SYRACUSE – The ending to perhaps the greatest season in the long history of Lancaster High School football figured to be a tearjerker win or lose.
That's because there wouldn't be any more practices for this group. No more film sessions. No more game-planning for an opponent.
All of that would have been easier to stomach on a triumphant note, but Section II's Troy did not let that happen.
The defending New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association Class AA champion had too much speed and athleticism for the Legends on Sunday afternoon on the fast track at the Carrier Dome.
The Flying Horses are state champions, again, after defeating Lancaster, 41-26, before an estimated 5,000.
Troy senior running back Joey Ward scored four touchdowns and finished with more than 300 all-purpose yards, including 233 on 38 rushes. Senior receiver Dev Holmes caught eight passes for 107 yards and two TDs, and a fast, athletic line prevented a Legends defense that had bowled over all comers from doing its thing in the final game of the season.
"It's a bad taste but you can't be sad it's over, just be happy it happened I guess," said senior Joe Andreessen, who rushed 12 times for 62 yards and a touchdown and also made 13 tackles on defense. "Great group of guys, I'm going to miss it a lot. … I'm kind of lost for words. I don't know what to say. It's been a great year. That's a great team over there."
It's tough to argue that point.
Troy (13-0) ran the table for the second straight season and heads into next season with the longest current winning streak (26) in the state. The Flying Horses snapped the Legends' 12-game winning streak and handed them just their second loss in 24 games under second-year coach Eric Rupp.
"They had two very special players who just made a bunch of plays tonight and unfortunately things didn't go our way," Rupp said.
When the Legends (12-1) needed a defensive stop to get off the field, it rarely happened. The Flying Horses converted 7-of-12 third downs and had two key fourth-down conversions. Each of Troy's last four scoring drives included a third-down conversion of at least 5 or more yards.
Troy bolted to a 14-0 lead as Ward broke a 0-0 knot with a 10-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter. He had the highlight-reel play of the drive when he turned nothing into a 34-yard run two plays before his TD. He ran to his right and saw nothing but a wall of players blocking his path. So he reversed his field, made the stay-at-home defender in his way miss, turned the corner and juked past two other defenders before being taken down at Lancaster's 11.
The Flying Horses padded their lead one play after the Legends dropped a fourth-down pass in Troy territory that would've extended a drive. Joe Casale threw over the middle to Holmes. He bounced off a hard hit and out ran the safety on the 58-yard scoring play.
"We weren't ready for their balance or recovery after contact," Legends senior linebacker Brett Beetow said. "It's hard to prepare for that. ... You can't match that speed unless you have it."
Lancaster pulled within 14-7 on its next drive as it went to a modified version of its Tank offense, using Andreessen at running back instead of a wildcat quarterback. He rushed for 59 yards on that 82-yard drive capped by a 4-yard Andrew Hersey TD.
The Legends rode that momentum and forced a punt on Troy's next possession. They seemed ready to take over as Ben Damiani partially blocked the kick recovered at the Flying Horses' 36 with under 4 minutes left in the second quarter.
Lancaster went for the home run right away but like many plays the Legends nearly converted on this day they came up just a sliver short. Ryan Mansell (12 of 25, 170 yards, two TDs) threw a long pass down the right sideline for Max Giordano. He tried to come up with a tough catch but in his quest not to give up on the play ended up tipping the ball to Holmes, who made the interception while lying on his back at the 4.
"We had momentum. I wanted to take a shot to Max and it was close," Rupp said. "No. 8 made a great interception lying on his back so give credit to him."
The Horses turned that takeaway into six points as they converted a third-and-7 along the way, a 34-yard pass to Isaiah Burdette. The drive ended with Casale scrambling away from pressure and zipping a 5-yard TD strike to Holmes with 10 seconds left to send Troy into halftime with a 20-7 lead. The Flying Horses converted a pair of long third downs to score on the opening drive of the third quarter. Ward had a 32-yard catch-and-run that set up his 7-yard TD catch on third down.
Despite the defensive struggles, Lancaster didn't yield. The Legends forced a turnover on third down at Troy's 9 late in the third quarter and pulled within 28-14 on Andreessen's 1-yard run and Kyle Backert's extra-point kick.
Troy scored again converting a third-and-12 along the way as Ward scored from the 5 with 9:34 left to make it 34-14. Lancaster scored quickly as Hersey caught a 12-yard touchdown 67 seconds later, with the key play being a 45-yard completion from Mansell to Max Giordano.
A glimmer of hope?
The Legends then forced a turnover on downs with just over 5 minutes left at their own 28. A glimmer of hope turned into something more on the next play as Mansell went deep and connected with Backert on a 72-yard touchdown to make it 34-26.
One stop and who knows?
The Legends, whose starting defense came into the final having yielded just four touchdowns, failed to come up with it. Third down doomed them again as a 5-yard encroachment penalty extended a drive Ward capped with a 26-yard touchdown run.
Rupp was teary-eyed after the game. The loss had something to do with it. The realization it's over with this edition of the Legends had more to do with it. He wasn't the only one hurting because there's no tomorrow.
"It's part of life, I guess," Beetow said. "You just have to move on when things don't go your way. That's what we're going to have to do."