CICERO — As the Carthage Comets poured into their locker room inside Cicero-North Syracuse High School on Friday night, Meek Mill’s “Dreams and Nightmares” blared through the speakers.
The lyric: “Hold up wait a minute, y’all thought I was finished?” resounded well into the hallway.
Even after the Comets surrendered a pick-six 30 seconds into the game, they were never finished.
Carthage responded to Nathan MacLean’s interception for a touchdown with six turnover recoveries of their own, three courtesy of Thomas Albright. His dramatic final one sent the Comets (11-1) back to the Carrier Dome and the state Class A football championship game with a 16-6 triumph over Canandaigua Academy.
As the Braves (10-2) attempted a last-second score with the ball inside the Carthage one-yard line, the defensive line busted the ball loose. Albright scooped it up and bolted up the field, holding the ball with one hand way over his head.
“To end the game like that, for them to get so close and our defense play so hard all game and not let them score any points, to end the game like that? It was a statement,” Albright said.
Carthage will face Cornwall of Section 9 at 3 p.m. Friday in the Carrier Dome in the state final. Cornwall defeated Rye of Section 1 on Friday night, 45-34.
The Comets’ defense and special teams dominated Friday’s game in Cicero through and through. Prior to Albright’s game-winning fumble recovery, he had two interceptions, a punt block that he returned for a touchdown and knocked down a few of what could have been devastating passes.
Albright, one of the team’s many seniors, always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.
“He’s made big plays for three years, he’s a three-year starter and he makes big plays all the time,” Comets coach Jason Coffman said. “Just tonight, he decided he was gonna give an individual effort that was unmatched and it was awesome.
“The blocked punt and touchdown was awesome; it triggered us and sent us off. We knew the game was in our hands.”
Both teams made clear early that defense would decide the game. This was the lowest amount of points the Comets have scored since their week two loss to Utica Proctor, 12-7. Once he recognized the defensive theme, defensive lineman Bubba Null knew Carthage had the advantage.
“It comes from our preparation all week, our coaches getting us in the right spots and letting us perform to the best of our ability,” Null said.
The Comets’ offense never clicked. Part of it was Canandaigua Academy’s strong defensive front, another was the constant holding calls made on both teams.
A few of Carthage’s promising drives fizzled out after a holding call set them back 10 yards.
“Well it’s something that we work on all the time, making sure that your hands are inside and making sure you’re not holding on to somebody, it happens,” Coffman said. “In the heat of the battle, someone gets a stop here or there, you reach your arm out and it just happens.”
Once Casey Farrell booted a 32-yard field to close out the first half and give the Comets a 9-6 lead, the Comets had an advantage they wouldn’t relinquish. However, they needed to overcome adversity early.
Thirty seconds into the game, Carthage quarterback Nick Cavellier, looking for Josh Demko, fired right but missed a little high. The ball bounced off of Demko’s hands and into the hands of Canandaigua’s MacLean. A few seconds later, the Braves would have a 6-0 lead thanks to MacLean’s pick-six.
The Comets and Cavellier could have unraveled, but instead the senior quarterback kept his team motivated.
“We got back in the huddle and what struck me was Nick Cav got in the huddle and said ‘we’re not done, we’re fine. That was only the first play, it’s done, it’s over,’” Albright said. “That gave us the uplifting feeling to keep going.”
Carthage will play in the Carrier Dome for the third time this season, but for the first time in school history with a chance to win a state title.
“It’s been a dream to practice on Thanksgiving,” Coffman said. “We’re going to go play a football game in the Dome that only two teams in the state get to play in and it’s for all the marbles. I’m so excited but at the same time I want to know who we play, I want to know what’s going on, I want to watch film, I want to prepare for it, I can’t wait to be around these guys on Monday.”