Football fans at Marcellus and Westhill had all kinds of reasons to celebrate, on and off the field.
For the Mustangs, the happiness centered around securing a first-round Section III playoff game with its fifth consecutive victory, going to Chittenango and spoiling the Bears’ Senior Night festivities by claiming a 15-10 decision.
At Westhill, it was Homecoming, which meant the annual bonfire that sent flames more than 40 feet into the sky. More important than the conflagration was seeing the Warriors make a late comeback to beat its neighbors from Solvay 16-14 and clinch its own sectional playoff berth.
With Marcellus, the task was simple – avenge its home loss to Chittenango one year ago that, in a similar scenario, sent the Mustangs on the road and toward a first-round sectional playoff defeat. It helped that the Bears, following a 3-0 start, had taken back-to-back losses to powers Canastota and Homer.
Twice in the first quarter, Marcellus put together scoring drives. Robbie Seeley capped one of them with a seven-yard TD run, with Matt Reich adding the two-point conversion, and then Seeley returned a few minutes later to dash 54 yards to the end zone.
Trailing early, the Bears started to crawl back with a drive that led to Keith Spurgeon’s 31-yard field goal. A second-quarter march went to the Mustangs’ one, from where quarterback Brian Lamaitis plunged into the end zone, Spurgeon tacking on the extra point.
From there, it was all about the defenses. Chittenango not only contained Seeley, who gained little following his pair of early scores, but shut down the Marcellus passing attack as Nick Patterson Jr. completed just three of 13 passes for 33 yards.
However, with ample time to get the one touchdown it needed to move in front, the Bears were thwarted, too, and Patterson had much to do with it, intercepting Lamaitis to stop one fourth-quarter drive and then making deflections on two passes when Chittenango had a last attempt to win it.
The stakes between Westhill and Solvay were quite simple. At 2-2 in league play, the Warriors still hadn’t secured its post-season spot, and if Solvay, 1-3 in the league, could beat Westhill for the second year in a row, the Bearcats would have a tie-breaker and a great chance to end its decade-long wait for a playoff return.
Solvay’s defense struck the first blow in the opening period as Dylon Ewers intercepted a Zavion Barrott pass and returned it 66 yards for a touchdown. That Bearcats lead held until a second-period Westhill drive that Marcus Welch capped off with a 14-yard scoring run.
As it turned out, the game’s biggest play came from the Warriors’ special teams. Having driven to Solvay’s 25, Westhill’s drive stalled, but instead of going for it, as most high school teams would do, Mark Vaughn trotted out for a 42-yard field goal – and booted it through the uprights.
Thus, even though the Bearcats went back in front, 14-10, with an 11-yard TD run by Jaimen Bliss, Westhill could still reclaim the lead with a single score, which it did when Welch, who ran for 144 yards on 19 carried, dashed four yards to the end zone.
All game long, Welch ably split the running duties with Logan McNitt, who got 130 yards of his own on 13 carries.
Now, in the regular-season finale, Westhill hosts Marcellus, reuniting Warriors assistant coach Joe Fiacchi with the Mustangs team he coached for 13 years before not getting retained for this fall. Solvay, having fallen to 2-4 overall, will make its own trip to Chittenango.