SYRACUSE – Championship teams can find different ways to win when what they do best isn’t working.
Whitesboro’s Warriors epitomized that during Saturday’s 17-7 victory over rival Indian River in the Section 3 Class A final at the Carrier Dome.
Whitesboro’s usual powerful rushing attack, led by all-state back Mike Cirasuolo, was held to 107 yards by Indian River’s swarming defense. However, Whitesboro countered with a big-play passing game that featured two huge touchdown connections from quarterback Donte Filletti and wideout Pat Galer.
“I knew if we were going to throw, we were going to throw deep,” said Galer, who was named the game’s most valuable player. “It felt great being able to show we can throw. It showed we are a diverse offense, and if they stop the run, we showed we can pass.”
It was a repeat championship for Whitesboro, and marks the 10th title for the program and head coach Tom Schoen, who is in his 43rd year coaching the Warriors. Whitesboro (10-0) – ranked No. 3 in the latest state poll – plays Union-Endicott (6-4) in a regional final at 8 p.m. Friday at Cicero-North Syracuse. Union Endicott defeated Vestal 16-12 Friday night to win the Section 4 title.
Filletti was 5 of 9 passing for 152 yards and touchdowns to Galer covering 61 and 27 yards. Galer finished with four catches for 140, two touchdowns and a leaping interception with 35 seconds remaining in the first half. Cirasuolo finished with 85 tough yards on 27 carries.
“We had to do what was working,” Filletti said. “Today it was the passing game. All that matters is to win the game. It’s great to win another sectional title.”
With Indian River’s defense stacked up and primed to stop Cirasuolo, Whitesboro turned to the passing game early and Filletti and Galer struck on the game’s first possession.
On a 2nd-and-12, Filletti hit Galer in stride down the right sideline for a 61-yard catch and run for a touchdown and Whitesboro led 7-0 just 1:55 into the game.
“It gave us a good momentum boost,” Filletti said. “It’s always good to get a lead and get our crowd all hyped up.”
The Warriors added a second-quarter 22-yard field goal by Gary Casab to extend its lead to 10-0 at the break. In addition to the field goal, Casab had another impactful performance, pinning Indian River deep on multiple occasions with well-struck punts and kickoffs.
Indian River (7-3) drove deep into Whitesboro territory on its second possession, but Whitesboro’s defense bowed its back and held on downs at the 10.
Whitesboro allowed a few big plays that helped Indian River’ double-wing attack pile up 255 rushing yards, but they came up big when they needed a stop. Aside from three long runs that accounted for 144 yards, Whitesboro’s defense, led by nose tackle Trevor Sleezer and linebacker Marc Eberley, did a good job making Indian River’s double-wing attack work for everything.
“I have a great defensive staff,” Schoen said. “My coaches work as hard as the kids do. They get the kids ready and the kids have played hard all year.”
After forcing Indian River to punt on its first possession of the second half, Filletti and Galer hooked up with another strike.
On the drive, Cirasuolo converted a key 3rd-and-1 by rambling over left end for 14 yards to give the Warriors a first down at Indian River’s 29. Two plays later, Galer sold a short route and was wide open when he corralled Filletti’s throw for an easy touchdown. Casab’s extra point extended the advantage to 17-0 with 2:28 remaining in the third quarter.
“It was a curl and go,” Filletti said. “Right when I saw the defender stop, I knew (Galer) was going to be wide open. I just made sure I didn’t overthrow him and just laid it in there.”
Galer knew immediately he once again beat Indian River’s coverage.
“I hit the fake and seen him bite on it,” Galer said. “I knew I had it.”
Schoen was proud of his quarterback and receiver and trusts his senior connection to come through when they need big plays.
“Players like Donte and Pat make coaches good coaches,” Schoen said. “When Mike is doing his thing we don’t have to use them much. Today, we figured we’d need to make plays passing and what we needed to happen, happened.”
Down 17-0, Indian River got the play they desperately needed as running back Kwazsi Gaddis went around left end, reversed field at his own 40 and outraced Whitesboro’s secondary for a 79-yard score to quickly close the deficit back to 10.
Whitesboro’s offense didn’t manage any points in the fourth, but worked the clock and the defense stifled Indian River’s attempt at a comeback. The final defensive blow for Whitesboro came when Eberley stripped Anthony Burris and Cirasuolo recovered at Indian River’s 47 with 3:05 remaining.
From there, Cirasuolo’s tough 8-yard run on 3rd-and-6 allowed Whitesboro to kneel down and begin the celebration.
Gaddis finished with 122 yards on 13 carries and Brandon Smith had 71 yards on nine carriers for Indian River, which lost 42-14 at home to Whitesboro on Sept. 23.
During that meeting, Cory Marsell’s team allowed Cirasuolo to rush for 239 yards and three touchdowns. Aside from Galer’s two touchdown receptions, Indian River’s defense executed about as well as Marsell could expect.
“You can’t allow big plays,” Marsell said. “Our gameplan was to rally to the ball, stop No. 48 and not allow big plays. I thought we stopped 48, but we just didn’t take care of the big plays part.”
Tom Schoen’s Warriors are going to enjoy another special title for a few days, before getting back to work.
“This time of year, you have to flush things out in a day or two and everyone has to get ready and set their sights on next week,” Schoen said.
Whitesboro 17, Indian River 7
Indian River 0 0 7 0—7
Whitesboro 7 3 7 0—17
W-Pat Galer 61 pass from Donte Filletti (Gary Casab kick)
W-Casab 22 field goal
W—Galer 27 pass from Filletti (Casab kick)
IR—Kwazsi Gaddis 79 run (Kade Smith kick)
Nick Sardina is a writer for midyorksportsreport.com. Follow Nick onTwitter @nsardinamysr or on Facebook. Contact him via email at