add his seventh and eighth TD’s of the night in the fourth quarter, which tied Onondaga great Mike Hart’s sectional record for most touchdowns in a single game.
All through this, Westhill’s offensive line of Tom Trendowski, Ethan Coco, Ben Johnson, D.J. Eckert and David Grace pushed Marcellus defenders off the line of scrimmage, giving Ross the gaps he needed to build up his numbers.
This historic effort put Ross at 2,194 yards for the season, past Joe Casey’s single-season mark, and he has scored 37 touchdowns.
For all that Ross has done, though, it will mean a lot less if he and his Warrior teammates do not gain revenge for that loss to Cazenovia in last year’s title game.
Despite replacing eight defensive starters this season, the Lakers have still gone 9-0 and outscored its opponents by a combined margin of 407-63. Senior quarterback Coleman Koesterer is equally adept at throwing downfield and running for big yardage, and senior Artie Bigsby might be the area’s best defensive player.
For all Westhill has done in this decade — including back-to-back sectional titles won in 2003 and ’04 — this could be the most anticipated game in the program’s history. Ross and his teammates hope that anticipation will turn into ecstasy come Saturday night.