As the Randolph Cardinals were being run through a practice by head coach Pat Slater at one end of Charles A. Lawson Field on the Southwestern Central School campus late Wednesday afternoon, Tyler Hind and Josh and Jacob Brown were engaged in their own brand of pickup football at the scoreboard end.
Their rules weren't immediately clear from a distance, but what was certain was that the boys - all 12 and younger and sons of Cardinal assistant coaches - were enjoying themselves.
It's been that way in Cardinal Land for, oh, the last couple of decades.
Randolph lineman Jimmy Carr, left, celebrates with running back Jordan Dowiasz, who had just scored a touchdown against Avon in last week’s Class D Far West Regional.
P-J photo by Scott Kindberg
And while the personnel changes, the success of the program, led by Slater since 1979, continues to endure from one generation to the next.
So, really, it isn't surprising that Randolph, New York's second-ranked Class D team, is once again playing deep into November in pursuit of its third state championship in the last eight seasons.
The chase continues at 5 p.m. today when the Cardinals (9-2) meet top-ranked Tioga of Section 4 (10-1) in the semifinal at Sahlen's Stadium in Rochester. The winner advances to the state championship game at noon Nov. 23 at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.
Randolph earned its berth in the final four by virtue of a 34-14 victory over Avon, while the Tigers routed Sandy Creek of Section 3, 54-13.
But while Randolph has won eight sectional titles and two state championships in Slater's tenure, the Tigers' biggest successes have come in the last two seasons under third-year coach Nick Aiello. The 2002 Allegany-Limestone graduate guided Tioga to its first sectional title in 30 years last season before falling to Letchworth, 14-6, in the semifinals.
This season, the Tigers have only picked up where they left off last year.
In their seven wins through the sectional quarterfinals, the margin of victory was 35 points against teams that posted a collective 24-35 record. In their last two games, though, they've been even better, winning by 44 and 41 points.
''They're huge, they're big, they like to run you over and they're physical,'' Slater said. ''They've got a big running back and a couple quick guys, and they fake really well.''
Senior halfback Tyler Spires (5-foot-10, 205 pounds) has rushed for more than 1,800 yards this season, including 196 yards and three touchdowns in last week's victory over Sandy Creek. As a team, Tioga is averaging 402 rushing yards behind a huge offensive line.
In many ways, the Tigers sound a lot like the Cardinals.
Against Avon, Randolph scored on its first four possessions and finished with 377 yards on the ground, including 252 by Jordan Dowiasz. The senior running back has rushed for 1,541 yards and scored 27 touchdowns for the season.
''He's improved a lot this year,'' Slater said. ''He's not just a runner. He's a running back and that's a big difference. Our line has finally come along, has opened some holes for him and he's turned it on.''
Juniors Jared Pitchford and Chris Doubek have combined for about 900 yards on the ground, and junior quarterback Mitchell Maycock has thrown for 10 touchdowns, six of them to junior Nate Beaver, but the key to Randolph's success starts up front.
Manning the offensive line are sophomore Michael Bowers, junior Cody Oldro, senior Ryan Styles, senior Jimmy Carr and junior Patrick Kibbe.
The Cardinals' defense is led by Oldro, who has 89 solo tackles and 16 assists. In its last eight games plus two quarters, Randolph has yielded just 60 points.
''Watching the kids improve and watching the smiles that come to their faces when they do it right (are the biggest satisfaction),'' Slater said. ''It's fun watching them. They're getting excited.''
Today's winner will face either Rensselaer or Tuckahoe in the state title game the day after Thanksgiving.