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Live from Orchard Park's Class AA championship comeback

SYRACUSE -- We're live at the Carrier Dome, where Section VI tries to hit a state championship grand slam today as Orchard Park meets Monroe-Woodbury for the Class AA title.

On Saturday, Maple Grove, Southwestern and Sweet Home swept a tripleheader of state finals.

Keep track of the game here and you are welcome to comment -- but we apologize if we don't get to every question since it gets pretty busy during the action.

Afterwards, let us know what you thought of the game -- whether you were at the dome, listened to the radio, watched on television or kept track here -- in the comments section below.
---Keith McShea

Live from Sweet Home driving to Class A crown

SYRACUSE -- We're live at the Carrier Dome, where The News will have live updates all weekend as four Section VI champions try to win state championships.

Maple Grove was the first to kick off -- at 11 a.m. for the Class D final; that was followed by the 2 p.m. Class C final featuring Southwestern. Now it's time for the 5 p.m. Class A game in which Sweet Home will try to win its first state football championship. Orchard Park plays at 1 p.m. Sunday in the Class AA contest.

Keep track of the game here and you are welcome to comment -- but we apologize if we don't get to every question since it gets pretty busy during the game.

Afterwards, let us know what you thought of the game -- whether you were in the dome, listened to the radio, watched on television or kept track here -- in the comments section below.

---Keith McShea

Live from Southwestern taking ownership of Class C

SYRACUSE -- We're live at the Carrier Dome, where The News will have live updates all weekend as four Section VI champions try to win state championships.

Maple Grove was the first to kick off -- winning its 11 a.m. Class D final with a 55-7 victory over Moriah. Now it's time for the 2 p.m. Class C final featuring Southwestern and the 5 p.m. Class A game in which Sweet Home will try to win its first state football championship. Orchard Park plays at 1 p.m. Sunday in the Class AA contest.

Keep track of the game here and you are welcome to comment -- but we apologize if we don't get to every question since it gets pretty busy during the game.

Afterwards, let us know what you thought of the game -- whether you were in the dome, listened to the radio, watched on television or kept track here -- in the comments section below.

---Keith McShea

Live from Maple Grove's romp to the D title

SYRACUSE -- We're live at the Carrier Dome, where The News will have live updates all weekend as four Section VI champions try to win state championships.

Maple Grove is the first to kick off -- at 11 a.m. for the Class D final. That's followed by the 2 p.m. Class C final featuring Southwestern and the 5 p.m. Class A game in which Sweet Home will try to win its first state football championship. Orchard Park plays at 1 p.m. Sunday in the Class AA contest.

Keep track of the game here and you are welcome to comment -- but we apologize if we don't get to every question since it gets pretty busy during the game.

Afterwards, let us know what you thought of the game -- whether you were in the dome, listened to the radio, watched on television or kept track here -- in the comments section below. 

---Keith McShea

Why Section VI football will go Four-for-Dome (did I just write that?)

Four Section VI teams are playing for state championships this weekend.

And just when that thought begins to settle in, check out this one: They're all favorites.

It could be quite the weekend for Section VI, which has already made history by putting four teams in the finals for the first time (the previous best was three, which only happened once, and all three teams lost that that year -- 1999).

All four teams have to be considered favorites since all four enter their final ranked first in the state in their class and all are undefeated at 12-0. So picking a Section VI sweep in its four dome games (that still sounds really strange) isn't the going-out-on-a-limb pick that it otherwise might be.

Orchard Park has been ranked first in the state since midseason, Sweet Home got there after dethroning Aquinas in the regionals, Southwestern moved to the top after beating traditional power and top-ranked Le Roy in the regionals, and Maple Grove ascended to the top spot this week after its throttling of defending champion Walton.

There are good reasons that these teams are ranked as high as they are.

These are four exceptional teams -- with team in italics. These are not one-man shows. There are surely  exceptional players on all four squads, but each one of them are part of deep, talented, cohesive casts. The four have won in different ways, on either side of the ball and on special teams. Their coaching staffs are as deep and as smart as the troops on the field.

The four have great playbooks, and have rewritten record books, but this quartet's seasons are certainly not what you would call storybooks. There are no little-teams-that-could which kept pulling off the unlikely or dramatic. There have been no close calls in the playoffs, particularly in last week's semifinals.

North Tonawanda might claim some what-ifs from its Section VI final against Orchard Park, but I believe that if OP was truly pushed, it would have pushed back. That's what it did on its first drives of the second half against Gates-Chili, as it did once Binghamton took a lead in the semifinal. Southwestern held on to beat Le Roy by three after a miracle comeback attempt faltered, and it had the upper hand all second half against Elmira Notre Dame last week. Other than those games, the Section VI quartet has truly been dominant in the postseason after hardly being challenged in the teams' undefeated regular seasons.

At the beginning of the season, Orchard Park was expected to go far in the state playoffs, Sweet Home was the favorite to defend its Section VI title, Southwestern was a favorite in Class C after moving down from Class B this year and Maple Grove was a leading candidate in Class D.

As the season went on, all four lived up to those expectations. That's why I picked all five to beat Section V teams in the regionals (even though history said it was quite preposterous to do so) and why I picked all four teams to win semifinals last week.

Then there's the recent history of the East-West matchups. Last year, all four of these classes were won by the Western half of the state, by margins of 21, 22, seven and 58 points. The Eastern half of the state hasn't won more than two of the five finals since it won three in 2000.

With all that said, you'll find the teams that are on the other side of the ball right behind, or almost right behind, the Section VI squads in those state polls. These are state championship games. These teams are obviously good. There have been crazier things to happen in the Carrier Dome late in November (like the college team that plays there having a winning record! baddump-bump).

Here's the breakdown -- listed in order of Section VI's best chance to advance, and with reasons why things could go either way (you can still vote in our polls until Maple Grove kicks off):

• • •

Class D

Four-for-Dome: The numbers and the history is too much to overlook. Maple Grove destroyed Walton with a multi-faceted attack and a super-tough defense. Last year Walton destroyed everyone on the way to a state championship. Key Red Dragons Chris Secky and Joe Caporale have the confidence from winning last year's Class C basketball title. And last week, Adam Hover becomes the scoring star? Maple Grove has been playing at a different level all season long. It shouldn't change this morning.

Oh-for-Dome: After Maple Grove manhandled Walton, a team that won its state championship last year by beating Section VII champion Ticonderoga, 64-6, all I can come up with for this one is a phrase that can be applied to all of these finals: that's why they play the games.

• • •

Class A

Four-for-Dome: Sweet Home has to be the fastest team in Western New York. The Panthers were fast last week, on a frigid field that was turned white with snow. Now a team that has played the too-many-weapons role the last several weeks has its many weapons inside and on turf.   

Oh-for-Dome: Somehow run-and-throw-and-kick threat Paul Layton pulls off an upset, prompting The Millstone to name a burger after him.

• • •

Class AA

Oh-for-Dome: Monroe-Woodbury has played in the dome before. The Crusaders have won in the Dome before. They've got Division I prospects at positions like kicker and wideout and a stacked lineup, just like Orchard Park does. This game could be the most dramatic of the weekend. Maybe first-time finalist OP gets caught looking at the dome ceiling and realizes it peaked a week earlier (like last year when it fell in the semifinals).

Four-for-Dome: We're saying that's not going to happen. OP is now ranked sixth in USA Today's East Region.

(OP is also ninth in the Northeast in the National Prep Poll; Iona Prep moved from 17th to 11th in ESPNRise's East Region after it beat St. Anthony's for the second time this year; Rivals/Yahoo still lamely has Aquinas 17th in the Atlantic East).

The Quakers did wait an entire year to make amends in the state semifinals, and they came up with its best game of the year to do so. Considering the weight of those kind of expectations, I was somewhat surprised to hear so much we've-still-got-one-more-game focus by OP players after last Saturday's win over an extremely tough Binghamton team. Honestly, when the season's over, I have a feeling that history will remember Binghamton as being OP's toughest opponent. 

• • •

Class C

Four-for-Dome:  The dome is going to be filled with some serious Southern Tier spirit after Maple Grove's game. The cut on quarterback Zack Sopak's right thumb (which prevented him from taking balls under center) is healing and won't be exposed to the cold, not that his game has been affected that much. There's a perceived weakness in the Trojans' game, but we think coach Jay Sirianni will have them prepared. The Trojan defense has come up big when it has had to, and they'll do it again.

Oh-for-Dome: Southwestern is last on the Section VI list for one main reason: The weakness is what Sirianni himself described as the team's Achilles' heel -- its pass defense. The Trojans withstood huge statistical games to the QBs and WRs of Le Roy and Elmira Notre Dame, but Croton-Harmon's passing game could prove to be much better.

We'll know by the end of the today if OP will be trying to hit a Section VI grand slam Sunday.

Join us in a few hours as we kick off a weekend full of live blogging and updates.

---Keith McShea

Connolly Cup countdown: A week & a day to go

The votes and comments about who should win this year's Connolly Cup have been piling in. If you haven't voted, wind-sprint yourself and your mouse to the post here. At this writing, we're approaching 1,000 votes in the poll and 200 comments on the post.

The News does not, of course, have a Connolly Cup ballot, and I have no idea who the Connolly Cup will pick until I hear it with my own ears at their luncheon on Saturday, Dec. 6.

It's always a dramatic moment, and should be even moreso this year with such an outstanding class. A countdown like the above probably wouldn't be overly interesting in past years, where there have been fewer, clearer candidates for the award. This is clearly one of the best Connolly Cup top 10s in recent history.

IMPORTANT: There was one comment in particular on the above post which was pretty harsh on the Connolly Cup committee and its chairman, Dennis Sarow.

Now, the committee is certainly subject to criticism, just like The News will be when we release our Player of the Year and All-Western New York teams. Sarow and his committee work like crazy to see as many players as they can, to nominate as many deserving players as they can, and to pick the best top 10 that they can, purely for the love of the game and the history of the award.

So don't illegitimatize any points you might have by personally attacking members of the committee. Disagree with them all you want, debate the selections all you want. But let's keep this as productive and healthy a discussion as possible. Thanks.

---Keith McShea

After the turkey, some helpings of hoops

There are some helpings of hoops this weekend, with lots of tournament action tipping off even before the four Section VI football teams play their championship games on Saturday.

** We'll start with some action from Wednesday, actually. Maritime Charter School, in its first full season and its first season in Section VI, is off to a better-than-expected start after beating Falconer in the first round of the Pine Valley tournament and losing at McKinley, 78-69, on Wednesday. Maritime is coached by former Lancaster and Morrisville State player Eric Fenar, performed well at summer and fall leagues and features a front line of 6-2 junior Kilfoni Williams, 6-4 senior Steven Cordova and 6-5 senior Josh Wood.

With James Daye no longer at McKinley, the Macks were coached by Zaire Dorsey, McKinley's longtime JV coach, along with longtime city coaching guru Romeo McKinney.

** The most intriguing early gathering this weekend is at the Wilson Tip-Off as the host Lakemen, a team that returns a lot from last year's team that advanced to Buffalo State, takes on South Park and new coach Tim Delaney at 4 p.m. Friday. That's after the 2 p.m. matchup between Yale Cup toughie Lafayette and Lew-Port, which returns sharpshooter Robbie Seyler.

Niagara Catholic hosts a tip-off later on Friday night, with Burgard meeting the Charter School of Applied Technologies at 6 p.m. and Bennett taking on the host Patriots at 7:30 p.m.

Cardinal O'Hara takes part in the Vernon-Verona-Sherrill tip-off while Franklinville and Portville match up at the Allegany County IABBO Tournament at Cuba-Rushford.

** We're close to completing a day-by-day schedule which will be permanently on our site. Thanks to all coaches who have sent in information. For those that haven't: send rosters and schedules to kmcshea@buffnews.com or fax to 849-4587 as soon as possible. Thanks.

** An alumni note: Last year's Player of the Year, Niagara Falls' Rahshon Tabb is in the starting lineup for Central Florida Community College. Although I'm pretty sure the story has Tabb's weight (230!) wrong.

** HAPPY THANKSGIVING my fellow high school sports turkeys!   

---Keith McShea

Thanksgiving flashback: All-time All-WNY team

Something to chew on while you're digesting, if that makes any sense.

A year ago today we released the 50th anniversary All-Western New York football team. It's worth another look, perhaps especially after this historic season for Section VI, one in which the Connolly Cup top 10 is perhaps the deepest it has been in a decade.

Here's a link to the stories in the series and much more facts and figures regarding the history of the All-WNY football team.

---Keith McShea

Research material: State football finals

Today's News has a story on Southwestern and Maple Grove's trip to the state football finals. Coming Friday is a story on Sweet Home and Saturday I'll have one on Orchard Park.

Here's some links and such that helped our research.

A stat-stuffed preview of all five finals on the bottom of this maxpreps.com story is a must-click.

I think I've linked this before, but the Maple Grove football site is tremendous.

By now the brackets are all but complete, but those helmets sure are cool.

• • •

Class AA

** The Monroe-Woodbury team site includes a whole lot, from which hotel the team is staying at, to how the fans are expected to conduct themselves, to several news reports about the team, to the full game video of the state semifinal win over New Rochelle.

** The Middletown Record is the home newspaper for Monroe-Woodbury. Here's their sports home page, but their top-notch, hip-lookin' high school home page, entitled Varsity845, is what you want to check out (845 is the long-distance exchange for the Middletown area).

Among a lot of features there are video highlights, including a nice package reviewing of the state semifinal win (it boils down the game-long footage cited above). There's a "M-W Championship Game Center" on the home page with several key links (roster, game story, finals preview, photos, video, even directions to the Carrier Dome).

It also includes "Cheer Cards" that fans can print out. I know newspapers print out cards like that for pro sports, so I suppose it's fine to provide them. It's just a little odd to see the links for cheer cards grouped with links to stories and coverage. Some separation between the coverage and the rah-rah stuff would probably be appropriate.

** To the stories: Read about how Monroe-Woodbury won its semifinal, its big defensive play, a preview of the final and a feature on its coaching staff.

Key sentences:

From the coaching feature: "After Monroe-Woodbury's defense got torched by West Genesee's passing game [42-21] in the 2007 state final, [defensive coordinator Bernie] Connolly changed schemes. The Crusaders now use four linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs — adding a guy in the secondary and taking away a linebacker."

From the preview: "We've been to the field," said M-W linebacker James Boyd. "The noise level is very high. There should be less fans than last year, because West Genesee was so close and this team is from Buffalo. So that should be more on our side."

From the game story: "Monroe-Woodbury's first-half defense was tremendous Saturday night, blocking two punts — with the first leading to a touchdown." OP's Cameron Hicks got a piece of three punts against Binghamton, including a crucial block in the third quarter.

** Also definitely worth checking out is the opposing view in the New Rochelle game story at LoHud.com. Definitely read both and watch the final play on the various highlight packages.

• • •

Class A

Here's an Albany Times-Union's story about how the Burnt Hills community is rallying around its Spartans, including a restaurant called The Millstone run by Cory Masten.

Key sentences: "Saturday night, all the TV sets at The Millstone will be on Time Warner Sports to watch the game and Masten will be running a special on wings for 12 cents each — representing the Spartans' 12 victories. 'Hopefully, they'll be 13 cents by the time they come back,' Masten said."

The T-U did a feature on Connor Hadcock, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound guard/linebacker. Should be interesting to see what happens when he and 5-11, 225-pound junior running back/linebacker Deshanaro Morris collide. 

Here's the T-U's game story on Burnt Hills' come-from-behind, 14-13 win thanks to a game-winning final drive against Nyack.

Key sentence: "Facing potentially the final drive of his career, Layton directed an 11-play drive featuring five passes and six runs. The final run came on an option run for Layton, who took the ball left and fought his way through three defenders for the tying score."

Here's the Saratogian game story and an analysis about its final drive. Key quote from the game story, from Burnt Hills quarterback Paul Layton: “We all have shirts that say ‘Not Satisfied' and that describes our team. Right now, we’re not satisfied.”

• • •

Class C

A top-notch high school site from downstate is Varsity Central, part of LoHud.com and the Journal News of Westchester County. Included is a Varsity Kickoff football-only section which includes a ton of info, including:

The game story of Croton-Harmon's 23-14 state semifinal victory over Saranac Lake.

Key facts: The game probably shouldn't have been nearly as close, not with Croton controlling the ball for nearly 32 minutes and rushing for 394 yards on 68 carries. Croton led only 7-6 at the half despite running 44 plays to Saranac Lake's 11.

Great quote: "You should have heard me at halftime. It was 'bleep, bleep, bleep, bleep, bleep,' " Croton coach John Catano said.

Croton-Harmon is practicing indoors to prepare for the Carrier Dome. Key sentences: " 'Talking about [the dome] and seeing it are two different things,' Catano said. 'Hopefully they won't be star-struck." Great teams have been psyched out in the past."

Here's a feature on C-H senior Dan Luntz, a big fullback at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds.

Key paragraph: "Luntz spends most games grinding out yards between the tackles, dutiful work that opens running lanes on the perimeter for [quarterback Nick] Mainiero, [speedy backs both named Tyler] Dorien and Keppler. He also protects the back of Mainiero, his best friend since fifth grade, who moves around the pocket as Luntz keeps pass rushers off his tail."

• • •

Class D

The Plattsburgh Press Republican did a very accurate take on Maple Grove, so Moriah should know what it is up against.

Key sentence: "It has been boom or bust in football for the Maple Grove Red Dragons."

As for what Maple Grove is up against? It's a very run-heavy attack detailed in this story, which includes 6-foot, 185-pound fullback/linebacker Jim Carlson.

Key sentence: "The 2008 Moriah Vikings have established their identity — the running game — and no one has figured out how to stop it yet."

Key scouting report sentences: "The play action is effective in two-point conversion situations, as well. Teams expect the Vikings to go to their bread and butter with just a couple yards to go, but Moriah sees it as a perfect opportunity to pass. It works almost every time."

Here's how Moriah ran to the finals: a 21-6 win over Tuckahoe in the semifinals.

• • •

I'll have my picks posted here Saturday morning, and we'll have live updates here throughout the day as well as during Sunday's Class AA final.   

---Keith McShea

Four in the final -- who wins?

Never before has Section VI had this many chances to win a state football championship.

But how many titles? Who has the best shot?

Having four teams playing in the Carrier Dome has never happened before, but here's a little more perspective. Prior to this year, Section VI had a total of four teams playing for state titles in the 2000s combined. In the previous 25 state championship years, there was only one time when Section VI sent three teams to the dome (all three lost), and only four times when it sent a pair of teams. 

The best finish for Section VI at the state championships was two titles, and it only happened once: Lackawanna (Class B) and Maple Grove (D) both won in 1998.

Here's a look at the all-time results of Section VI in the state football tournament. 

How many teams will make the championship game, and which team has the best shot?

I'll have my votes and much more coming soon.

---Keith McShea

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About Prep Talk

Keith McShea

Keith McShea

Keith McShea has covered high school sports at The News since his hiring in 1999. The 1995 University at Buffalo graduate and Long Island native (North Babylon Bulldogs) covers — and live blogs — everything from scrimmages to state championships & helps head The News' All-Western New York selections.

@KeithMcSheaBN | kmcshea@buffnews.com

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