SYRACUSE – The Lancaster faithful came out in full force hoping to witness the perfect ending to a historic season by the Legends. Instead, they saw Section II's Troy do just that for the second year in row.
The Flying Horses defeated Lancaster, 41-26, on Sunday afternoon in the New York State Public High Schools Class AA championship game at the Carrier Dome.
Troy running back Joey Ward along with speedy receiver Dev Holmes proved to be too much for the Legends to contain before an estimated 5,000 as they made drive-extending plays on third and fourth downs like no other team had done against the Legends this season.
Ward rushed for three touchdowns and caught another, while Holmes had scoring receptions of 58 and 5 yards as Troy completed extended its winning streak to 26 straight games and snapped Lancaster's 12-game winning streak.
Player of the game: Ward of Troy as the 5-foot-9 senior running back ends the season with 35 touchdowns.
He rushed 38 times for 233 yards and also caught five passes for 67 and added 21 yards in returns to cap his most valuable player of the game performance.
Ward ran through holes and turned nothing into something as the Flying Horses' running back had a day against a Lancaster starting defense that had yielded just four touchdowns through its first 12 games.
Stats: Troy finished with 490 yards in offense on 71 plays as it had the ball for nearly 32 of the game's 48 minutes. Lancaster had a 170 yards passing and 267 total. Joe Andreessen rushed 12 times for a Lancaster-high 62 yards and added 13 tackles, while Ryan Mansell completed 12-of-25 passes for 170 yards and two touchdowns. Ben Damiani blocked a punt and had 14 tackles.
Lancaster receivers dropped a couple passes on key downs that would have extended drives.
Holmes caught 8 passes for 107 yards and also rushed for 7 yards for Troy.
Role the highlight film: Not if you're Lancaster on this play. But Ward ran a long way to gain 34 yards and set up the Flying Horses' first touchdown. He took a handoff, saw a wall of players blocking off the right side and reversed his field. There was a linebacker waiting there for Ward but he gave him the slip, turned up field and juked out two more defenders before being tackled at the Legends' 11. Two plays later, Ward scored from the 10 to cap the 80-yard drive with 1:48 left in the first quarter.
Quick turnaround: Lancaster went for it three times on fourth down near the midfield area on its first three drive, just into Troy territory. The second time the Legends went for it, a dropped pass that would've given them a first down blunted the drive. One play later, the Flying Horses added to their 6-0 lead as Joe Casale hooked up with Holmes on a 58-yard pass play with Holmes bouncing off a potential break-up-the-pass hit and then out running the final defender for the score. Ward ran in the extra point to make it 14-0.
Modified tank: Last week, Lancaster responded to its first deficit of the season by jump-starting its struggling offense by going to "The Tank," its version of the wildcat with Andreessen shifting from tackle to quarterback. The Legends went to the modified version of that with Andreessen lining up at running back with Mansell remaining at quarterback.
Though he got stuffed on a fourth-and-short attempt for no gain earlier in the game, Andreessen gave the offense some momentum – running for consecutive gains of 27, 2 and 4 on the first three plays and then adding pickups of 7, 12, 5, and 2 on the 82-yard drive that was aided by a 15-yard sideline penalty on Troy and a drive-extending facemask penalty after Max Giordano was stopped on fourth down a yard short of the first down. The drive ended with Andrew Hersey's 4-yard TD run with 7 minutes left in the second quarter.
Thinnest of slivers: Lancaster forced a punt for the first time with under 4 minutes left in the second quarter. Damiani partially blocked the boot by Lorenzo Brammer and a Lancaster player caught it at the Troy 36 to give the Legends prime real estate for a potential scoring drive.
Lancaster went for broke, with Mansell going deep for Max Giordano. It didn't work as the play was broken up and in bad bounce off the hands of Giordano landed into the waiting arms of Holmes laying on the turf at the Flying Horses' 4 for the interception.
Points taken: Troy turned that turnover into six points and a 20-7 halftime lead as Holmes kept both feet in on a 5-yard pass from Casale. The Flying Horses made the plays to get points on that drive with Isaiah Burdette catching a 34-yard bomb on third-and-7 from Troy.
More points: The Flying Horses extended their lead to 21 on the opening drive of the third quarter. Casale and Ward hooked up for a 7-yard scoring play. That was the second third-down conversion of at least 7 yards on the drive. Before that, Troy converted third-and-8 with a 32 yard pass from Casale to Ward.
Some life: After Troy marched backward on its next possession Lancaster recovered a fumble at the Flying Horses' 9 late in the third quarter. The Legends pulled within 28-14 after Andreessen's 1-yard run and Kyle Backert's PAT kick with 1:25 left. The Legends tried an onside kick that Troy recovered, leading to the Flying Horses' next TD march.
More life: Still, Lancaster fought as it pulled within 34-20 on Hersey's 4-yard TD catch, with the key play on that drive being a 45-yard completion from Mansell to Max Giordano with 8:27 left. After the Legends forced a turnover on downs at their own 28 with 5:08 left, they needed just one play to pull within eight points. Mansell went vertical down the middle, found an open Backert for the 72-yard touchdown.
That's as close as the Legends got as Ward's 26 run with 2:20 left snuffed out the comeback attempt.
Coaching them up: The coaching staffs for both teams have obviously done their jobs teaching X's and O's and putting their players in positions to succeed and not because each reached the state final.
Followers of Lancaster and scholastic football in the 7-1-6 know the Legends have gone 22-1 under second-year head coach Eric Rupp – the lone loss to Victor in last year's state quarterfinal.
Troy's Bobby Burns came in with slightly more impressive mark. The Flying Horses entered Sunday on a 25-game winning streak and a 34-1 mark during Burns' three seasons as head coach.
Title-game history: This was Lancaster's first appearance in a state football final.
On the other hand, Sunday was old hat for Troy. The Flying Horses made the final for the seventh time. They won the crown in 1996 over III-Whitesboro (27-13) in Class A. They moved in Class AA after that but made the second of four straight title-game appearances, losing to V-Fairport (35-14). In 1998, they defeated Fairport (26-9) and also triumphed in 2016 over V-Victor (21-20). Troy also lost in 1999 to V-Webster (35-18) and 2010 to V-Rush-Henrietta (40-28).
Records: Lancaster finishes 12-1, Troy 13-0.
Next: The offseason for both teams as it's officially winter sports season in Western New York.