GOUVERNEUR — Tonight’s state Class C football championship game is the first time Gouverneur’s current football roster has ever played in Syracuse’s Carrier Dome.
But don’t expect coach Sean Devlin to pull a Gene Hackman from the 1986 small-town basketball film “Hoosiers” and walk up to measure the goalpost to show it’s the same height as the one back home. Devlin joked that NCAA goalposts are a different size anyway.
Gouverneur (11-0) will meet defending state champion Susquehanna Valley (12-0), the Section 4 champion who enters the game on a 25-game win streak, at 6 p.m.
“It’s cool,” Devlin said of playing in the Dome. “We never had a chance to be there. I was there on the sideline with General Brown a few years ago, but it wasn’t my kids or my people. Luckily in the last few weeks we played in different venues and everything has been bigger than what we are used to. I think when we get there, they will be awestruck at first.”
Gouverneur has not lost a Northern Athletic Conference game in the last four years and this year the Wildcats have continued their dominance in the postseason.
They reached the state playoffs by beating Ogdensburg Free Academy, a Class C final four team a year ago, 25-6 in the Section 10 championship game.
The Wildcats opened the state playoffs by pounding Section 7’s Saranac Lake 60-20. The following week Gouverneur traveled to Mohonasen to defeat Section 2’s Stillwater 10-2 in a quarterfinal.
Last week the Wildcats rallied from an 11-0 deficit to beat Section 1’s Valhalla 14-11 in Middletown to reach today’s game.
Gouverneur’s offense has been led by senior quarterback Caleb Farr, who has rushed for 997 yards and passed for 502, and Cayden Stowell, who has gained 839 yards.
“They haven’t quit,” Devlin said of his team. “They believe they can win in any situation. They have bought into the system we do. We’ve been able to do it pretty well recently. Our defense has been tough. They are doing their job the way they’ve been taught. Going into this game they know they are the underdog, they know it’s not going to be easy, but they now have nothing to lose.”
Gouverneur’s system is so strong that in the last two seasons the Wildcats have lost a standout quarterback in Connor Fenlong and a record-setting running back in Peyton Schmitt, and have advanced farther than ever before.
“We worked a lot of years to try to build the program where we thought it could be,” Devlin said. “The youth program is a big part of what we do. Kids are having a good time so it’s not a lot of fall off between the youth program and the varsity. Success breeds success and people want to be a part of success.”
Standing in Gouverneur’s way is a Susquehanna Valley team that does a lot of the same things the Wildcats do, relying mostly on three strong running backs led by quarterback/running back Logan Haskell, who threw for 148 yards and rushed for 185 in a semifinal win over Section 6’s Southwestern.
“They key on (Haskell) a lot, he’s like our Cayden Stowell,” said Gouverneur linebacker Jacob Shippee. “It’s kind of going to be a different game from the last three weeks. Those teams passed a lot. Susquehanna Valley is a running team. They have about three running backs that are a good threat.”
The Sabres remind Devlin of a team he knows from preseason scrimmages. “To me they have a little bit of General Brown in them,” Devlin said. “They do a lot of different things. They don’t run the option as much, but their formations can be similar at times. They’ve won 25 in a row and they’ve been there before, but we are both there (tonight). We both had to get there the same way by beating good teams.”