November 26, 2012
This is how those state football championships at the Carrier Dome were supposed to go. Randolph would win again, Sweet Home would win again, Hornell would win again, Maine-Endwell would win again, Orchard Park would win again, cut, paste, wash, soak, rinse, spin, yawn.
Count that as two cases where the script was followed, and three where the script did not mean a darn thing.
First on the list of twists was Friday evening's long-awaited coronation for Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake in Class A. The Albany-area power had tried three previous times to win the big prize, only to get turned back, twice by Sweet Home (in 2008 and 2009), and by Maine-Endwell in 2011.
Ah, but not here. Burnt Hills blitzed Sweet Home, a near-perfect first half of defensive disruption, offensive-line domination and 26 unanswered points. True, the Panthers would never completely go away, but by a 40-20 margin, the Spartans finally had fulfillment.
And it was especially sweet for coach Matt Shell, who had to endure the cancer diagnosis of his son, Jake, three years ago during Burnt Hills' second state finals run. Now 12, Jake is in remission, and he was on the field with his Dad, sharing in the big breakthrough.
Move forward to Saturday, and there was just no way Hornell, winners of an astonishing 51 in a row, would get stopped by Hoosick Falls in the state Class C final. And when the Red Raiders scored less than 30 seconds into the game to go up 7-0, the Panthers looked like just another victim.
So much for victimhood. How about, instead, Hoosick Falls answering with a barrage of Burnt Hills-like 27 unanswered points the rest of the half? Unaccustomed to anyone answering like that, Hornell never recovered, and the Panthers were 34-21 winners.
Maybe it's the Cortland State connection, since Hoosick Falls coach Erik Werner, like Matt Shell, is a proud Red Dragons alum. Or perhaps the Panthers were just quicker and hungrier. Either way, what a performance by Section II, getting a pair of state titles for the first time since 1996.
Except that New Rochelle may have trumped everyone with the way it completely dismantled Orchard Park in a 34-7 state Class AA championship game that, really, could have been much more lopsided if NR wanted it that way.
Going in, the whole (mistaken) idea was that OP had passed the toughest examinations, whether it was avenging a regular-season defeat to Jamestown in the Section VI final, or grinding past Aquinas, or running right past CBA. New Rochelle? By comparison, an easier mark, or at least one that had been fortunate to get past Shaker after blowing a big lead in the state semifinal.
Gaze up at the Dome scoreboard at halftime, though, and it read New Rochelle 28, Orchard Park 0. In every phase of the game the Huguenots were vastly superior, Kahlil Edney throwing for two touchdowns and running for two others. The last 24 minutes were nothing but a coronation as New Rochelle got a title to match the one Ray Rice and friends achieved in 2003.
These stunning developments overshadowed the more conventional goings-on of the other two state finals. Randolph, in Class D, saw Tuckahoe hang around for three quarters before a fast finish gave the Cardinals a comfortable 28-7 victory.
Make that three state titles for Section VI Randolph, adding to ones gained in 2005 and 2009. And just as Hornell legend Gene Mastin said goodbye after earning his third state plaque a year ago, Cardinals coach Pat Slater is also retiring, and doing so the best way possible.
We end, fittingly, with Maine-Endwell, who teased Glens Falls for three quarters in the state Class B championship game, but sprinted to the finish line with 21 straight points in the fourth quarter to register a 41-12 victory. Justin Jacoby and Kyle Gallagher both topped 150 yards on the ground for the Spartans' unstoppable ground attack.
Some thought that M-E, returning all but one starter from the 2011 side that won it all in Class A, may have been the best team in any class in the state, regardless of school size. Looking at the numbers, they may be right - the Spartans scored an astonishing 669 points this season, an average of better than 51 per night, while only allowing 125.
That's a 544-point differential, folks. And that might never happen again. So bravo to Maine-Endwell for its dominance, and to Randolph for striking again, and to New Rochelle for its domination, and to Burnt Hills for its perseverance, and to Hoosick Falls for proving, again, that in sports, it's when the unexpected happens that creates the real magic.