This was one dreary day. Started that way, middled that way, ended only slightly better. One of those cold Lake Erie rains soaked the football field for the final game of the Southwestern High School team. That was the weather, and the game had a foul feel. Bigger, stronger, faster is hard to overcome on most venues of play, and that was certainly the case as the Trojans took the field against a superior Cleveland Hill team. But hope springs in young hearts, right up until seven first half turnovers tramps it into the mud. In the face of a 44-0 half-time deficit, probably record-setting if you choose to keep such stats, the only thing left was the second half, and not much else. The overmatched Trojans won that mini-contest, but the season still ended, that and the career for the senior players. This is how the world of most sports work; happened all over Section VI last week, will happen again all over the state next week, but that’s only retrospect. Endings in the rear view mirror are still final. Only one team gets to win the last game of every sport season (B-bowls and consolations notwithstanding). Here’s what I wrote a few years ago for a talented and fortunate Trojan football team that did win the last game.
There’s a reason why Disney makes formulaic movies. It’s because they sell.
This was just about the perfect ending to a pretty darned good story (though not if you’re from Bronxville, which surely had a story too). Certainly from the grandstands, and I would bet from the sideline too. It had all the elements; intrigue, a good plot, worthy-multi-dimensional protagonists, villains (hint, they were wearing stripes that made them look fat), and a dénouement to die for. It had an all-star cast with a few stand-out performances, a few twists and turns, but the ending was comfortable and according to script.
The Southwester Trojans, the #1 seed in Class C High School football for a whole lot of months now, wrote the script for their second straight state championship. Fueled by huge plays on both sides of the ball, they kept their fans in suspense, letting the drama build until into the 4th quarter, when they stepped on the gas pedal and pulled away from the Bronxville Broncos. Though not reflected in the 42-14 final score, plenty of fingernails got plenty of chewing on Saturday afternoon in the Syracuse Carrier Dome.
Zack Sopak did his thing and garnered MVP awards for the game, throwing for 220 yards and 4 touchdowns. Will Sleggs turned is an astounding all-around performance with 4 catches for 153 yards (including a 65-yarder that flipped the field when Sopak, with his heels in his own end-zone, hit him in stride with a 47 yard bomb dropped down a chimney), 11 tackles and a timely pick with B-ville driving for the tying score…as key a set of football plays as you are likely to see in a game this big. Ryan Bedzutto with 16 tackles of slippery Broncos, Jake Currie with two sacks, Johnny Mistretta picking up every loose rusher, and, at least according to rumors traveling around the Carrier Dome, one big smile by coach Jay Sirianni.
Let the comparisons start and let them start with the high school class system. Randolph (state champs in Class D) faithful are waking up this morning and wondering, no believing, their team would find a way to beat Southwestern (just as Maple Grove did last year during their championship run), and Southwestern fans today are wondering what would keep these Trojans from winning every game they play against ANY team, class be damned. It’s a fun and meaningless exercise that takes nothing away from winning a state title.
To the players on both Trojan teams, the ones whose season ended abruptly and the one that didn’t, I throw out this distinction and this challenge. Football (heck, sports in general) is a great builder of character. Both the higher you rise, and the lower you go, it will expose you in ways that you won’t easily forget, but that you can use. Educators, the best coaches, call it a teaching point. Let this game and this experience never be the greatest achievement of your life. Let this be only one thing you look back on that makes you a great person.
To read more of Bill Burk’s reflections, astute observations and a rant or two on the wide world of sports, visit www. jamestowngazette.com and click on Bill Burk’s page. The Jamestown Gazette is proud to present our county’s most creative and original writers for your enjoyment and enlightenment.