Enthusiasm, energy and noise rose from the stands and sideline at the Carrier Dome in the opening minutes of Saturday night’s Section III Class AA football championship game.
West Genesee, in its first final since 2011 and just two years removed from going 0-8, had forced a turnover on Cicero-North Syracuse’s first possession, Christian Rossi intercepting Conner Hayes’ pass and putting it on the Northstars’ 30-yard line.
Get something here, perhaps a touchdown, and the belief that the Wildcats could turn around a 27-10 late-September defeat to C-NS and dethrone them as sectional champions would gain some traction.
But WG didn’t even get a first down, setting the tone for an evening where, again, the Northstars asserted its superiority on both sides of the ball, overwhelming the Wildcats 41-0.
What made Rossi’s interception so encouraging was that, in the first meeting, C-NS had scored on its first play from scrimmage on a long touchdown run by Jeremiah Willis.
Here, the big play went in the other direction, yet the Northstars didn’t pay for it – and proceeded to do all the things that had produced a 29-2 record in the previous three years leading up to this game.
Moving to WG’s 44-yard line after that early stop, C-NS decided not to punt on fourth down. Instead, Hayes, rolling out, drew in the defense – which allowed Shy’rel Broadwater to get behind the secondary and, wide open, catch Hayes’ 44-yard touchdown pass.
That was all the points the Northstars would need, for its defense harassed Wildcats quarterback Tyler Cook on every possession, forcing a fumble near midfield late in the first quarter that C-NS recovered.
Points came from that takeaway as Hayes threw a 10-yard scoring pass to Nate Geloff early in the second period. And the defense continued to knock WG backwards, never more so than a sequence where Josh Lawrence broke through and sacked Cook on back-to-back plays.
Long before they kicked off, the Wildcats knew that, to have any chance, it had to keep the Northstars from its trademark big plays, but that proved impossible.
Taking a handoff at his own 23 late in the second quarter, Willis started right and then dashed left, using his speed to outrun every Wildcats defender on a 77-yard jaunt to the end zone, the extra point making it 20-0, where it stood at halftime.
Not to get left out, Jaiquawn McGriff unleashed his own highlight-reel TD in the third quarter, a 43-yard run where he changed direction several times, broke multiple tackles and cut back until he found the corner of the end zone.
McGriff scored again from 10 yards out, set up by a 35-yard run from Willis, and Da-Ron Brown added final touch with his own 44-yard TD run early in the fourth quarter.
Even with this loss, what WG accomplished in 2018 was quite special, having climbed so far from the depths of recent years and, with a strong senior class, getting all the way to the sectional final. Repeating that effort in 2019 with lots of new starters on both sides of the ball will prove a tall order.