CICERO – One play can completely change the momentum of a game.
Friday night it was Whitesboro senior wideout Pat Galer’s incredible one-handed diving catch on 4th-and-29 that sparked the Warriors in their 45-18 victory over Union-Endicott in a Class A regional final at Cicero-North Syracuse High School.
“I didn’t think I was going to get to it,” Galer said of his game-changing play. “I still wasn’t sure when it was in the air, but I was going to give it all my effort and was able to come down with it. I think it settled us in and gave us a ground point to work from and we hit the gas pedal from there.”
Galer had just two catches for 68 yards, but both were spectacular and set up Mike Cirasuolo touchdown runs as the Warriors turned a tight game into a blowout in rolling into the New York State Final Four. Whitesboro head coach Tom Schoen is in his 43rd season and can’t remember many better catches than the one Galer made.
“The only other kid I can remember who could make that play was Mike Bunal,” Schoen said of his former star, who now is in the Colorado Rockies organization. “But that’s what Pat Galer does. He works on that in practice. When you have kids like Pat Galer and Mike Cirasuolo … it helps. Plus, this team has great chemistry.”
Whitesboro (11-0) and ranked No. 3 in the latest state poll, plays Greece-Athena (11-0) in a state semifinal at 8 p.m. next Friday back here at Cicero-North Syracuse High School. Greece-Athena (ranked No. 4 in the state) trounced Buffalo Bennett 41-12 Friday night. The winner of that game will play in the Class A state championship at 3 p.m. on Friday Nov. 25 at the Carrier Dome.
Cirasuolo finished with 143 yards and four touchdowns on 32 carries for the Warriors, who won their fourth regional title, and first since winning back-to-back championships in 2009-10.
Most of the first half was a battle of all-state running backs as Cirasuolo and Union-Endicott’s Josh Greenwood carried the offensive workload for their teams. Greenwood, a 6-1, 245-pound sledgehammer with nimble feet, finished with 207 yards and two touchdowns, and his 3-yard plunge gave the Tigers (6-5) a 6-0 with 9:38 remaining in the second quarter.
The Warriors immediately answered as Donte Filletti hit Galer on a 36-yard completion. On the catch, Galer outjumped the defender and hauled it in at Union-Endicott’s 22-yard line. Four plays later, Cirasuolo pounded in over the left side and Gary Casab’s extra point gave the Warriors a 7-6 advantage with 5:38 remaining in the half.
After an exchange of turnovers, Whitesboro’s defense held, and pressure by linebacker Matt Parkinson forced a two-yard punt and the Warriors took over on Union-Endicott’s 13-yard line with 1:20 remaining in the half. After two penalties and three straight incompletions, the Warriors faced a 4th-and-29 from the 33.
Whitesboro called on Galer, who ran a wheel route from the slot, fought off press coverage and chased down Filletti’s pass to haul it in with an outstretched right hand at the 1-yard line. On the next play, Cirasuolo pounded in over the right side with 48 seconds remaining to break the tie and give the Warriors a 14-7 lead and plenty of momentum entering halftime.
“It gave us a lot of juice,” Cirasuolo said of Galer’s circus catch. “We couldn’t get run game going, so we went to our stud receiver and he got it done. It really gave us a lot of momentum going into halftime.”
In the second half the Warriors’ defense and special teams forced five of the Tiger’s six total turnovers and quickly turned a tight game into a rout. Parkinson, Cirasuolo and David Camerota had interceptions for the Warriors, while Romello Rios, Giuseppe Mauro and Galer recovered fumbles.
“We just got more physical,” Whitesboro junior defensive end/tackle Christian Pawlowski said of slowing down Greenwood and Union-Endicott’s offense. “We knew what we were capable of and the linebackers filled and the defensive line stepped up like we are capable.”
After halftime it was all Whitesboro as Galer returned a punt 32 yards to the Tigers’ 13-yard line. Three plays later, Cirasuolo crashed in over right end and the extra point made it 21-6. The onslaught was just beginning as on Union-Endicott’s next play, Cirasuolo picked off a pass from quarterback Devon Hogan and returned it 29 yards to the Tigers’ 16. Four plays later, Filletti scored on a 1-yard keeper around right end and the rout was on for the Warriors.
Union-Endicott’s sloppy play aided in their demise as on two consecutive kickoffs, the Tigers misplayed the ball and Whitesboro recovered and quickly cashed the miscues into points. Giuseppe Mauro recovered the first misplay at the 21-yard line and Casab showed his leg strength in driving home a 34-yarder through a heavy wind to make it 31-6.
Romello Rios jumped on the next kickoff at the Tigers’ 27-yard line, and two plays later, Lucas Casab took a jet sweep 28 yards down the left sideline for another quick strike to help the Warriors build a 38-6 lead with just over three minutes remaining in the third quarter. It marked a 38-0 Whitesboro run in just under 15 minutes of game time.
“We started putting up points like it was nothing.” Galer said of the Warriors’ barrage in the third quarter.
Much of Whitesboro’s success as the game went on was due to making in-game and halftime adjustments.
“Our staff on offense and defense did a great job adjusting at the half,” Schoen said. “There were a lot of things we needed to do, and we did them. (Union-Endicott) came in with a new defense. They usually play a 40 and came in with a 50, so we had to adjust our blocking schemes.”
Cirasuolo, who added a fourth touchdown with 5:16 remaining, gave much of the credit to his coaches and blockers.
“It was a brutal battle in the first half and we made adjustments,” Cirasuolo said. “Our lines played better and we made plays. Most of my success is because of the line and backs leading me.”
It’s the first time Whitesboro has reached 11 victories in a season. The only thing missing in Whitesboro football’s storied history is a state title. They lost in their only appearance in the state final (1996). Now the Warriors are just two wins from their ultimate goal.
“Now there’s only four teams left and everyone else has packed it in,” Schoen said. “Everyone remaining has won two championships (sectional and regional) and the mountain gets really steep when you reach this point.”
Lucas Casab finished with 44 yards and Rios added 23 rushing yards on just three carries. Pierce Eynon added a late score for the Tigers.
Whitesboro 43, Union-Endicott 18
Union-Endicott 0 6 6 6—18
Whitesboro 0 14 24 7—45
U-E: Josh Greenwood 3 run (kick failed)
W: Mike Cirasuolo 7 run (Gary Casab kick)
W: Cirasuolo 1 run (Casab kick)
W: Cirasuolo 9 run (Casab kick)
W: Donte Filletti 1 run (Casab kick)
W: Casab 34 field goal
W: Lucas Casab 28 run (Casab kick)
UE: Greenwood 7 run (run failed)
W: Cirasuolo 3 run (Casab kick)
UE: Pierce Eynon 1 run (run failed)