Their practice complete, the Randolph Cardinals lined up at the goal line nearest the scoreboard at Southwestern Central School's Charles A. Lawson Field on Tuesday evening and, when the whistle sounded, sprinted 100 yards to the other end zone.
Yes, the teenagers from Cattaraugus County have been on quite a run in the last month, one that has taken them from Randolph to Orchard Park and from Buffalo to Rochester.
Their next trip begins this afternoon when they board a bus that will transport them to Syracuse and, ultimately, to the Carrier Dome for a date in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class D championship football game at noon on Friday.
Randolph coach Pat Slater, bottom; junior quarterback Mitchell Maycock, above left; junior linebacker Cody Oldro, above right; and the rest of the Cardinals football team leave this afternoon for Syracuse in anticipation of Friday’s New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class D championship game. Kickoff is at noon. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J photos by Scott Kindberg
On this holiday, the Cardinals (10-2) have plenty for which to be thankful. Not only are they making their third trip to the title game - they won in 2005 and 2009 - but they are also enjoying the ride after starting the season 1-2.
"This group has been so much fun,'' assistant coach Brent Brown said. "They like each other, they want each other to succeed and it's been a blast... You look forward to it every single day coming to practice, because it's a fun group of kids."
Winners of nine in a row, including last week's 7-6 west semifinal victory over Tioga, the Cardinals' "fun" will continue tomorrow when they take on Tuckahoe of Section 1. The Tigers are a team that, like Randolph, is no stranger to the state's biggest stage.
Tuckahoe has won two state championships in its history - 2006 and 2010 - but this season has been a roller-coaster ride. The Tigers opened with four straight wins, including an impressive victory against last year's Class C state champion Dobbs Ferry, only to tie with winless Haldane and lose two straight games after that.
Since then, however, the Tigers (8-2-1) have run off four straight wins, including last week's 14-12 victory over Rensselaer in the state east semifinal. During that span, they have outscored their opponents, 128-36.
"Last week, (Tioga) was huge,'' Randolph coach Pat Slater said. "This week, Tuckahoe is more our size. I think they'll be a little bit quicker, so we'll have to get to people and maintain them.''
Senior quarterback Shyheim Nixon led Tuckahoe with 96 yards rushing on 13 carries and senior running back Nick Reisman added 70 yards and two touchdowns, which helped Tuckahoe overcome a 6-0 halftime deficit.
Nixon has run for 897 yards and scored six touchdowns and has passed for 270 yards and two TDs. Reisman is Tuckahoe's top runner with 1,115 yards and 16 TDs and Kayvon Reid has 373 yards and three scores.
"They're a wing-T team and you have to do your job against them,'' Brown said. "They will run that little 'belly' at you and get you stepping up and then, all of a sudden, (Nixon) keeps it and takes off around the corner. That gets your defensive backs coming up and then, all of a sudden, (Nixon) fakes to both and throws deep to the wing down the field.
"We have to read our keys and do our job. We did that really well for a few weeks, but last week (against Tioga), we had a couple guys get behind us and we can't let that happen this week."
Added Slater: "(The Tigers) do their jobs. They're pretty well-coached and they know where they're supposed to be, and they get there."
Tuckahoe will have its hands full, too.
The Cardinals have played magnificent football for more than two months, during which they've allowed just 66 points during their nine-game winning streak. Last week against Tioga, junior linebacker Cody Oldro amassed 18 tackles, while a host of teammates, including junior Nick Hettenbaugh (seven tackles, six assists, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery), senior Nathan Beaver (six tackles, three assists) and senior Dylan Faust (six tackles and three assists), came up huge.
Offensively, senior Jordan Dowiasz has turned in one of the best seasons by a running back in school history. Unofficially, he has rushed for 1,642 yards and scored 27 touchdowns to lead an offense that has received contributions from a number of sources. Junior quarterback Mitchell Maycock has thrown for 10 touchdowns, while juniors Chris Doubek and Jared Pitchford have combined for nearly 1,000 yards on the ground.
"The biggest thing I'll try to reiterate to them (Friday) is to make sure they do their job and make sure they play as hard as they can,'' Slater said. "I don't want them walking off the field and saying, 'I should have done this or I should have done that.' I want them to give it everything they have and go out and have fun."
"Fun" seems to be the operative word with this group, on and off the field.
To paraphrase former Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy was fond of saying, the Cardinals "have one more river to cross."
Noted Brown: "You play to get to the (Carrier) Dome, but when you get to the Dome, you don't go there to lose.''