MASSENA — The Massena football team has gone a long time between Section 10 championships.
But after earning its way to the state playoffs for the first time in nearly two decades, the Red Raiders go into tonight’s opening-round matchup against Section 7 Class B champion Peru looking to make the most of the opportunity.
“I haven’t really gotten into the deeper history of the football program here yet. I just know that we’re all excited to get another chance to compete at states,” said coach Austin Coleman, who took over the program in the spring of 2020 but saw his career derailed until 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have a really good group of players. They’re really committed and really focused. They want to be good,” he added.
The Red Raiders last competed at the state tournament as an uncontested Class A representative from the section in 2013 and 2014 and lost to Section 2 champion Queensbury by a combined score of 90-0 in the two first-round matchups. The last time they won their way to the state playoffs was in 2003, but fell to Section 2 Class A champion Amsterdam in the first round.
Massena advanced to this year’s state tournament via a 41-0 win over Malone in the Class B final at Mike Nicholas Field last Friday night.
The Red Raiders improved to 5-3 overall heading into tonight’s game at Ogdensburg Free Academy’s Ron Johnson Field starting at 7 p.m.
Operating behind an offensive line that consists of juniors Isiah Austin (center), Roy Gamble (right guard), Adrian Murray (left guard) and Aaron Binion (right tackle) along with sophomore left tackle Jake Linstad, the Red Raiders have produced the majority of their yardage via the passing game this season. Senior quarterback Dominic Monacelli, the 2021 All-NAC Offensive MVP, has completed 58 of 108 passes for 943 yards with 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions while the duo of junior DeShawn Walton and senior Chris Kucipak lead the receiving corps. Walton has pulled down 33 passes for 549 yards and seven touchdowns and Kucipak has generated another 294 yards and two touchdowns on 25 catches. Junior Noah Park has contributed a 32-yard touchdown reception.
Monacelli has also combined with junior Nolan Goolden to give the Red Raiders an effective ground game that has churned out another 901 yards of offense.
Monacelli has gone for 561 yards and eight touchdowns on 79 carries and Goolden has amassed 258 yards and four touchdowns on 44 rushes.
“With all the changes we made, we’ve asked a lot from our offense this year but they’ve all adjusted really well,” Coleman said. “One thing we’ve seen this year is that, if we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot, we can be a pretty deadly team.”
Peru stands at 6-2 after silencing Plattsburgh High 17-0 in the Section 7 final. The Nighthawks are capably quarterbacked by junior Zach O’Connell. He has connected on 90 of 150 passes for 1,046 yards with 14 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Senior Keegan Smith, who kicked a 40-yard field goal in the sectional final against Plattsburgh, is the team’s leading receiver with 520 yards and nine touchdowns on 34 catches.
Junior Riley Hebert has pulled down another 20 passes for 187 yards with a touchdown.
Peru, which won the state Class B title in 2001, also has a productive ground game that is led by junior Jack Hanson, who had rushed for 724 yards and seven touchdowns on 91 carries.
O’Connell is the next leading rusher with 467 yards and six touchdowns on 79 tries while classmate Jack Hayes has gone for another 205 yards on 41 rushes with one touchdown.
Playing inside linebacker, Monacelli has recorded a team-high 60.5 tackles this season while Walton has notched another 45.5 takedowns anchoring the Red Raider secondary.
OFA TAKES ON SARANAC LAKE
The Northern Athletic Conference season and the Section 10 Class C Tournament have been completed and the OFA Blue Devils (7-1) have advanced to the state tournament after a 32-12 win over Gouverneur last Saturday.
The Devils will meet a familiar foe in Section 7 champion Saranac Lake at 1 p.m. Saturday at Plattsburgh High School.
Saranac Lake (4-4) won the Section 7 title with a 36-35 overtime win over Saranac Central where Red Storm running back Carter Hewitt scored five touchdowns.
OFA has faced Saranac Lake several times in regional play and has a rivalry with the Red Storm dating back to the old Northern League.
Along with the state tournament preparations, the main objective in the OFA camp remains the same — get better every day, according to head coach Matt Tessmer.
“We played well (Saturday) but we will have to play better next week to advance. We need another great week of practice,” Tessmer said after Saturday’s win.
“They (Saranac Lake) have a great running back, as well as a huge offensive line with a good quarterback and receivers,” he added.
Blue Devils starting quarterback Tristan Lovely, in his first full season at quarterback, passed for two touchdowns and ran for 85 yards during last weekend’s game against Gouverneur. He also passed for three conversions and ran for another.
“Tristan has really developed well as a quarterback this year and we are very happy with his play,” Tessmer said.
The Journal’s Dave Shea contributed to this report.