West Genesee tight end Chandler McAvan (88) moves upfield past Liverpool's Max Michalak (17) in Friday night's Section III Class AA semifinal. The Wildcats defeated the Warriors 17-14;
Since it last claimed a Section III Class AA championship seven seasons ago, the West Genesee football team has undergone quite a journey, including a slow decline that bottomed out in 2016 when it did not win a single game.
Two years later, those very same Wildcats are headed to the Carrier Dome with a chance to climb all the way back to the top.
Overcoming its own mistakes and two different deficits, including one in the fourth quarter, WG defeated Liverpool 17-14 Friday night in the sectional AA semifinal at Bragman Stadium.
“This (getting to a sectional final) means the world,” said senior running back Brad May, who ran for 144 yards on 19 carries. “We’ve been working for this since we were five years old.”
That work had included plenty of pain and defeats, at least before 2018, when the Wildcats, armed with experience on both sides of the ball and plenty of points, went 6-1 in the regular season and rolled past CBA 38-8 in the opening round of the sectional playoffs.
Now, though, came a Liverpool side that had won six in a row following an 0-2 start, and on its opening possession pounded away against the normally stout WG defense for a 69-yard drive, all on the ground, Jacob Vacco going the final yard for the touchdown.
Right away, the Wildcats’ offense met with frustration, twice driving deep into Warriors territory without getting any points. Malachi Upshur intercepted a Tyler Cook pass near the goal line to end one drive, and a sack and penalty thwarted another march that reached inside the Liverpool 10 early in the second quarter.
However, when Chandler McAvan pounced upon a Liverpool fumble and returned it to the one-yard line right after that second missed opportunity, Cook sneaked in on the next play, Riley Small’s extra point tying it 7-7.
That’s where it stayed until halftime, and WG did everything possible in the third quarter to surrender its edge, fumbling a kickoff and seeing another long drive stall inside the 10, settling for Small’s 28-yard field goal.
Then it got worse when Cook was intercepted again, Joe Valerino returning it to midifeld to set up a short field for Liverpool. Twice, the Warriors converted fourth downs, including fourth-and-goal when Cade Clouthier scored from two yards out on the first play of the fourth quarter.
“Despite all these setbacks, said May, there was not any panic on the Wildcats’ sidelines.
“We just had to show who was the better team,” he said.
That meant taking the kickoff after Clouthier’s TD and marching 78 yards, mostly on runs by May, Exavier Brumfield, Esisas Brumfield and Eddie Hebert. It was Hebert’s 20-yard run near the goal line that set up his own go-ahead score on a one-yard plunge with 7:36 left.
Liverpool still had time, and again used its ground attack to drive inside WG’s 30. Here, though, the Wildcats’ defense, which lost Brendan Hammerle to an injury in the third quarter, stood up, pushing the Warriors back and making a fourth-down stop, Christian Rossi breaking up an Alex Ruston pass.
With Liverpool having burned through its time-outs, WG used a pair of first downs to run out the clock and clinch its trip to the Dome.
Leading the defense, Jack Miller had 11 tackles, eight of them solo. Brian Felix had 10 tackles, with Chris Schahczenski and Areece Appleton earning eight tackles apiece and Cole Wade contributing seven tackles.
What awaits them next Saturday at 6 p.m. is undefeated (9-0), defending sectional champion Cicero-North Syracuse, who ripped Fayetteville-Manlius 46-7 in the other semifinal.
C-NS beat the Wildcats 27-10 on Sept. 28 at Mike Messere Field. May said that the key to gaining a sectional title is keeping the Northstars from burning them deep.
“We need to prevent (C-NS) from big plays,” said May. “If we can do that, we can hang with anybody in the state.”