ROCHESTER – An all-star cast graduated from last year’s Orchard Park state championship football team, and its wide receiver is playing quarterback this year.
But the Quakers are still big, still strong, still smart and they’re going back to the Dome.
Senior Mitch Wilson scored four touchdowns during a 178-yard evening and the Quaker defense came up big time and time again as OP beat Christian Brothers Academy of Syracuse, 26-14, Saturday to earn a second straight trip to the Class AA state championship game.
“The entire year, every single practice, Coach [Gene] Tundo says if we want to win states, we’ve got to do this, we’ve got to do that,” said Wilson. “He says, ‘You’ve got to practice hard if you want to go to states. We can do it, I know we can.’ ”
Orchard Park will defend its Class AA championship at Syracuse University’s Carrier Dome at 6 p.m. next Saturday. It will be the third trip in program history for OP, which also won a state title in 2008. The Quakers (10-1) will face New Rochelle (10-1) of Section I (Dutchess, Putnam, Rockland and Westchester counties) in the final.
New Rochelle defeated Shaker, 28-21, in Saturday night’s East Semifinal in Kingston. Shaker, the champion of Section II (Albany area), entered the game as the top-ranked team in the state Class AA poll.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” said Tundo, who’s in his 19th season coaching. “Our kids played awesome. They played their hearts out the whole game. … This accomplishment might be one of the best by any team I’ve ever coached in 30 years. I’ve coached a lot of teams. To get back to this point is incredible. I’m amazed by what they’ve done.”
Last year’s OP team graduated five All-Western New York first-teamers after a 13-0 season. Ben Holmes moved from receiver to quarterback, and the 5-foot-11, 175-pound senior showed off his elusive scrambling moves throughout the game.
Holmes ran for 175 yards on 13 carries in a game Orchard Park kept control of due to its running game and its defense. Holmes only threw four times (completing two for 14 yards with one interception) as OP ran for 407 yards to CBA’s 17. The 5-9, 180-pound Wilson did his damage on 27 carries, and several times his short touchdown runs were set up by long runs by Holmes.
“All of that, it’s all because of the line,” Wilson said of OP’s ground game. “I don’t think Ben or I could have ran as far as we did if they didn’t make the huge holes. All the credit goes to them.”
CBA, which passed for 274 of its 291 yards, displayed its quick-strike ability with 1:37 left in the third quarter when junior J.J. Zazzara hit junior Deshawn Salter behind the defense in what became a 75-yard scoring play that drew the Brothers to within 20-14.
CBA appeared to be back in the game when a fumbled OP snap gave the Brothers the ball at the OP 36 in the final minute of the third quarter. However, Austin Goltz got the ball back for the Quakers with an interception on the very next play.
After the teams exchanged punts, OP went 65 yards in five plays to make it 26-14 with 7:29 left. Wilson had a 29-yard run during the drive, which he finished off with a 14-yarder to the left side in which he dove to break the plane at the goal line.
“We were making dumb mistakes [on offense],” said Wilson. “Ben and I talked to each other, we said we need to score, we need to do it right now. Our defense was making great plays, they gave us momentum and eventually we just drove it in.”
The defense, as it did for much of the evening, kept CBA from making it a game when senior Connor Eddy (seven tackles) intercepted a pass into the end zone with 2:45 left on fourth-and-goal play. Senior Jett Modkins also had an interception and five tackles.
“They’ve been scoring 40 points a game. To do what we did says a lot about our defense,” Tundo said.