By Nick Sardina
BINGHAMTON – The Whitesboro Warriors have avoided giving up big plays all season.
During Friday night’s state quarterfinal game, the Warriors couldn’t slow down Maine-Endwell’s early onslaught as the Spartans scored 28 points in the opening 12 minutes and rolled to a 42-7 victory at Alumni Stadium.
The Spartans (11-0) extended their amazing win streak to 62 games and are now two victories from a fifth straight state championship. Maine-Endwell, ranked No. 1 in the state, plays the winner of Saturday’s Brockport-Buffalo South Park game in a state semifinal at 8 p.m. next Friday at Cicero-North Syracuse High School. South Park is ranked third in the state, while Brockport is ranked 11th.
Whitesboro (9-2) was the last team to defeat the Spartans, with a 40-14 victory in the 2010 state quarterfinals, but had no answer early for Maine-Endwell’s big-play ability.
“It was very unlike us to give up the big plays,” Whitesboro head coach Tom Schoen said. “We gave up big plays early and we gave up points early. If you give up points early against a good team like that, it’s not easy to come back. … And then when you give up big plays early confidence becomes a big thing. ”
The Warriors weren’t completely overwhelmed physically, forcing numerous third-and-long situations. However, every time Maine-Endwell needed a big play in the first quarter, they came up with the goods.
“The preparation our team put in paid off,” Maine-Endwell head coach Matt Gallagher said. “We work hard all year round and it pays off when you need to make plays in crunch time. Early on, when we needed to make plays, we made them and built a big lead.”
On the first drive of the game, the Spartans, facing a 3rd-and-7, got on the board as senior quarterback Kyle Balmer threw a perfect ball to the right sideline for wideout Michael Palmer for a 33-yard catch and run for a touchdown. Whitesboro safety Jon Wheeler had good coverage, but Palmer, a 6-2, 180-pounder with great speed, made the catch at the 8-yard line and took it the rest of the way for a score.
On its next possession, the Spartans converted another third down into a long score as running back Kevin Barrett took an option pitch from Balmer 55 yards around right end and into the end zone. Balmer took the conversion in to give Maine-Endwell a 14-0 lead with 6:46 remaining in the opening quarter.
After another three and out by Whitesboro’s offense, Maine-Endwell extended its lead as Palmer hauled in a 36-yard over-the-shoulder grab on another perfectly-placed ball by Balmer to give the Spartans a 21-0 lead. The nightmare first quarter continued as three plays later Balmer picked off Whitesboro quarterback Donte Filletti’s pass and raced 55 yards for a touchdown to extend the lead to 28-0.
“We can’t let up big plays like that,” Whitesboro senior linebacker Collin Stewart said. “That gave them momentum, and when you give a good team like that momentum it’s tough to get it back.”
Balmer finished with two touchdown passes, a rushing touchdown and an interception return for a touchdown for the Spartans, who won their last three state titles in Class B after winning the Class A championship in 2011. Barrett led the way on the ground with 67 yards rushing.
As bad as the first quarter was for the Warriors, they still had their chances in the second quarter to make it a ball game. Twice Whitesboro drove deep into Maine-Endwell territory but couldn’t turn those drives into any points. The Warriors were stopped on four straight goal-to-go plays on one drive, then on their next possession, the Warriors stalled at the Spartans’ 16-yard line late in the first half.
On the opening possession of the third quarter, Whitesboro, behind tough running from junior tailback Mike Cirasuolo, drove from its own 33-yard line to Maine-Endwell’s 1-yard line. However, the Warriors fumbled away the opportunity and the Spartans drove 96 yards to extend their advantage to 36-0 on Balmer’s two-yard touchdown run and Barrett’s conversion run.
Cirasuolo led the Warriors with 73 yards on 21 carries. Senior Darnae Camp had 50 yards rushing and Stewart rushed three times for 30 yards, including the Warriors’ lone touchdown – a 16-yard score midway through the fourth quarter. Senior cornerback Brent Schultz had two fumble recoveries for the Warriors, who played pretty solid defensively after the first quarter, holding the Spartans scoreless for over two quarters.
As decisive as the final score was, Maine-Endwell held just a 333-214 advantage in total yards. But, the big plays early in the game provided the Spartans the luxury of playing it safe on offense, while making Whitesboro earn every yard when they had the ball.
“We had a difficult time moving them off the ball on offense,” Schoen said. “I thought we did a better job in the second half, and we had chances to score, we missed some chances and fumbled at the one. … All the credit to them, they are a great program and a great team.”
Gallagher was proud of his team’s performance and happy to move on for another week. He didn’t give beating the last team to defeat his Spartans much weight.
“The fact we beat a traditionally great team and a well-coached team means a lot,” Gallagher said. “The fact they were the last team to beat us doesn’t mean anything. What matters to me is that we played well and beat a good football program.”
Despite falling in the state quarterfinals, the Warriors came together to win the eighth Section III title in program history and they enjoyed the ride.
“It was an awesome season,” Stewart said. “It was a lot of fun playing with a group of friends that I’ve grown up with. It meant a lot to the entire community. It was a pretty special team.”
Schoen gave credit to his coaches and his players.
“With the state playoffs the way they are, you are going to lose your last game unless you win the state title,” Schoen said. “This season was the best job I’ve seen by my staff. … Not many people expected us to be here. After the scrimmage, most people would say we’d be lucky to go 3-5 or 4-4 this season. But these kids kept working and getting better and my staff did a great job getting them ready.”
Maine-Endwell 42, Whitesboro 7
Wboro 0 0 0 7—7
M-E 28 0 0 14—42
ME-Michael Palmer 33 pass from Kyle Balmer (kick failed)
ME-Kevin Barrett 55 run (Balmer run)
ME-Palmer 36 pass from Balmer (Alec Greene kick)
ME-Balmer 55 interception return (Greene kick)
ME-Balmer 2 run (Barrett run)
W-Collin Stewart 16 run (Gary Casab kick)
ME-Micha Miller 8 run (run failed)
Nick Sardina is a writer for midyorksportsreport.com. Follow Nick onTwitter @nsardinamysr or on Facebook