November 3, 2012
They didn't lack for big plays, nor for excitement, in the five Section III football championship games played out over two nights on the grand stage of the Carrier Dome.
It was a strange, potent and fascinating mix of familiarity, especially on Saturday, joined by new blood that emerged with long-awaited breakthroughs on Friday night.
Sandy Creek went to the Dome two years ago and met heartache at Onondaga's hands. In this version of the Class D final, the Comets had to get through defending champion Westmoreland, and trailed 7-0 and 21-20 at different points of their title-game showdown.
But just like when they met in the regular season, Sandy Creek (what an ironically named team, given this week's events) had the answer down the stretch. After Zach Green returned a wild Comets snap for a touchdown, Cameron Hall went 64 yards for six seconds later, making it 21-20.
Then John Shirley put in the go-ahead score with four minutes left. Westmoreland still had a chance to snatch it away, but Cameron Hall's interception put it away for the Comets, 26-21, a perfect 10-0 run to the banner.
Jamesville-DeWitt also wanted 10-0, and to end a 15-year sectional title drought. But Nottingham's wait had been a lot longer - 32 years, dating back to when current head coach (and alum) Nick Patterson was a boy.
But the work that began at 12:01 a.m. on Aug. 13, the first day of practice, culminated for Nottingham in a fierce Class A sectional finalhat offered, for the Bulldogs, payback for a 26-7 defeat to the Red Rams late in September.
Now, as then, Nottingham turned the ball over too much (four times), but this time it forced J-D into three giveaways. More importantly, when it was needed, and Derrick Gore had lost confidence due to a pair of fumbles, Marty Clanton made some big runs on a game-winning drive that included the go-ahead TD with 1:22 left.
Add to it a Nottingham defense that made all kinds of timely stops (especially on J-D's long drive late in the third quarter), and it meant a 14-7 victory that lit up the city's East Side. Really, both sides were worthy champs as programs that shook off long runs of mediocrity, but it's the Bulldogs moving ahead.
In the first of three finals on Saturday, another team ended a long wait for gridiron glory. With Skaneateles, though, the frustration was twofold, first stemming from 20 years without much semblance of football success, and then based on last year's marvelous run ended by accusations of recruiting that threw the Lakers out just before it could play in the Dome against Herkimer.
Which only had to make it sweeter when, on this day, Skaneateles, finally getting its shot at Herkimer 12 months later, put on quite a show to beat the Magicians 33-16. Or more accurately, Conor Herr and Jake Cooney put on a show, in the form of four TD passes between them.
Essentially, Herkimer paid for paying too much attention (seven men, specifically) to Lakers running back Max Weiss at the line of scrimmage, and Cooney made them pay with 11 catches for 196 yards.
As the Lakers got their championship awards, Tim Green was on the field to congratulate them. We know all about the controversy, but Green also did a lot of good just by making a cellar-dwelling program believe it could be great. And they proved it here with a title no one is going to take away.
Which brings us to the Class AA final, a game with an epic narrative going in, CBA's big-time defense against the big-time Tyler Rouse. Essentially, it amounted to a draw, Rouse getting 200 yards, but none of the monster gains that have marked his extraordinary high school career.
Where CBA gained the points needed for its 35-24 victory over the Bees was through a diverse attack that did not suffer much despite the absence of Deshawn Salter, who came down with a bout of mono just 24 hours before the final.
Whether it was J.R. Zazzara running 53 yards for one TD, or throwing 55 yards to Andre Dowdell for another score, or whether it was Johnathan Stackhouse scoring twice in Salter's absence, or receivers like Cody Radziewicz and Jack Pfohl, Joe Casamento sure has some options.
Most of all, he's got Joey Pascarella, who was big in so many ways. It was Pascarella gaining the crucial yards on fourth-and-one with less than five minutes left to set up Stackhouse's winning TD, and it was Pascarella recovering the fumble and returning it for the final points. He's a special player, and after three straight defeats in the finals, the Brothers finally gained its first title since 2005.
Only Cazenovia, among the sectional champions, has a fairly recent championship to brag about, in 2010. Then it watched, without amusement, as Chittenango claimed the crown a year ago, helped in no small part by the undefeated Lakers' stunning defeat to Oneida in the semifinals.
At the tail end of Saturday's tripleheader, the Lakers did something about it, snatching the crown right from the Bears in a riveting 35-21 championship game where both sides smacked each other with big plays, especially in a wild fourth quarter that included an interception and two TD's, all in the span of less than a minute.
Mostly, though, Caz won because of Jake Wilson. Bottled up in the first half, Wilson took advantage of Chittenango's defense closing in on Kevin Hopsicker, breaking loose on long scoring runs of 75 and 81 yards, haymakers that the Bears could not answer.
So there they are - Sandy Creek, Nottingham, Skaneateles, CBA and Cazenovia - five unique Section III football champions, all quite happy that they get to practice for another week and prepare for the regional games, set for next weekend at East Syracuse-Minoa.