WHITESBORO, NY – The last two times the Whitesboro Warriors and the East Syracuse-Minoa Spartans met, the games had been decided by a grand total of eight points. From the outset of Friday night’s game at Chiz Frye Field, it certainly looked like the two teams were headed for yet another dramatic finish.
The Warriors’ running game made sure that didn’t happen, as the committee of Jeff Cubino, Zach Hoage and Lucas Casab ran roughshod over the Spartan defense all night long. When the dust finally settled, the Warriors had the statement win they needed, 41-0 over East Syracuse-Minoa.
“Our mindset this week was we were going to play as hard as we could,” Cubino–who rushed for 162 yards and three touchdowns on the night– said. “We weren’t going to take our foot off the gas.”
The Warriors seemed to be stuck in neutral to start the game, however, as they would allow the Spartans good field position after a muffed punt. Unfortunately for the visitors, they were only able to put together back-to-back four-play drives with nothing to show for it. Even more unfortunately for head coach Kevin DeParde and the rest of the Spartans, those three-and-out drives seemed to be the rule rather than the exception.
“We just made too many mistakes,” DeParde said. “They were certainly better than us tonight. They took advantage of it and we didn’t adjust well. We’re not a team that can dig ourselves out of a hole.”
The Warriors broke out the shovels quickly after the Spartans turned the ball over on downs deep in Whitesboro territory. Feeding East Syracuse-Minoa a steady diet of Cubino (he had carries on ten of the Warriors’ 12 plays on the drive, racking up 83 yards), the Warriors marched down the field almost at will on tover heir first scoring drive. They took almost six minutes off the clock, which culminated when Cubino blasted through the middle of the Spartans’ defensive line and into the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
“Our line, they were the key tonight,” Cubino said. “I wouldn’t have been able to run the way I did tonight without them. We all came together; we worked as a team.”
The two teams would trade turnovers – Whitesboro’s coming on downs from deep in Spartan territory – until the Warriors finally had a breakthrough. When they finally got it, they took full advantage after forcing another East Syracuse-Minoa punt. This time, it was senior Lucas Casab getting things started. After a minor setback, a holding penalty that moved them back to the Warriors’ 33-yard line, Casab went right to work, breaking off runs of 31, five and six yards to set up Cubino for his second touchdown of the night. The sophomore took the remaining ten yards on two carries, giving Whitesboro a 14-0 lead from ten yards out.
From there, the already-stout Warriors defense kept the desperation passing of the Spartans in check. They were able to get some yards near the end of the second quarter on the arm of senior quarterback Dante Coccagnia, Unfortunately, it was all for naught, as junior Nick Sardina was able to make a tip-drill interception to put an end to a long drive for the Spartans. From there, Whitesboro quarterback Joey Panuccio put on a passing clinic of his own, thtowing on all nine plays of the drive. Panuccio ended the drive in style as well, hurling the ball from 29 yards out and finding senior Tommy Morreale in the back of the end zone.
In all, 16 of the last 17 combined plays of the half were passes, with the Warriors taking full advantage, taking a 21-0 lead into the half. According to Cubino, that allowed the usually stoic Warriors to be cautiously optimistic heading into the locker room.
“Once the momentum was on our side, we were having a good time,” Cubino said. “We were enjoying each other, having a ball. [But] Coach told us anything could happen. We were going to go back into that game like it was 0-0.”
“We came with the energy you needed in the playoffs,” Whitesboro head coach Tom Schoen said. “The kids brought the energy and they executed well. It’s nice to see that energy.”
It certainly wouldn’t have stayed 0-0 for long, and the Warriors continued to give Schoen the energy he enjoyed from the opening kickoff to start the third quarter. Just 30 seconds into the second half, the Warriors’ usual workhorse in the running game, senior Zach Hoage, extended the lead even further. The senior needed only two runs of 16 and 49 yards to give the Warriors a 28-0 lead. The two teams would trade turnovers yet again before Hoage would outdo himself from just a couple of minutes before. This time, the senior only needed one play – a run of 81 yards – and 16 seconds to put the Warriors up 35-0 just four minutes into the second half.
On the other side, the defense continued to slam through the Spartans’ offensive line, giving Coccagnia no time to throw the ball and dropping their own workhorse – sophomore Mikai Combs for no gain or losses consistently. Meanwhile, the East Syracuse-Minoa offense – who up to that point, had only scored 40 points in their last five games combined – could not get out of their own way, punting twice and turning the ball over on downs twice.
Cubino would cap off the scoring with just three minutes left in the game, running through the exhausted Spartan defense almost on demand. He would break off runs of 25 and 20 yards in getting his fourth touchdown, taking just 40 seconds to put the team’s 40th point on the board. From there, the second string brought the game home, and when the siren on the scoreboard sounded, Chiz Frye Field exploded in joy, as their Warriors’ chances at a fourth straight Section III title were alive and well.
All in all, Whitesboro head coach Tom Schoen was very happy with the way the offense broke out. “We have been a little sticky on offense lately,” Schoen said (the usually-potent Warriors offense had not scored more than 21 points over the last three weeks). “The kids did a great job preparing this week. We spent all week working on the little things. The whole thing was that the kids came together. I’m not satisfied, but I’m happy…It was a statement win for tonight.”
For DeParde and the Spartans, a disappointing 2-6 season will likely come to an equally disappointing end next weekend in their crossover game. However, to his 13 seniors and the rest of his team, he was proud of all the work they put in over the last three months.
“We said to them, that’s the way the ball bounces,” DeParde said. “We hold our heads high, and we move on
On the other side, the Warriors’ opponent in the sectional semi-finals next week will also be a very familiar opponent. In fact, Whitesboro met the Carthage Comets at Chiz Frye Field just last week during their “sticky offense” phase, edging the Comets 13-0. This time though, Schoen said, anything could happen.
“It’s tough to beat a good team twice,” Schoen said of the 6-2 Comets, who knocked off Jamesvile-DeWitt 38-15 on Friday night. “It’ll be special all over again. We’ll look at tapes, enjoy the win tonight, then flush tonight and get ready for the next one.”
Whitesboro Warriors 41, East Syracuse-Minoa Spartans 0
Section III Class A Quarterfinal
Warriors 7 14 20 0 41
Spartans 0 0 0 0 0
W – Jeff Cubino 4 yard run (Joey Panuccio kick), 3:06
W – Cubino 10 yard run (Panuccio kick), 3:21
W – Tommy Morreale 29 yard pass from Panuccio (Panuccio kick), :56
W – Zach Hoage 49 yard run (Panuccio kick), 11:30
W – Hoage 81 yard run (Panuccio kick), 8:30
W – Cubino 20 yard run (kick failed), 2:21