October 27, 2012
When the rain began to cascade down Saturday night at Marcellus High School, it came just in time. The 10 teams still left playing Section III football were quite eager to go indoors.
Two days worth of semifinal games produced some serious contrasts in the upper classes, but some clear definition among the smaller schools. They all lead, though, to five championship games at the Carrier Dome that are well worth seeing, especially without the need for an umbrella.
We'll take them in the order that they'll play next weekend, starting with Friday night's Class D final that reunites defending champion Westmoreland with Sandy Creek, exactly a month after the Comets squeezed past the Bulldogs 21-19 to announce its status as a prime title contender.
Out at Fulton on Friday night, Sandy Creek allowed Weedsport's Matt Pelc to return the opening kickoff for a touchdown, 84 yards long. And then allowed nothing more, a 28-7 clinic where the Comets dominated on D and ate up yards on the ground. Mason McNitt scored all four touchdowns and went for 135 yards, while John Shirley got 114 yards and Kameron Goodsell got 91 yards.
Somewhere in mid-October, Westmoreland remembered that it was the reigning champs. First, the Bulldogs bulldozed Port Byron. Then it went to Utica Proctor on Friday and interrupted unbeaten West Canada's dream season in a 37-20 manner, with do-everything Zack Green running for two touchdowns and kicking three field goals.
All in all, a tough final to call. Westmoreland has the edge of championship experience. But Sandy Creek has the confidence of having beaten the Bulldogs this season. We'll find out which formula works best.
The Friday nightcap at the Dome features Nottingham, who's never won a sectional title, playing Jamesville-DeWitt, whose last finals appearance was in 1997.
J-D's perfect run nearly ended in the semifinals against Whitesboro. On the Chittenango turf, the Red Rams relied on pure defensive grit to turn back the Warriors in a 7-6 nail-biter, While again showing how tough it is to score on them, J-D has to be concerned about whether workhorse back Rasheed Baker will be back after hurting his knee.
Nottingham is playing just as well, getting 230 more rushing yards from Derrick Gore in an impressive 48-26 semifinal romp over Indian River at Watertown. That, plus Marty Clanton's passing ability, gives the Bulldogs a diverse approach, and they're burning for payback after J-D beat them 25-7 late in September, a game where Nottingham turned it over five times. If the Bulldogs take care of the ball, this could be a classic.
When we start on Saturday, it's a game that we were expecting 12 months ago but never got - Sknaeateles against Herkimer, Class C championship at stake.
No need to relive the 2011 Laker saga, because 2012 is serving as quite the redemption tale. Having already pulled off a come-from-behind win over BIshop Ludden in the season opener, Skaneateles completed the circle Saturday night at Marcellus with a 38-19 victory over the Gaelic Knights.
Conor Herr did absolutely everthing - run for two TD's, throw for three more, play some linebacker, recovered a fumble, returned a kick to set up a key scoring drive late in the first half, kept the rain away until the game was in hand.
And now Herr is Herkimer's problem. The Magicians have won every game with a full lineup on hand, including the C-2 final at Rome Free Academy Stadium, where Herkimer took apart upstart Lowville 41-7.
Yes, Sean Crandall has graduated, but Herkimer has not dropped off, and for a year has heard, to no end, that the only reason they won in 2011 was because the didn't have to face Skaneateles. Here is the Magicians' chance to shut everyone up.
Few people will be silent when the Class AA final starts. Not when CBA is playing Baldwinsville. Not when the Brothers fast, swarming and superb defense takes their licks against Tyler Rouse.
Don't forget, though, that CBA has quite a diverse attack now. The offense, once so reliant on Deshawn Salter, is returning to its high-flying roots, as J.R. Zazzara demonstrated with three TD passes in Friday's 35-13 semifinal win over West Genesee at Liverpool High School.
B'ville's defense, who faces a rather good back every time it practices, knows containment of Salter is crucial, because it has good defensive backs (especially Eric Anthony), plus Rouse and Joe Stanard at linebacker, to keep CBA's receivers honest.
Of course, it all comes back to Rouse. His numbers in the Bees' pulsating semifinal win over Fayetteville-Manlius were typical - 272 yards, four TD's, but he had two scores called back due to penalties, plus an interception.
And his scoring run late in the third quarter, which featured three missed tackles at the line of scrimmage, a sprint to the end zone and a leap over the last defender, was something to behold. CBA will be bent on making sure Rouse never gets going, as it hopes to atone for three straight finals losses (two of them to B'ville) and makes Joe Casamento's Hall of Fame day even better.
But the fiercest game might be the last one, Class B, Chittenango against Cazenovia, Bears against Lakers, neighbors who respect each other, but I don't detect much fondness in the relationship.
At the slightest provocation, Caz partisans will remind you that the Lakers beat the Bears last season, as if to discount the small fact that Chittenango went on to win the sectional title, the door opened up by Oneida's shocking semifinal win over the Lakers.
They'll also use what happened in this year's semifinals as further reason to think that the Lakers are going to win it all. Caz blasted Camden 53-7, while Chittenango, once holding a comfortable lead against Oneida, nearly saw the Indians stage another miraculous semifinal comeback before a pair of key late first downs allowed the Bears to hang on, 21-15.
About the only thing I sense about this title game is that there won't be too many points. For the most part, Caz and Chittenango know how to shut opponents down with speed, physical play and terrific discipline. And they will be fired up to face each other, one side wanting to take down Jake Wilson, the other itching to punish Devin Phelps.
So there you have it. By next weekend, post-Nancy and pre-election noise, we are going to need some diversions, and this delicious quintet of sectional football finals in the Dome offers the appropriate feast.