Baldwinsville senior lineman Cameron Majchrzak picks up the punt he blocked late in the first quarter and returns it for a touchdown in last Friday's Section III Class AA playoff game against Fayetteville-Manlius. The Bees would go on to defeat the Hornets 24-17.
Toughness is something the Baldwinsville football team constantly preaches, but that toughness was needed to get through the opening round of the Section III Class AA playoffs.
Trailing Fayetteville-Manlius at halftime Friday night at Pelcher-Arcaro Stadium, and short-handed with multiple injuries to key players, the Bees clamped down on defense and used it as the foundation for a 24-17 victory over the Hornets.
B’ville had defeated F-M in this same round one year ago, but the Bees’ odds grew longer without three starters – Gabe Horan, John Hernandez and Kolin Wolff – in the lineup. F-M was without its leading rusher, Mitch Seabury, who tore a knee ligament against Central Square two weeks earlier.
This required other Bees players to step up – and they did during an exciting first half that featured four lead changes.
Trailing 3-0 late in the first quarter, B’ville forced a Hornets punt. Senior lineman Cameron Majchrzak broke through the line and blocked that punt, the 6-foot-4, 270-pound Majchrzak picking up the loose ball and returning it for the first touchdown of his varsity career.
F-M didn’t get rattled by this, Brody Phelan’s long kick return setting up Mikey Porter’s four-yard scoring pass to Jack Hannah early in the second period. B’ville countered with an 80-yard march of its own, most of it picked up by quarterback Ben Dwyer, who ran the last six yards for the score.
Again, the Hornets tore through the Bees’ defenses on an 80-yard march that Zach Page capped off with a five-yard TD run with 1:42 left in the half. Going into the break, B’ville trailed, 17-14.
“They came out with more energy than we did,” said Bees head coach Carl Sanfilippo. “We had to wake up.”
And it was the Bees’ defense that stirred the most, closing the gaps F-M found throughout the first half and hitting hard, ultimately knocking out two of the Hornets’ top backs, Page and Deion Travis, with injuries.
Leading that defensive charge, Patrick May and Judson Fletcher each took part in 12 tackles, while E.J. Edmonds and Mike Letiza both got 10 tackles. Luke Eberl had eight tackles as Majchrzak and Troy Anthony had seven tackles apiece.
More importantly, B’ville forced the game’s only turnover, a fumble early in the third quarter that Fletcher recovered on F-M’s 23. Two plays later, Edmonds tore into the end zone from 14 yards out, giving the Bees a 21-17 lead.
A seven-minute drive later in the period led to Garett Selover’s 24-yard field goal, extending the margin to a touchdown, but F-M was still within reach.
Ultimately, the game came down to a quartet of fourth-down plays. B’ville’s defense stopped F-M at the Bees’ 35, and then, facing its own fourth-and-inches minutes later, chose to punt with 3:10 left.
The Hornets drove to midfield, but again B’ville made the big defensive stop and forced a turnover on downs with 1:38 tot play. Then, on fourth-and-three from the F-M 35 with less than a minute left and F-M out of time-outs, the Bees decided to go for it.
Dwyer, as he had done so many other thimes on this night, found space to scramble, and ran for a clinching first down. All told, Dwyer ran for 132 yards on 17 carries, with Edmonds adding 76 yards, also on 17 carries.
So once again B’ville is in the sectional Class AA semifinals, and its opponent is both familiar – and quite unexpected.
Liverpool was once at 1-4 and lost 35-7 to the Bees on Sept. 22, but the Warriors won its last two games of the regular season to sneak into the playoffs and then stunned AA-1 division co-champion Central Square 26-22 in the first round.
So it’s the Bees, who expect to have Horan and Hernandez back in the lineup, and the Warriors meeting in the sectional semifinals next Friday at 8 p.m. at Cicero-North Syracuse’s Bragman Stadium.
It’s the third time in four years these two long-time rivals have met in this round with a title-game berth in the Carrier Dome at stake. The winner gets C-NS or Corcoran in the Nov. 4 final.