SANDY CREEK Coming off a huge 21-19 win over defending Section 3 Class C football champion Westmoreland last Friday, the Sandy Creek players and staff looked at the film that tight game on Monday and realized one important thing.
Even though we won, There were a whole bunch of things we could correct, coach Mike Stevens said. The kids said, we can play better, and thats kind of been our motto all season. We (are) really focused on the task at hand.
This weeks task is just as important as beating Westmoreland to seize first place in Class D Central. A win at home over Oswego County rival Pulaski tonight and the Comets will claim the outright league title and earn one of the top three seeds for the Class D playoffs, which begin next week.
A loss and Sandy Creek (6-0 overall, 4-0 division) finishes in a three-way tie with Westmoreland (4-2, 3-1) and Pulaski (4-2, 3-1), and then must rely on a tiebreaker for sectional seeding.
Its all right there for us, said Stevens, a former Sandy Creek running back who is in his 14th year at his alma mater. Our first goal was to win our division. The next is to make a run in the sectionals. The kids realize what is at stake on Friday, and they have worked really hard since day one for this opportunity.
Stevens realized early on this was a special group. Perhaps not as talented others, but certainly the tightest, the most dedicated and easily the most coachable.
In his preseason synopsis, Stevens said, This is a great group of young men. The team chemistry and pride in the program really stand out.
Six games into the season, the veteran coach is even more impressed with what his team has accomplished.
This is truly a team in the highest sense, he said. We dont have a star, but we do have 30-some kids who play their hearts out and make contributions.
To emphasize that fact to a visiting reporter, Stevens brings the entire team over to discuss what has been a magical season so far.
Words such as family, discipline, pride, toughness, togetherness and conditioning are shouted out in unison. To a man, the Comets believe they are playing for each other, and that relying on the guy next to you has made this team successful.
To that end, Stevens has had many different players step up and make big plays on both sides of the line. Almost every kid thats played has made a contribution, he said.
For instance, when leading rusher, senior Wyatt Bush, went down with knee injury, fellow senior Mason McNitt stepped into the featured back role and ran for a career-high 182 yards and a big touchdown against Westmoreland.
Junior quarterback Tyler Swarthout, who had thrown just 21 passes in the first five games, completed a key 84-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Cameron Hall for what turned out to be the winning score. Swarthout also kicked three pressure-packed extra points for the winning margin.
Then theres the defense. Sandy Creek has posted two shutouts, including back-to-back whitewashes against high-scoring Port Byron (41-0) and a tough Oriskany team (12-0).
The Comets stopped Westmoreland on a 2-point conversion try late in Fridays game to preserve the win.
Junior linebackers Jake Benedict and John Shirley are the leading tacklers, but Stevens said its truly been a team effort on defense with all 11 players doing their jobs.
Thats what makes this group so good, Stevens said. Nobody cares who scores the touchdowns or makes the tackles, as long as we get the job done.
Stevens said his team wouldnt be in this position without his young kids pushing the veterans every day.
Our second group has really been the key, he said. Theyve pushed our first group to work harder and strive to improve every day.
Ten sophomores are on the 36-man roster, as well as freshman two-way lineman Zac Akey. Stevens said its as talented a group as hes ever had.
They dont play like sophomores and freshmen, he said. Thats a tribute to their dedication in the offseason and their work ethic since the first day of practice.
Outside of Bush, the Comets have also been relatively healthy. The players said the preseason conditioning program and off-season work in the weight room are important factors in that.
Unfortunately, Bush has a torn ACL and will miss the rest of the season. Were playing for Wyatt the rest of the season, said Stevens.
Stevens said Pulaski, which lost to Westmoreland 7-6, is a formidable foe. But these kids are so focused and determined, they just believe in themselves and what they can accomplish.