Nov 03, 2008 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
If the Westhill football team wanted to script how it could win the 2008 Section III Class B championship, it likely would resemble the real way it turned out.
When the Warriors take on Oneida Saturday at 5 p.m. at the Carrier Dome, it will look to avenge a painful 50-7 defeat to the Indians on Sept. 12, which took place a week before quarterback Mike DeCarr returned from his shoulder injury.
With DeCarr on the field, the Warriors have won six in a row, none as difficult as last Saturday’s Class B semifinal at Nottingham High School, where it needed a bit of trickery and a lot of toughness to beat Holland Patent 21-14.
Going in, Westhill did not find its task to be a big secret, especially on defense. HP posted a strong running game, led by tailback Dan Fruscella, who had gained 302 yards a week earlier in a first-round win over Holland Patent.
Throughout the first half, the Warriors were up to that challenge, shutting down Fruscella and allowing the offense to go through its early jitters without any serious price.
It was still 0-0 when, in the second quarter, Westhill began to find its rhythm. The tough running of Sam Penizotto (who had 147 yards on the afternoon) helped lead to his own one-yard touchdown plunge that put the Warriors ahead 7-0.
Another drive followed, reaching the Golden Knights’ 10-yad line before DeCarr found his favorite receiver, Dan Ross, in the end zone to double the margin to 14-0, a nice situation as the teams went to the break.
HP did not panic, though, and in the third quarter began to rally despite Fruscella’s struggles with the running game (he had just 50 yards all afternoon).
It was the Golden Knights’ other back, Steven Falk, who converted on a six-yard run to make it 14-6. With Westhill sputtering, HP got the ball again, and Fruscella’s one-yard TD plunge, plus a two-point conversion, tied it 14-14.
Not since DeCarr returned had Westhill faced any kind of late-game drama. And now, midway through the third quarter, it found itself at its own 48, facing a third-down-and-inches that it had to convert.
Clearly, HP expected Penizotto to run for it. But instead, he took a toss, stopped and threw downfield. Ross, adjusting, made a fine catch and put it on the Golden Knights’ 24, a huge 26-yard game.
Naturally, Penizotto finished off the drive with his second one-yard TD effort of the afternoon with 4:01 to play, but it still wasn’t over.
Unable to do anything against the inspired Westhill defense, HP punted, and the Warriors got the ball on its own 21, trying to run out the clock. Three plays yielded nine yards, and with 47 seconds left, it was fourth-down-and-inches.
All football logic would suggest a punt. But overruling some of his assistants and taking the advice of his players, head coach Gary Griffo offered to go for it, an extremely risky move. Miss the first down, and HP would have a glorious chance to catch up.
Penizotto didn’t trick the Golden Knights there, though. He simply went up the middle, got the first down, and the Warriors could start making plans for the Carrier Dome and Oneida.
In a supreme bit of irony, the injury situation might favor the Warriors in this rematch with the Indians. While Oneida possesses a potent offense that buried Chittenango 38-12 in the semifinals, it also lost top running back Rick Rossi to an ankle injury, and his status for the final is unknown.
Whether Rossi is there or not, Westhill will try to win its third sectional title this decade to match championships won in 2003 and ’04. It lost to Cazenovia in each of the last two finals.
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