SYRACUSE - More than two years ago, the Southwestern Trojans made a vow to themselves.
Saturday afternoon they delivered on that promise.
Senior Zack Sopak threw four touchdown passes, senior Levi Bursch scored three TDs and junior Nick Austin tallied a pair as the top-ranked Trojans (13-0) claimed their second straight New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class C football championship by downing Bronxville of Section 1, 40-14, at the Carrier Dome on the campus of Syracuse University.
Southwestern’s Will Sleggs makes a run after a catch by dragging a Bronxville tackler during the Trojans’ Class C state championship victory at the Carrier Dome on Saturday. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J photo by Scott Kindberg
Sopak threw TD strikes of 26 and 7 yards to Bursch, 28 and 6 yards to Austin, junior John Mistretta added a 4-yard scoring run and Bursch tacked on a 31-yard burst to highlight a game in which Southwestern tallied 27 second-half points to win going away.
''It's unbelievable,'' Southwestern coach Jay Sirianni said. ''The story that goes with it is incredible.''
For it was after a loss to Fredonia in 2007 that eliminated the Trojans from the Section 6 playoffs that they gathered in the locker room and declared that they weren't about to let that happen again.
As the curtain closes on the 2009 season, they haven't.
''I hadn't heard it all year until this week,'' Sirianni said. ''They were basically saying, 'Remember the promise, remember the vow that you made.'''
Bronxville won't forget it either.
Although the Broncos dominated in plays (71-47) and time of possession (28:33-19:27), they were unable to capitalize on several outstanding scoring chances and had difficulty defending Southwestern's passing attack.
''They were playing a (six-man) front against our spread (offense), giving us man-to-man coverage on the outside, so we were going to throw the ball,'' Sirianni said. ''We came out and threw and we hurt them with that. Once they started dropping some guys back, we were able to run the ball. It comes back to balance.''
Balance on the field.
Balance in the classroom.
Balance at home.
That's been Sirianni's philosophy since he took over the program in 2003. Since then, the Trojans are 67-10 and join Jamestown (three), Maple Grove (two) and Randolph (two apiece) as area teams with multiple state titles.
''We hope that our success as a football team and as a program will reflect and be a role model for other programs around the state,'' said senior Will Sleggs, who caught four passes for 153 yards, made 11 tackles and intercepted a pass.
The blue print has worked.
''I'm impressed with how together our team is and how well we work together and share the credit,'' said Bursch, who received the sportsmanship award. ''It doesn't matter who is 'the guy,' in a game. All that matters is we won.''
The first half was close. Sopak, the game's most valuable player, connected on TD passes of 28 and 26 yards to Austin and Bursch respectively to build a 13-0 lead. But Bronxville, led by junior quarterback Jack Near closed the gap to 13-7 when he dove into the end zone on a keeper as time expired in the second quarter. It appeared that his knee was down at the 3-yard line, but the play was ruled a touchdown.
The momentum seemed to favor the Broncos as they headed to the locker room at intermission, but someone forgot to inform Southwestern.
On the first possession of the second half, the Trojans moved 55 yards, highlighted by a 17-yard Sopak-to-Sleggs pass, a 26-yard Sopak run and Sopak's 7-yard touchdown pass to Bursch.
''(Sopak) was under duress, but he'got patience and he's faith,'' Sirianni said. ''Johnny Mistretta did a nice job blocking out there. ... He just needs a little bit of time and our receivers will get open.''
Austin did on Southwestern's next possession and he caught a 6-yard TD pass from Sopak on a pretty ''slip screen.''
''We scored twice on slip screens,'' Sirianni said. ''They were the right calls at the right time and that was just because that's what they were giving us.''
Trailing 26-7, Bronxville responded with a touchdown on Brian Murphy's 1-yard run, but that was the last time the Broncos would find the end zone.
''What we did at halftime was we needed to attack a little more and get them off-balance,'' Sirianni said. ''We stress balance, not just offensively, but defensively, too, and we wanted to get them off balance. That's what we've been doing the last two years. Balance, balance, balance.''
Courtesy of its strong second half defense - Ryan Buzzetto (16 tackles), Sleggs (11) and Jake Currie (eight, including two sacks) were the headliners on that unit - the Trojans began to pull away in the fourth quarter. Mistretta scored on a 4-yard run and Bursch on a 31-yard burst, courtesy of an outstanding block by Mistretta.
After that, it was time for the Southwestern faithful to celebrate.
''I don't smile a whole lot,'' Sirianni said as a grin creased his face, ''but I have nothing to say about that. I couldn't be more satisfied. I'm just so happy for our guys and I'm proud of them. It's just unbelievable what they've accomplished the last two years.
''Southwestern football 20 years ago was a struggle to win games and make it to (the Section 6 championship game) and now, two years here and winning it both times, it's unbelievable. For everybody who's ever played at Southwestern, they should be proud and everybody in our community should be proud.''
Added Sopak, who completed 8-of-16 passes for 220 yards, including a 65-yarder to Sleggs: ''The legacy is we kept our word. I can't describe how this feels. It's awesome.''