SYRACUSE — Essentially, the minute Nick Cavellier hit Thomas Albright for a 19-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter, putting Carthage up by two scores Friday night at the Carrier Dome, the Comets had secured the game.
But both Cavellier and Albright said afterward that they weren’t comfortable until the clock read 00.1 in the fourth quarter with Carthage leading 55-7. That’s when they knew they were Section 3 Class A football champions.
For as big as Carthage’s lead got, they knew Auburn’s track history. It was only a week ago that the Maroons (7-3) came back from 32 points down in the third quarter to claim victory. This kept the Comets from ever relaxing.
“We knew that they could come back after last week, especially after last week when they came back from down 35,” Cavellier said. “We never got comfortable until the end.”
The Comets move on to the state regionals where they will play the Union-Endicott Tigers of Section 4 at 8 p.m. Friday at Vestal High School.
Cavellier bore much of the offensive responsibility particularly early in the game. The senior quarterback finished with 88 passing yards and a touchdown, all of which came in the first half. This was critical, especially when Carthage’s biggest offensive weapon, Fombo Azah, was held down for most of the first two quarters.
Just seeing Cavellier connect with receivers gave Azah a good feeling.
“Once our passing game just started rolling, that’s when I knew that it was the ultimate threat to them,” Azah said.
The senior did rip off an 85-yard touchdown run in the first half and ended up finishing with 288 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries. Azah’s performance earned him MVP for the Section 3 Class A championship.
Carthage (10-1), which won its first sectional title in six seasons, established a dominant tone as early as possible Friday as Josh Demko took the opening kick off 61 yards to the end zone for a touchdown.
“This is our game, the only team that’s going to beat us is ourselves,” Carthage’s Collin Null said.
The Comets put up 20 points in the first quarter and then another seven at the start of the second. The Maroons’ defense would tighten up and not allow the Comets to score for the rest of the half, but the lead had been built. By halftime, Carthage led 27-7, but coach Jason Coffman wasn’t satisfied.
“They scored to make it 27-7 and I looked at my kids and it felt like they were tired. I said to them at halftime, ‘are we going to go out and play like we’re tired? Or are we going to go out and assert ourselves?’” Coffman said. “I got on a few kids and they accepted the challenge and played well in the second half.”
Auburn started with the ball in the third quarter but had its drive stopped around midfield on back-to-back forced incompletions. Carthage took that momentum and marched down the remaining 51 yards to the end zone for another score, but Coffman viewed that fourth down stop as a key turning point in the game.
“The first drive of the second half was huge,” Coffman said. “I told the kids, I said if we get a stop we’ll be just fine. If we get a stop, we’ll go down and score. I don’t even remember if we scored off of that or not but the kids got their confidence back.
“I said, ‘we got a 20 point lead but it’s still 0-0,’ play with confidence. Go out there and have fun.”
Friday’s accomplishment was many years in the making for the senior-heavy Comets, making it all the more special. The senior squad was happy to get the section title for their first year head coach.
“I think it means a lot, his dad (Terry) was a head coach here and he was an assistant under coach (Sam) Millich last year and we didn’t succeed, but we got back this year, twice so far and we won both times,” Null said. “We got one more in us hopefully.”