The Skaneateles football team won the first state championship in program history Friday night at the Carrier Dome, defeating Holy Trinity 28-25 to complete a 12-1 season that included five straight post-season victories over teams ranked in the state top five – Canastota, General Brown, Newark Valley, Cleveland Hill and Holy Trinity.
Skaneateles High School has experienced plenty of state championship moments, from hockey rinks to lacrosse fields to cross country trails.
Football, though, was a sport where such a pinnacle was rarely considered, much less approached. Prior to 2017, in fact, Skaneateles only owned a pair of Section III titles, and nothing more.
All of that has changed now.
Thanks to Friday night’s 28-25 victory over Holy Trinity at the Carrier Dome, the gridiron Lakers are state Class C champions, securing that landmark with a superb all-around effort that mirrored the wild journey Skaneateles took to this title game.
“It’s amazing to do something that’s never been done before,” said senior lineman T.J. Greenfield.
“It (the state championship) is the most you can ask for,” said fellow senior lineman Scott Oschner.
Lakers head coach Joe Sindoni said the best part of the championship was the way it rallied the Skaneateles community, which filled the Dome with noise from opening kickoff to final whistle.
Record-setting junior quarterback Patrick Hackler said that this was a product of years of work, from youth football to a full off-season of conditioning that helped the Lakers go through 13 weeks of games without many major injuries to overcome.
Holy Trinity, a Section II program combining athletes from Bishop Gibbons (Schenectady) and Catholic Central (Troy), had a remarkable story of its own. A year earlier, all of the Pride’s equipment was destroyed, along with a field house, in an arson fire. They finished the season with equipment borrowed by other neighboring high school teams.
Now Holy Trinity was in its first-ever state final, just like Skaneateles, and with quarterback Joe Tortello, the Pride possessed a passing game better than any the Lakers had faced all season.
The Lakers’ defense had plenty to prove after surrendering nearly 100 points to Newark Valley and Cleveland Hill in its previous two state tournament games. And it surrendered points early again when Tortello found Nacier Hundley on a swing pass that turned into a 40-yard touchdown play less than three minutes into the game.
Before long, though, the offense was humming again. It all started up front, where the quintet of Greenfield, Oschner, Jimmy Liberatore, Nate Squires and Jon Ricklefs had, throughout the season, pushed opposing linemen around, opening holes for the ground game and protecting Hackler whenever he threw it.
Areh Boni gained most of the yardage on the Lakers’ 80-yard opening march, though it was Hackler throwing his state-record 51st TD pass from the Holy Trinity 18 on a rollout play where he scrambled, and then found Tommy Scherrer wide-open in the back of the end zone.
Hackler then made a big defensive play, stopping Nelon Priest (who had intercepted him earlier in the game) on fourth down near midfield early in the second quarter, setting up a short scoring drive finished off by a nifty pump fake and a 26-yard TD strike to Nick Wamp down the right sideline.
That put Hackler past the 3,000-yard mark for the season and extended the Lakers’ lead to 14-6, but the Pride answered just before halftime, with Hundley intercepting Hackler at the Holy Trinity 33 and, one play later, catching a deep pass from Tortello and breaking tackles on a 67-yard scoring pass.
A blocked PAT allowed Skaneateles to go into halftime up 14-12, but knowing it missed a chance at building a healthy margin and, with a pair of turnovers, had kept Holy Trinity in it.
Taking the second-half kickoff, the Lakers displayed Hackler’s full range of skills, from two nifty runs (one of them on third-and-long) to accurate passes, one of them a 24-yard strike to Cross Bianchi on the sideline. But it was Boni, again knocking off tacklers, who went the last six yards for the TD that made it 21-12.
Atoning for his earlier interceptions, Hackler picked off a Holy Trinity pass at his own 13 to thwart a Pride scoring chance. The ensuing 87-yard march featured the ground game until Hackler, from the Pride 44, found Wamp isolated on the right sideline for his third TD pass of the night.
Even when the Lakers didn’t score points, its offense burned off more than seven minutes of clock on a drive that bridged the third and fourth quarters. And though Tortello threw a 14-yard TD pass to Jordan Mettler with 4:45 left, Liberatore’s tackle on the ensuing two-point try preserved a 28-18 lead.
And that stop proved much bigger when, with 57 seconds left, Tortello threw deep and Noah Forster got behind the Lakers’ secondary on a 65-yard TD pass.
Still down three points, and without a time-out, Holy Trinity did not try an onside kick but instead went deep. Nate Wellington fell on the ball at his own 20, and Skaneateles ran out the remaining clock, sealing a climb from decades of mostly mediocre results to the pinnacle of state Class C football.
“The players bought in to everything we wanted to do, and made their dreams come true,” said Sindoni.
“We believed we could pull this off, and we did,” said Boni.