If you had asked me at the beginning of the football season to name the one Section VI team I thought would get to the Carrier Dome, it would be Randolph.
I think most Western New York high school football followers would agree. The Cardinals won last year’s title in Class D, where Section VI in general — and Randolph in particular – have been a power for about a decade. The Cardinals also were returning a ton of talent this season.
But Williamsville North?
I would have named 10, 20, maybe 30 schools that I thought had a shot at winning a state title before I came to the Spartans.
And yet, as I head to the Dome for Friday’s games, the pairing of teams is beyond surreal. One would have been everyone’s choice for a trip to Syracuse, and it is playing for the Class D title at noon.
The other is playing for the Class A title at 3 p.m. And it seemingly came out of nowhere.
A fellow reporter asked if I could dig up information on the first four games of North’s season. It was hard not to laugh considering where the team is now. North’s opener was a clunky, 14-12 loss to McKinley. Its second game was a 32-6 loss to rival Williamsville South. Only in Week Three did we see a semblance of the state finalists in a 21-0 win over Williamsville East. Good thing North won that game — otherwise it wouldn’t have been in the playoffs at all.
That’s just one mind-boggling tidbit among many. There’s the 4-3 regular season record, the No. 7 seed in the Class A playoffs, the knocking-off of top 10 large school South Park (21-0) in the quarterfinals, the avenging of a regular-season, two-touchdown loss to Grand Island with a semifinal overtime win. Then there’s its first-ever Section VI title against, of all teams, six-time defending champion Sweet Home at The Ralph, ending the Panthers’ win streak against Section VI teams at 69.
When it comes to Section VI football teams making a similarly unlikely run to the Dome, the only competition is Falconer in 2006 in Class C.
The Falcons had graduated 17 seniors from a 3-6 team, had a first-year varsity quarterback and their two regular season losses came via shutout. It had two last-minute wins on a run to the Dome, which ended with a 24-0 loss to downstate power Dobbs Ferry.
In that same 2006 postseason, perhaps the best state-wide Cinderella run took place with Auburn of Section III (Syracuse area).
It didn’t even qualify for the sectional playoffs – until a team above it had to forfeit its spot after using an ineligible player – but then it kept winning. It claimed the AA title in the school’s first (and still only) state playoff appearance.
Falconer’s was truly a Cinderella run, and in the final they were in over their heads.
You do not get the same feeling from this North team. If Williamsville North was a team that was “happy to be there,” it would have been gone a long time ago.
There was elation but not disbelief on their faces after they shocked the high school football world against Sweet Home, winning in authoritative fashion, grabbing control of the game with a 21-0 first half in a 21-12 win.
In the regional, there was calmness after Eastridge scored a go-ahead touchdown with 3:06 left, as the Spartans marched to a game-winning touchdown with 43 seconds to play in a 23-20 victory.
In last week’s state semifinal, North was back to showing clearly it was better from the start, seizing a 27-0 lead on its way to a 27-14 win over Union-Endicott.
There have been no close calls from Randolph (12-0) and a cast of characters that Western New York football fans have been very familiar with since the team’s run last year — despite it being in the smallest classification and being located 60 miles from Buffalo (the school is just 20 miles from Pennsylvania).
We knew that 6-foot-3, 250-pound senior offensive lineman/linebacker Cody Oldro was a force, as was 6-3, 275-pound junior lineman Michael Bowers.
We knew that senior quarterback Mitch Maycock was excellent at both running and passing (something past Randolph state champs didn’t bother themselves with), and that senior running back Chris Doubek was poised for a special season as he ascended to the starting spot.
He sure was. If the Cardinals are able to beat Section IX (Dutchess, Orange, Sullivan, Ulster counties) winner Chester in the same way they’ve won the past few weeks, Doubek will likely set the Western New York single-season rushing record (he has 2,263 yards, 184 shy of the mark set by Southwestern’s Dustin Bowser in 2003).
North, however, has introduced themselves quite firmly in the past few weeks.
North’s opponent, Queensbury of Section II (Albany area), is the top-ranked team in the state, and it likes to run and run and run some more.
Its double-wing offense (all 4,000 yards and 58 touchdowns of it) will be the latest challenge for a North defense that has been terrific: A front line of 6-foot, 190 junior Jacob Ames, 6-2, 255 junior Duke Hwang and 6-3, 250 George Attea; and a linebacking corps that includes senior Derrick Isler (also North’s top rusher), junior Nick Ames, sophomore Nick Pilon, junior John Becht and senior Casey Davis.
With North’s postseason run alternating between big wins and big finishes, I suppose – fittingly – that means we’re due for some drama at the Dome.
Around the halls
• Gameday capsules on both games will be published Friday.
• The News’ annual All-Western New York team will be published Dec. 7.
• PrepTalkTV looked forward to Friday’s state championship games. The episode is available at the BuffaloNews.com video page or the Prep Talk blog.