Winning a championship and having one team make the state playoffs would be a great season for any Pop Warner organization.
The Utica Bulldogs far exceeded that standard, winning two league titles and having all three levels (Pee Wee, Junior Pee Wee and Mitey Mites) compete in states.
The Pee Wee squad finished the regular season at 5-2, but ran the table in the playoffs, avenging both losses in defeating Norwich 26-12 in the semis and eventually knocking off regular season champion and unbeaten Whitestown, 43-39, to win the Tri Valley Division 2 Championship.
The Bulldogs marched on before losing 34-6 to the Valley Stallions in the second round of the New York State Regional Championships at Valley Sports Complex in Syracuse.
“It was definitely the kids who got it done,” said head coach Andy Rafferty, who’s been in the program since its inception 20 years ago. “We had a rough start early and learned a lot throughout the season. The kids came together, didn’t have any issues, worked hard, and matured a lot during the season.”
Rafferty has enjoyed incredible success over the years, coaching all three levels. He coached a pee wee team to a state title (2014) and has made several other deep runs. However, this season stands out because of the success of all three levels.
“It was an exciting year for everyone involved, with everyone making the playoffs,” Rafferty added. “I believe it’s the first time we’ve all made it to the championship game in the same season. It was very exciting.”
Possibly the most dominant of all the Bulldogs teams was their Mitey Mite 1 team. The team coached by Ernie McCovery and Darwin Warmack dominated the regular season by posting shutouts in every game en route to an unbeaten record and a Tri Valley Division 2 title.
The Bulldogs went on to the state tournament and blanked the Watertown Giants 30-0 in the first round. In their final game, the Bulldogs met their match and lost 38-0 to a tough Geddes squad.
Utica fielded a second Mitey Mite team, composed entirely of first-year players. The team surprised everyone by losing just two games all season.
The Junior Pee Wees also had a memorable season behind head coach Justin Pearson, finishing 5-2 in the regular season. The Bulldogs avenged an earlier defeat by knocking off rival New Hartford in the first round of the league playoffs. In the TVL championship game, Utica fell short of a the league title, falling to champion Central Valley Academy.
The runner-up finish gave Utica a berth in the state playoffs. In the state quarterfinals, Utica blanked the Watertown Giants 13-0. The Bulldogs’ season came to an end in the semifinals with a 26-0 loss to Guilderland at Bleecker Stadium in Albany.
Paris Pearson, president of the Utica Bulldogs, and vice president Tito Colon have worked hard to grow the organization, while ensuring that it will continue to thrive in the future.
“We serve over 150 children between our football and cheer participants,” Pearson said. “With an organization this large, it takes the hard work and dedication of many, in all different capacities and roles to ensure continued success.
“This has been an amazing season. The children have truly embraced the moto of “Hardwork! Dedication!” (which they yell often). This year they left it all on the field every game, which has contributed to this successful season. They also chant “Who are we? Bulldogs. What do we do? Win.” (which was coined by our youth, and gives them the motivation to keep working for it.)
“Lastly, if you are ever at a Bulldogs practice you will likely hear them breakdown with “1, 2, 3: Bulldogs. 4, 5, 6: Family.” And the fact that these kids consider each other family, helps them lay it all on the line, not for themselves, but for each other. It has been an amazing season of football to watch, so much fun, and we couldn’t be more proud of these kids and the coaching staff. The wins are awesome, and they kids are having fun, which is what it is all about (as cliche as that is).”
Congratulations to the entire Utica Bulldogs organization.
Utica Bulldogs Pee Wee
Team: Vito Arcuri, Jeffrey Austin, Desmend Brown, Charles Bryant, Colon Bumbolo, Jason Butler, Kamal Cisson-Ali, Denisio Colon, Damonte Cook, Joseph Gentile, Darnell Graves, Duane Hayes, Javier Hayes, Laron Jones, Treshawn Patterson, Jaury Peralta, Jihad Perkins, Rotavion Smith, Silas Watson, Jalil Woodard.
Coaches: Andy Rafferty (HC), Tom Monroe.
Utica Bulldogs Junior Pee Wee
Team: Jaden Billins, Salvatore Borruso, Jahquan Bowes, Jamir Bowles, Jamir Brooks, Cartier Brown, Corey Brown, Jazeir Brown, Dominique Cook, Nathaniel Francis, Anthony Giovinazzo, Jerquell Henderson, Janarious Howard, Jonathan Jackson, Rishon Joseph, Morice Lee, Jaquel Phillips, Quadir Pinkney, David Searcy, Nathaniel Smith, Adrian Sullivan, Ja’Vion Thomas, Maeleeke Warner, Mekhi Wheeler, Shiymir Williams, Anthony Willis Jr.
Coaches: Justin Pearson (HC), Mike Billins, Jason Pearson and Romell Ponder.
Utica Bulldogs Mitey Mites
Team: Dominic Bumbolo, Jaidyn Butler, Zaumar Carter, Donato Colon, Jeramiah Felder, Andre Gowe, Joshaun Henderson, Jayden Ivey, Jordon Jackson, Deaquan Lanier, Michael Olivadoti, Jai Phillips, Jayden Phillips, Walter Phillips, Daniel Ramos, Dmarco Santiago, Michael Sauerhafer, Hassan Sukunda-Muhamma, Logan Thomas, Edgardo Torres.
Coaches: Darwin Warmack (HC), Ernest McCovery.
Team Parent: Shannon Bumbolo. Equipment: Jennifer Olivadoti.