New York State scholastic football royalty awaits a first-time Section VI champion for the second straight season.
Dunkirk hopes its initial state semifinal appearance goes as well as South Park’s did last year.
The season has reached the point where the teams still standing are all very good. Each believes it has a chance at winning this weekend. That includes first-time semifinalist Dunkirk, even though it has quite the daunting task.
The Marauders, winners of nine straight, get to face a team that hasn’t experienced defeat in quite a while in three-time defending state champion and long-time power Chenango Forks of Section IV. The Class B contest is at 3 p.m. Saturday at Cicero-North Syracuse.
Dunkirk isn’t the only Section VI champion making the trip to Central New York. Maple Grove kicks off the five-game weekend at C-NS with a Class D semifinal against Sidney of Section IV at 5 p.m. Friday.
The winners advance to their respective championship games in the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association tournament Nov. 25-26 at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.
The Red Dragons of Maple Grove and the Marauders look to extend area’s recent run of success in the postseason. At least one Section VI champion has captured a state title each season since 2011. Programs in the section have captured 22 state titles since the start of the tournament in 1993.
Dunkirk (9-2), along with its large and vocal fan contingent, hopes to earn a spot on that prestigious champions list, but it won’t be easy against a Chenango Forks program that’s no stranger to the final four.
The Blue Devils (11-0) hold state tournament records for all-time wins (27), games played (36) and championship-game appearances (nine). They’ve won 22 straight games since dropping a 28-21 decision in Week Two of 2015 to Maine-Endwell.
Forks, which won its last three titles at Class C, may have lost that battle of reigning state champions but crushed it in its latest encounter with a fellow state champion last week. The Blue Devils cruised past the 2015 Class B winner Cazenovia of Section III, 35-13 – bolting to a 28-0 halftime lead against a Lakers team that came in yielding under 11 points per game.
“They are the class of the state the last couple years, but anything can happen,” Maruaders coach Mike Sarratori said.
Look no further than last year’s state Class A semifinal at C-NS, in which South Park rallied from an early two-touchdown deficit for a stunning 43-26 triumph that ended four-time defending state champion Maine-Endwell’s reign and record 62-game winning streak.
Both Dunkirk and Forks like to run, the Marauders with Alton Ingram (1,407 yards, 20 TDs on 178 rushes) and the Section IV champions with L.J. Watson (163 for 1,872 and 29 TDs). Something’s going to have to give Saturday.
“They’re probably the biggest team we’ve faced all season,” Sarratori said. “It’s going to be a power football game all-around. … I like our speed better. Anything can happen in one game (playoff).”
A win over the Blue Devils would mean the Marauders’ season to remember would have a shot at earning best-one-ever status for life.
Fans and players have enjoyed the ride to this point, which includes last weekend’s wild 50-48 overtime victory over Batavia.
Dunkirk has received strong fan support at New Era, with more than 1,200 making the trip to games the past two weeks. The Marauders should hear plenty of cheers at C-NS, as Sarratori said some fans will make the trip on coach buses rented by business leaders in the community.
“The excitement" from fans "has been unbelievable,” Sarratori said. “I hope the kids keep feeding off it.”
Maple Grove (11-0) hopes to continue feeding off a defense that’s stifled teams all season. The Red Dragons, ranked first in the state in Class D, yield just seven points per game and are coming off their fourth shutout of the season. Maple Grove has blanked three of its four playoff foes.
Friday will be the Red Dragons’ toughest test to date. Sidney, which has a nearly 2,900-yard passer in sophomore quarterback Darren Smith, will be perhaps the most balanced team Maple Grove has faced this season.
The Warriors (8-3) also are riding quite the wave of momentum, rallying for a 42-36 overtime win over Section III champion Onondaga after trailing by 14 points with 2 minutes, 20 seconds left.
“We’ve got to be able to play great pass defense and offensively we have to execute better than we did last week,” longtime Red Dragons coach Curt Fischer said.
Fischer also said sophomore Easton Tanner will start at quarterback for the second week in a row as Dalton Dubois remains sidelined by an ankle injury suffered two weeks ago in the Section VI final.