LAKE HUNTINGTON – What we avidly seek in life is sometimes denied to us for any number of reasons. It is a hard lesson, and one that brings disappointment and can even spawn …
LAKE HUNTINGTON – What we avidly seek in life is sometimes denied to us for any number of reasons. It is a hard lesson, and one that brings disappointment and can even spawn self-incrimination and thoughts of what-ifs.
Unfortunately, that narrative belonged to the Number one-seeded Sullivan West Bulldogs following their heart-rending season-ending 26-12 defeat to the defending champion number four-seeded Spackenkill Spartans. For the tough Westies, the story wasn’t supposed to end this way. The Dawgs had swept their division for back-to-back titles, but for this group and their coaches, the most important agenda was garnering the Section IX Eight-Man football title denied to them a year ago by Spackenkill in the title game. To do so they would first have to vanquish Spackenkill and then vie for the crown against winner of the Tri-Valley- Pawling game.
Like most looking at the prospects of that other game, including SW’s dominant defeat of the Bears, the Dawgs envisioned a much-desired revenge match against the Tigers, a team that beat them early on in the season. But when the whistle blows to start playoff games, all prognostications are off the table as the scoreboard reads 0-0. Not only would Sullivan West lose, but Tri-Valley would deploy a surprise air/ground assault to defeat Pawling.
As to this game though, with its voracious home crowd, the noise of the supportive fire trucks and a week off courtesy of the bye, Sullivan West was primed to come out fighting. Spackenkill had won the toss and elected to defer. The Westies’ first drive stalled as did Spackenkill’s. But then the fiery Bulldogs marshaled a great run by Rally Cruz and a fine reception by Jakob Halloran to set up a one-yard TD by Andrew Hubert with 19.9 seconds remaining in the first quarter for the 6-0 lead.
The conversion was nixed but as the quarter was about to expire, Sullivan West bit on a fake by junior QB Dan Collins who then threw a 63-yard TD pass to speedy senior wideout Steven Ciancio. Sullivan West stopped the conversion, but the resultant 6-6 tie was the first psychic blow of the night. It had taken SW upwards of five minutes on their scoring drive. It took the Spartans 14 seconds to respond.
A three and out sequence didn’t help the Dawgs bounce back, but after holding Spack again, the Dawgs engineered another drive featuring gutsy running by QB Jaymes Buddenhagen and receptions by Adam Ernst and Halloran. With 2:22 to go in the half, Buddenhagen ran it in from the 20 for the 12-6 lead.
But once again, the Spartans erased that joyful feeling seconds later as Ciancio returned Evan Ebert’s kickoff 80 yards for the score using a fake hand off deke to evade a tackle as the Dawgs verged from their coverage lanes. Collins completed the conversion to tight end Bryan Hoyt and Spackenkill took a 14-12 lead into halftime.
The Bulldogs were visibly dismayed, and that mindset seemed to carry over into the second half. Both teams schemed to adjust during the break, but Spackenkill’s improved ability to blanket potential receivers would lead to several coverage sacks as Buddenhagen scrambled and couldn’t find anyone open.
The Spartans returned the ball to their 31 to start the third quarter and Collins used passes to freshman Carter Usher and sophomore Joshua Lewis to advance the rock. A great sack by Sullivan West senior Rodney Wilson notwithstanding, Collins’ 15-yard screen pass to Lewis gave the defending champs a 20-12 lead.
The Dawgs went three and out, Spack’s next drive stalled, even after an interception by Alec Hubert was ruled pass interference against the Dawgs. The quarter ended with a 20-12 Spackenkill edge.
Spack held the Westies to start the fourth quarter after Sullivan West mounted a promising drive to possibly tie the game but stalled at the Spack 30. The nail in the coffin came on a Collins three-yard TD run with 5:14 to go in the game for the 26-12 lead. Ciancio intercepted a Buddenhagen pass to punctuate the outcome as the Bulldogs’ aspirations for another trip to the title game had evaporated in the cool fall night air. Their mighty campaign ended with a 6-2 record.
Assistant Coach Justin Diehl sought the words to convey to the visibly distraught team. He praised them for a great season, one which pundits did not anticipate after the graduation of Section IX Co-Players of the Year Chris Campanelli and Gavin Hauschild. He reminded them that this setback was akin to others they were apt to encounter in life and that the important thing was to not let it deter them from future endeavors.
Sullivan West will return several veterans to the fray next year along with some promising younger players in a quest to be not only be successful in the season, but in the fight for the holy grail of a Section IX Eight-Man football title.
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here