Nov 29, 2007 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
For anyone wearing Bishop Ludden’s familiar green on Sunday in the Carrier Dome, it was a day few thought would ever come to pass.
The football Gaelic Knights, long a footnote at a school better known for athletic success in other realms (especially basketball), are now the state Class C champions.
A post-season run full of excitement climaxed with one more surprise, as Ludden dethroned defending champion Dobbs Ferry 21-16, ending the Eagles’ 24-game win streak with just the right combination of big plays, stellar defense and poise that marked the Gaelic Knights’ entire 2007 ride to glory.
“It’s a great feeling,” said quarterback Connor Sweeney. “You can’t even put it into words. We’ve got a lot of senior leadership here, and it’s a great way to go out.”
Really, all it took was 11 seconds — and a single play — for Ludden (12-1) to announce its intentions to a Dobbs Ferry squad that had shut out five previous foes in 2007 and were fully expected to beat up the Gaelic Knights, too.
Taking the opening kickoff at its own 20-yard line, Ludden and its head coach, John Cosgrove, figured the Eagles were expecting a heavy dose of running back Daquan Grobsmith at the start.
So on the game’s opening play from scrimmage, Sweeney faked a handoff, then threw deep down the left side. Wendall Williams beat his defender and was open by five yards, catching the ball in mid-stride and never stopping until he was in the end zone, 80 yards later. Ludden had a lead it would never relinquish.
“We wanted to establish momentum right away,” said Cosgrove. “Teams key on Daquan, and we showed that we’re more than one-dimensional.”
Sweeney agreed. “We wanted to come out and attack and show that we weren’t afraid of them,” he said.
The same Sweeney-to-Williams combination struck again in the second quarter. Ludden drove to the Eagles’ 34-yard line, from where Sweeney took a deep look down the right side. Though well-covered in the secondary, Williams caught the ball near the goal line and tumbled in for his second touchdown.
Meanwhile, Ludden’s defense stood up when it had to in the early going, fully reflecting Cosgrove’s “bend-don’t-break” philosophy.
Twice in the early going, Dobbs Ferry drove inside the Gaelic Knights’ 20-yard line, but only came away with three points, on Matt Goldweber’s 34-yard field goal. Thus, when Devonte Brailsford scored on a one-yard run late in the half, Ludden still carried a 14-10 lead into the break.
If any single defensive play proved decisive, it came early in the third quarter. The Eagles had moved to Ludden’s 40-yard line, then decided to go for it on fourth-down-and-one, using the same power running game that had effectively moved the ball all afternoon.
Again, Brailsford got the ball — but linebacker James Braithwaite burst into the backfield and tackled Brailsford for a loss, allowing the Gaelic Knights to take over on downs.
After an exchange of punts, Ludden got the ball at midfield late in the period and deftly moved the ball, Sweeney providing the key blow with a 19-yard pass to sophomore tight end John Rooney.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Grobsmith provided the finishing touch, taking the toss at the 12-yard line and racing past Dobbs Ferry defenders to the corner of the end zone, expanding the Gaelic Knights’ lead to 21-10.
Still, Dobbs Ferry refused to go away, even after a Grobsmith interception with 5:55 left. It put together an 87-yard march late in the final period and pulled within five when quarterback Trevor Saunders scored from three yards out with 2:09 left.
Ludden recovered the ensuing onside kick, though, and burned off enough time to force the Eagles to start deep in its own territory in the final minute. When a final Saunders pass from midfield fell well short of the target, the Gaelic Knights were state champions.
Part of the reason Ludden prevailed was its near-perfect offensive balance. Sweeney threw just 10 passes, but completed eight of them for 184 yards — four to Williams (for 134 yards), the other four to Rooney (for 50 yards).
It also had 176 yards on the ground, most of them from Grobsmith, who carried the ball 20 times for 116 yards in his last high school game. For the season, Grobsmith finished with 1,784 yards.
Dobbs Ferry actually had more total yards — 408, to the Gaelic Knights’ 350 — but could not take full advantage of them, thanks to Ludden’s resistance in its own territory. Williams led that group with eight tackles while Grobsmith, Sweeney, Braithwaite, Rooney and Nate Stewart each had six tackles.
As it ended, Ludden’s players celebrated on the field, then eagerly shared their happiness with the large contingent of students, parents and alumni that had made the short trip to the Dome to see this piece of football history.
Combined with West Genesee, who beat Monroe-Woodbury for the Class AA title later that day, it marked the second time that two Section III teams earned state championships in the same year since the current state playoff format began in 1993. CBA and Weedsport pulled off the same feat in 2004.