Jamestown coach Tom Langworthy summed it up best when discussing why the Red Raiders are making a run at the state championship.
“You have to have all the pieces at the right time and have all the right pieces at the right spots,” he said. “You have to have a team culture and discipline, a culture among the players and the coaching staff. When you talk about players, you have to have talent in all the right places and on both sides of the ball and that’s why we’re where we’re at right now.”
Langworthy’s crew is one win away from being kings of New York.
Jamestown looks to win its first New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class AA football crown since 2000 when it faces Section IX champion Newburgh Free Academy at 6 tonight at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse. The game will be on Time Warner Cable Sports.
The game caps a tripleheader of action at the home of the Syracuse Orange that begins at noon with the state Class D final between Randolph and IX-Chester.
The Red Raiders, a three-time state champion, find themselves in this spot because they truly have a special group – guided by a senior class that helped restore the luster to the program after it had fallen behind Orchard Park and North Tonawanda – teams that have combined to win three state titles since 2008 – in the hierarchy of Section VI Class AA football.
Each senior starter, not just 2013 All-Western New York first teamers Stephen Carlson, Joe Mistretta and Zack Panebianco, has contributed to this run – from cornerback Joseph Ramos, who has two pick-sixes this postseason, to unheralded linemen Nate Vazquez and Kyle Liuzzo. They’ve fired off the ball so fast opponents have had difficulty passing and running. Linebacker Damien Jackson ranks second on the team in tackles and is a physical force.
“When your team culture is such that the players who aren’t stars rise up and play like stars, that’s something as coaches you can appreciate,” Langworthy said. “Jacie Blake has turned up his game and is playing the best football he’s ever played on both sides of the ball. All those guys fly under the radar as to what’s reported but their contributions have been the difference in these big wins we’ve had the last few weeks.”
“We want to win a state title and we’ve all worked hard to get here,” said starting defensive back/receiver Panebianco. “Ever since the beginning of last year, Coach Langworthy has set long term and short term goals. We fell short of the state title last year, but we knew we had a great chance to achieve that this year.”
In order to return home with the championship plaque, the Red Raiders (11-1) will need to get past a Newburgh crew (9-2) that plays a similar style to Section V champion Victor, except better.
The Goldbacks like to pound it out on the ground, giving their athletic running back tandem of Anthony Dubose and Aaron Forbes plenty of chances to make plays. Forbes has rushed for 1,456 yards and 23 touchdowns, including the game-winning TD on the first play of overtime last Saturday night in the semifinal win over II-Shenendehowa.
Dubose, who missed that game after serving a suspension for violating school policy – according to a report in the Middletown Times Herald-Record – has rushed for 1,119 yards and 14 scores in seven games.
“I don’t know if that’s our game plan, to slow the game down,” said Newburgh coach Bill Bianco, of the team’s run-first approach. “Our backs are guys who can break it and make big plays.”
The only team to gash Jamestown on the ground this season is state No. 1 and nationally ranked Canisius. The Red Raiders have only yielded 47 points since that 27-14 Week Four loss. They have three shutouts in that span, including one against Victor in Far West Regionals.
“We have experience playing great teams,” senior receiver/defensive back Ben Larson said. “If we play our game and stick to our game plan we can beat anybody we want.”
“I think it’s most important that our players go out, compete and have fun,” said Langworthy, adding his team just has to keep doing what it’s been doing the past two months – win the battle at the line of scrimmage. “When it’s time to go out there, we’re going to go out and stretch, warm-up and play. We’re not going to get caught up with the Carrier Dome or the fact it’s the last game of the season.”
It will be the last game for 20 seniors, who have all impacted the program to the point where they’re one win away from capturing the ultimate memory.
“It’s a really special time right now,” Carlson said. “We’re hoping to go out with a bang.”