SYRACUSE – Considering the position West Seneca East has been at halftime in its previous four playoff games, the prevailing notion was that the Trojans had Cornwall right where they wanted.
When West Seneca East struck early in the third quarter for a momentum-turning touchdown, just like in its previous four games, it seemed like nothing was going to stop the Trojans from turning their dream of state football championship into reality.
Except the Green Dragons of Cornwall, that is, as they had other ideas and stunned a West Seneca East crew that thought this was its year to win it all.
The Section IX champions scored two touchdowns during the final 6 minutes, 58 seconds to rally past the Trojans, 21-14, in the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association Class A football final on Friday at the Carrier Dome.
Steven Gazzillo’s 1-yard touchdown run with 53 seconds left broke a 14-14 tie. Alex Suarez sealed the win with an interception at the Green Dragons’ 19, as East’s attempt to matriculate 62 yards for the game-tying score without timeouts came up empty.
“To lose now, it’s a bitter bill to swallow for sure,” Trojans coach Jim Maurino said. “(But) they deserved to win, they did what they had to do.”
Cornwall made plays via the run – relying on workhorse tailback Amin Woods’ 205 yards on 34 rushes. It made plays via the pass as freshman signal-caller Aidan Semo made the big throws when called upon to help the Dragons secure their first ever state championship.
Cornwall (12-0) is just the third Section IX champion to win a state title in football in any of the five classifications and the first since Monroe-Woodbury did so in Class AA in 2005.
“This is the best feeling in my entire life,” Gazzillo said.
“It’s tough,” Trojans senior Zach Arnone said. “I don’t know what else there is to say.”
Shaun Dolac rushed for two touchdowns and caught one, too, for East. He finished with 178 yards rushing on 26 carries and also made seven tackles.
Just as it has the entire playoff, West Seneca East shook off yielding the game’s first touchdown and tied things. Dolac scored on a 4-yard run in the second quarter.
The game was tied 7-7 at halftime, just the second time this postseason the Trojans hadn’t been trailing at intermission. West Seneca East took a 14-7 lead on the first play of the third quarter as Arnone slung a pass down field that Dolac caught in stride and then out maneuvered the rest of the defense completing the 65-yard touchdown.
East kept the lead and while its defense bent most of the day, it didn’t break until Semo completed a 15-yard touchdown pass to Louie Francese with 6:58 left.
The Trojans tried to march down field and respond with a score of their own, except Cornwall’s Shane O’Dea shot through a gap and disrupted a jet sweep for a 6-yard loss near midfield on a second-and-five to doom that possession.
The Dragons’ game-winning drive nearly stalled before finding new life on a huge 27-pass play down field from Semo to Francese on third-and-6. Four plays later, Gazzillo pushed his way in across the goal line.
Though the Trojans failed in their quest to become the second straight Section VI Class A champion to win the state title and the defeat does sting, it shouldn’t take away from what they accomplished.
East (11-2) not only ended rival West Seneca West’s 24-game winning streak but won its first Section VI championship since 1981 at the expense of its rival and last year’s state champion.
While a state championship of its own during the program’s 50th anniversary season would have been a golden moment to be sure, playing on the final weekend of the football season is still something to be celebrated – eventually – by the Trojans.
“The memories are always going to stick with us but it hurts," Dolac said.
“To be around and coach this long into the season is awesome,” Maurino said.