EAST SYRACUSE Their fate had already been sealed long before. Yet the Sandy Creek Comets, playing for pride and community, fought gallantly until the final whistle Friday night.
And even though a 54-13 loss to Tioga in the state Class D quarterfinals at East Syracuse-Minoa High School will take some time to forget, Sandy Creek can look back on an historical season and say, We did good.
Tioga (10-1), the Section 4 champion, proved too big, too physical and too fast for the Section 3 champion Comets.
The Tigers earned a second consecutive regional crown by grinding out 400 rushing yards and manhandling the Comets on both sides of the ball.
Afterward, Sandy Creek coach Mike Stevens perhaps summed up the difference between the two teams. That was a team fighting for a state championship, Stevens said. We were a team fighting for a sectional championship.
Sandy Creeks first Section 3 crown came in an emotional victory over Westmoreland last Friday at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse. Stevens said his players were physically and emotionally drained after that win, and that a poor week of practice led him to believe his kids werent fully prepared for a team as strong as Tioga.
I think we did all we could last week, and it was hard. But Im not sure we could stay with them on our best day, Stevens said.
Senior running back Tyler Spires rushed for 195 yards on 16 carries and scored three touchdowns for Tioga, which advances to play Randolph of Section 6 in the state semifinals next weekend.
Tioga scored the first four times it touched the ball, and led 54-0 after three quarters before coach Nick Aiello went to mass substitutions.
Sandy Creek (10-1) salvaged a measure of pride by scoring two fourth-quarter touchdowns, albeit versus the Tigers second unit. Still, it may have laid the groundwork for next season for a young Comets club.
No doubt this will spur the underclassmen to work harder than ever to get back here next year, said junior linebacker Jake Benedict, who was chosen the Sandy Creek MVP. We saw in person what it will take to get to the next level.
Things started badly for the Comets and never got better.
Sandy Creeks Cameron Hall fumbled on the first play from scrimmage and Tioga recovered at the Sandy Creek 46 yard-line.
After gains of 20 and 18 yards by Spires, freshman Jesse Manuel swept left end for an 8-yard touchdown, and the rout was on after Manuel also ran in the 2-point conversion.
Sandy Creek couldnt handle the ensuing kickoff, Tioga recovered, and Spires scored on a 7-yard run seven plays later. Manuels second conversion made it 16-0 just over four minutes into the game.
Manuel tacked on a 47-yard scoring run and quarterback Nick Vergason scored from a yard out late in the quarter to make it 30-0.
We could tell they were big and powerful on film, Benedict said. But I dont think we were ready for their quickness off the ball and the speed of their backs.
Tioga ran from a pure power formation, utilizing a full-house backfield and often a seven-man line. The Tigers threw only one pass and it was intercepted.
Its a variation of the Wishbone, which we used the past few seasons, Spires said. Because we have so many good backs, and our line is so athletic, we feel like we can run on anybody.
Manuel added a 3-yard TD run in the second quarter, and Spires scored on runs of 5 and 57 yards in the third quarter before departing for the night.
Mason McNitt finally put Sandy Creek on the scoreboard midway through the fourth quarter on a 7-yard run. And backup quarterback Kyle Fayette hit Justin Bonney on a 27-yard scoring pass with two minutes remaining.
We were hit hard with sickness (flu) this week, and that really hurt our practices, Stevens said. Its tough for it to end this way, but these kids should be very proud of what they accomplished and meant to their school and community.