Sabres' final challenge is a big one
Devon Willis isn’t one of the more vocal players on the Schalmont football team, but the senior plans to have a chat with his fellow Sabres sometime before Sunday’s state Class B championship game at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.
Willis is the only Sabre who has competed there before, in 2010, when Hornell soared to a 50-20 win over the guys from Rotterdam.
“They were big, it was loud. It was a little overwhelming to be where so many great players have played,” said Willis. “It’s a big stage. I feel I should probably talk to the younger players so they don’t get overwhelmed by it.”
While dealing with the cavernous environs of the Dome, the Sabres will be facing another New York juggernaut in Maine-Endwell.
“When I went there for a recruiting trip with my dad, he talked to me for 20 seconds and I didn’t hear a thing,” said Schalmont junior Nick Gallo. “It can get loud there.”
Hornell’s victory four years ago against Schalmont was part of a 51-game winning streak. Maine-Endwell has made plenty of noise throughout the state with its own 37-game win streak that includes a 42-12 victory over Glens Falls in last year’s state Class B final and a 27-20 triumph over Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake in the 2011 state Class A championship game.
“We tell our kids all the time, ‘Every opponent is the best opponent we’re going to see.’ With this team, it is,” said Schalmont defensive coordinator Mike DiCocco.
Maine-Endwell (Section IV, 12-0) has only been in one real scrap this year, when it stopped a two-point conversion run late in the fourth quarter to hold off Cazenovia, 35-34, in the state quarterfinals. The Spartans battled through that game without six players who were suspended for breaking a team rule, including star running back/linebacker Darnell Woolfolk. Back at full strength, they thumped Depew, 35-13, last week.
The Spartans put up 69 points in a pair of wins earlier this season, and have genarated at least 31 in every game.
“They’re very good,” said Schalmont coach Joe Whipple. “They’re two-time defending state champions, and we’ll see a lot of guys who played in those games. They’ve continued to win, and you know how hard that is to do.”
Schalmont (12-0) has won big in a pair of state tournament games, beating Beekmantown, 60-6, before last Saturday’s 66-0 triumph over Marlboro. The Sabres have matched their school record, and are looking to cap a dream season in which they’ve posted six shutouts, allowed just 37 points, and have scored over 50 in five of their last six contests.
“The kids are playing at the top of their game right now,” said Whipple. “I think we’re ready for the challenge. We’re going to go up there and give it everything we’ve got.”
That’s what it will take to be the first team to knock off Maine-Endwell since Whitesboro registered a 40-14 win over the Spartans in the 2010 state Class A quarterfinals.
“This has to be our breakthrough game,” said Willis, Schalmont’s rushing (1,171 yards) and touchdown (22) leader. “We’ve got to play every down like it’s our last play. We’ve got to play fast, and we’ve got to play physical.”
“We have to play the perfect game,” said Gallo, who will quarterback the Sabres. “We can’t make mistakes in this football game. We can’t turn the ball over. Our defense has to come to play. We have to play perfect football.”
For a half last week, the Sabres did, when they piled up 60 points against Marlboro. Trevon Perez-Tucker lit the spark with a long kickoff return and then a touchdown run, and Dom Friello and Willis returned interceptions for touchdowns soon after. Before the half was through, Schalmont had five defensive takeaways, and Gallo had three touchdowns runs and a scoring pass.
“These guys love a challenge. We say, ‘This is the best fullback you’ll see,’ and that gets in their heads,” said DiCocco. “Every week, we present them with a challenge, and that makes them that much more hungry to meet that challenge.”
Woolfolk and Maine-Endwell quarterback Kyle Gallagher will present Schalmont with a major two-pronged challange. Gallagher was selected the most valuable player in last year’s final after rushing for 151 yards and two touchdowns in the Spartans’ victory over Glens Falls.
“Their quarterback is a great thrower and runner. Their fullback is like Ray Rice,” said DiCocco.
Gallagher ran for 216 yards and a touchdown against Cazenovia, and his brother, Adam, caught two scoring passes and ran for another touchdown. Woolfolk rumbled for 187 yards and two touchdowns against Depew, and Colin LaSalle ran for 95 yards and two touchdowns.
“We take a lot of pride in our defense,” said Willis, who joins Gallo, Perez-Tucker and Jack Batchler to form the Schalmont linebacking group. “If we play like we did the last two weeks, if we play like we can play, we should have a positive outcome.”