CARTHAGE — Route 26, leading up to Carthage high school is a canyon of Comet spirit. Signs cheering on the Carthage football team line the streets of the village of Carthage. The phrase “Go Comets” is in informational signs and in windows of small shops.
On Route 26, a sign reads, “Lets Go Boys, Take US All The Way.” The sign, with words painted in black and red, takes up six pieces of poster board and is fixed to two wooden posts that are drilled into the ground.
The Comets have taken the community as far as it can go. Win or lose today, Carthage’s best football season ever will end in the Carrier Dome, 12 weeks after it began in the exact same spot.
Carthage (11-1), having already hoisted a Section 3 championship banner in the same building three weeks ago, can celebrate a second title, that of a New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class A championship.
If the Comets are to return to Carthage as champions, it will require them to get through Cornwall (11-0), a team that has won nine straight Section 9 Class A titles and is the defending state Class A champion.
On top of it all, the Cornwall Dragons have won 23 games in a row, tied for second longest in the state.
The Comets’ Collin Null dismissed the streak as “just a number,” but still it’s a big number and one that Carthage would like to keep at 23.
Elijah Whitfield embraces the opportunity to spoil Cornwall’s attempt at a repeat.
“I love being someone who can cause a big upset or ruin someone’s dreams,” Whitfield said. “I’ve been on the other end of that, with JV we were undefeated for years and all of a sudden someone comes in and beats us. It’s time for us to get payback.”
For most part, the Comets looked fairly relaxed during practice on Tuesday. According to Fombo Azah, getting to the Dome was the most nerve-wracking part.
“It takes a whole lot of pressure off because there is no “if you lose this the season ends early,” we got to choose when our season ends,” Azah said. “We’re very grateful for that and now all that’s left is winning the game.”
Cornwall won’t make it easy. The Dragons have been ranked No. 1 in the state all year long and have just as many weapons as the Comets. And come Friday they may have back their starting quarterback under center.
Sophomore Aidan Semo, who led Cornwall to a state title last year, has been out since early October with a broken collarbone but was listed as day-to-day earlier this week. He was practicing with the team Monday.
During Semo’s absence from the starting lineup, converted wide receiver Louis Francese has been starting at quarterback for the last several weeks. But even with the starter still up in the air, Carthage’s approach doesn’t change.
“They do the same thing with both guys, they’re both very talented quarterbacks,” coach Jason Coffman said. “No matter who’s in there, we have to be able to stop certain things. No. 19 (Amin Woods) is a terrific running back, No. 13 (Louis Francese) is a terrific quarterback, he’s a terrific receiver. We’re just going to prepare to do what we do and take away some things.”
If Semo takes over at quarterback today then Francese will go back to his natural position as wide receiver. Again, Carthage’s preparation doesn’t change that much if this is the case. The play of defensive backs Josh Demko, Thomas Albright, Jalen Jones and Nick Cavellier will be key no matter what.
This will be the first meeting between Carthage and Cornwall in football. While that doesn’t help the team, it’s still a fresh opponent for the Comets.
“It doesn’t make it easier because we obviously know how good they are, but what it does do, when you play the same teams over and over again, you get to a certain comfort level with that,” Coffman said. “They haven’t seen us either, they don’t know what we’re going to bring to the table. Watching something on film and then actually playing against it (today) is something completely different. We cannot simulate what they’re going to do us in practice, and they can’t simulate what we’re going to do to them.”
When the Comets left for the Dome this morning, they drove past all the signs posters that have lined the streets of Carthage for weeks. Alongside them today will be the community, chanting “Go Comets.”