The Southwestern football team lost a game Saturday afternoon. The Southwestern football family lost one of its own on Friday.
Southwestern played its Class B Far West Regional game against Hornell in honor of former Trojans running back James C. Matteson after learning that Matteson -- known to the team as "J.C." -- was killed as part of the U.S. Army's fighting in Iraq.
"We got word last night that he was killed in Fallujah," Southwestern coach Jay Sirianni said following the Trojans' 12-7 loss to Hornell in Ralph Wilson Stadium. "It was emotional. A couple of our players knew him. We brought our kids in and talked a little bit about this morning before we left, and basically we said -- 'We preach family, and we lost a member of our family.' "
Players had a small, black No. 28 decal on their helmets while coaches wore black strips on the back of their baseball caps as a tribute to Matteson, a 1998 Southwestern graduate.
"Sometimes a football team can do a lot of things for a community or past members or past players and give them a lot of pride, and we played that game for J.C.," said Sirianni, whose Trojans (9-2) won the first Section VI football title in school history last week. "We knew he had a lot of pride in Southwestern football, and I just hope that when he found out that we were sectional champs last week that he just had a smile on his face."
As an Army corporal in 2001, Matteson was honored with the NATO and Armed Forces Expeditionary Medals for serving on the peacekeeping forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Senior lineman Matt Langworthy remembered watching Matteson play for the Trojans alongside Matt's older brother, Tom Langworthy.
"He wore No. 28 and we all put a black No. 28 on our helmet because he was a former family member of ours," said Matt Langworthy. "He died defending our country and for us, and it would have meant a lot to go out and get a win for him."
An estimated 1,500 saw Hornell (11-0) advance to the state semifinal at 5 p.m. Friday in Syracuse's Carrier Dome. Junior Josh Hoffman had an exceptional game for Hornell, running for 116 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries to go along with eight tackles, four for loss, and a sack as he earned the game's defensive MVP award.
Hoffman, a 5-foot-11, 180-pounder, put Hornell ahead with a 56-yard run on the third play of the game as he calmly took a carry through a huge hole off left tackle and had just enough to outrun tacklers down the left sideline for the touchdown.
Southwestern senior Steve Mancari, who rushed for 95 yards on 28 carries, earned the game's offensive MVP award. Mancari's second-quarter, 17-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-3 -- and Chris Stoddard's extra point -- gave the Trojans a 7-6 halftime lead. A 32-yard field goal attempt by Stoddard on the final play of the first half was blocked by Chris Smith.
Hornell's go-ahead touchdown came on its first possession of the second half, which started at the Southwestern 33 thanks to a 20-yard punt return by senior Matt Stewart. Hoffman ran four times during a six-play drive that ended with Hoffman's clean, strong 3-yard run off left tackle for a 12-7 lead with 6:22 left.
The teams spent the rest of the half punting back and forth, as Hornell harnessed the Southwestern rushing attack by keying on fullback Matt Mazgaj as quarterback Chad Bush struggled (1 for 6 in the second half). Southwestern's last chance ended with 3:14 left in the game and Southwestern facing a second-and-10 at its 43. Bush was sacked by Smith, causing a fumble that was recovered by the Raiders' Ryan Deiter, and Hornell ran out the clock.